CHATHAM — It took a Pittsylvania County Circuit Court jury 45 minutes to find Shannon Myers Tipton guilty Tuesday in the July death of her elderly mother who was in Tipton’s care.
“She was in agony,” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Alexis Johnson told the jury during closing arguments during Tipton’s trial.
The victim, 74-old Eileen Myers, had several bed sores and pressure ulcers on her body and was left lying in her own waste while under the care of Tipton, prosecutors said. Myers, Tipton and Tipton’s daughter, Brianna Tipton, and her granddaughter lived in the home on Oak Hill Road in Pittsylvania County.
After finding Shannon Tipton guilty of felony homicide and elder abuse and neglect at about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, the jury recommended a sentence of 30 years in prison. She will be sentenced June 22.
Tipton, 48, testified for about an hour in court, claiming her bedridden mother drank three to four 32-ounce containers of water per day, had a voracious appetite and ate “like a 16-year-old boy” while under her care at Tipton’s home.
But the prosecution’s evidence, including photos of a severely emaciated Myers, told a different story. Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Haskins compared her appearance — with her knees larger than her thighs, he pointed out — to that of a Holocaust victim.
“This defendant starved her mother,” Haskins told jurors.
During her testimony, Tipton said she took on the role of mother to her mom, including guiding her finances and changing the oil in her car. She began providing her medical needs about six years ago.
“My mom was basically my best friend,” Tipton said of their relationship.
At first, Tipton went to her mom’s home on Montague Street and made sure she ate and took her baths and medications. But soon she stopped taking her medications and left her stove on, Tipton testified. The roof also collapsed in her home, she added.
Myers then moved into Tipton’s home on Oak Hill Road in Pittsylvania County about five or six years ago.
“She could still cook, but we did it together, she could still do laundry, but we did it together,” Tipton testified. “I would try to push her, encourage her to do things on her own.”
But in November 2019, she had a seizure and a heart attack and was left bedridden. In January 2020, she had to get a catheter.
On April 2, 2020, Myers pulled out her catheter.
“We noticed maggots,” Tipton said. “I was livid.”
At times, Myers sobbed on the stand, testifying that she was under lots of stress and suffering from depression at the time under accusations from law enforcement and adult protective services.
“They were immediately accusing me of hurting my mother,” she said.
She told the court her house was clean while her mom lived there, but the prosecution — and ultimately the jury — did not buy her story.
The home was in terrible condition, the prosecution pointed out, with dogs in the house, feces and flies. Urine, ammonia and feces could be smelled from outside the home.
Tipton denied there was a fly infestation in her home and denied accusations of locking her mother in her room.
Johnson pressed her on the stand, asking her how her mother got maggots in her private area in April if the house was clean.
“I don’t know,” Tipton answered.
Prosecutors also pointed out that in May 2020, Brianna’s 5-year-old daughter was seen entering the reeking house seemingly unaffected. That indicated that the home had been filthy for so long that the child was used to it, the prosecution said.
Tipton also testified that she did not wake her mother to change her diapers at night. She would put two diapers on her mother at night, she said.
Tipton’s attorney, Michael Nicholas, during his arguments, told the court that she was a responsible caregiver.
“When something went wrong, she did not neglect her,” Nicholas said, pointing out that Tipton would take her to the hospital.
While Tipton’s practices — including putting her mother in diapers — may have been medically unsound, it did not amount to neglect, he argued.
“Trying and failing is not neglect,” Nicholas said, adding that she did not willfully and knowingly fail to provide care.
Myers died in hospice on July 16, 2020, from bacteremia (bacteria in the blood), chronic malnutrition and dehydration.
Tipton’s daughter, Brianna Tipton, was found guilty last month on the same charges. The jury recommended 18 years. She will be sentenced June 11.