Plea deal reached in elder abuse case (updated)

Published 9:24 am Friday, October 15, 2010

A plea deal was reached Thursday in the case of Ashton Larson, who had been accused of more than a dozen counts of elder abuse from when she worked at the Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea.

Larson, who appeared in Freeborn County District County with her lawyer, wept while she entered guilty pleas to three counts of disorderly conduct by a caregiver.

Ashton Larson

Each count acknowledged a different victim.

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The plea was classified as an Alford plea, in which a defendant maintains innocence but admits the prosecution has enough evidence to convict of one, if not all, of the charges.

With co-defendant Brianna Broitzman’s similar plea in August, this brings the number of victims acknowledged in the case up to six.

“I think these are appropriate guilty pleas involving three different alleged victims,” Freeborn County Attorney Craig Nelson said of Larson’s plea. He noted that Larson’s initial counts included three or four different ways of charging the same allegations.

Larson, 20, faced four counts of fifth-degree assault by a caregiver to a vulnerable adult, four counts of criminal abuse of a vulnerable adult, three counts of criminal abuse of a resident involving sexual contact, five counts of disorderly conduct by a caregiver and one count of failure to report the abuse.

All counts, except the mandated failure to report the abuse, are gross misdemeanors. Mandated failure to report is a misdemeanor.

Larson is one of six young women who faces charges tied to allegations of abuse of residents at the nursing home from January through May 2008. She and Broitzman have been charged as adults, and the remaining four young women were charged as juveniles with failure to report suspected abuse because they were under 18 at the time of the alleged abuse.

When questioned in court Thursday, Larson admitted that her actions could have been conceived to be disorderly. When asked by Nelson whether she believed that the prosecution had evidence to show that her behavior toward each of the three victims was “offensive, obscene or abusive,” she answered in the affirmative.

Nelson said he would not give any recommendation to the court about Larson’s sentencing other than to follow the recommendation of a pre-sentence investigation.

He agreed to dismiss the remaining 14 charges at the time of sentencing.

At the end of the plea hearing, Nelson asked that Freeborn County District Court Judge Steve Schwab reemphasize that there be no contact with Broitzman or any of the other co-defendants prior to the sentencing, even electronically.

This comes after an allegation that Broitzman and Larson had been communicating online on social media network Facebook.

There were about a dozen family members in attendance at the hearing.

Nelson said he thinks the criminal court proceedings have been “very traumatic” to all of the family members of the victims.

“We all want to see our family members who are in nursing homes receive the best care,” he said.

Larson’s sentencing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Dec. 22.