Saturday, June 25, 2005

Sharon Wilks' Killers Get Manslaughter

by Lori Tobias, The Oregonian, June 25, 2005

"Roommates guilty in woman's death"

ASTORIA -- Two women were convicted Friday of manslaughter for leaving their disabled roommate to waste to death in her bedroom while they traded her medications for street drugs. One of them pushed the roommate's body into a 40-foot ravine.

Jurors found Theresa A. Beverage, 31, guilty of first-degree manslaughter and Nicole A. Harris, 34, guilty of second-degree manslaughter in the death of Sharon Wilks, 56.

Wilks' body was found Feb. 28, 2004, at the bottom of a ravine trapped in her electric wheelchair. Beverage confessed that she pushed Wilks, who was paralyzed from the chest down, over the steep incline behind their apartment after finding her dead in her room two weeks earlier.

"It's good, real good," said Wilks' sister, Pamela Shoop, who clutched a teddy bear from her sister's funeral throughout the trial and sobbed as the verdict was read. "I think my sister trusted them. All they would have had to do was pick up the phone and I'd still have my sister."

Wilks, who suffered a long list of medical conditions and had a history of alcohol and drug abuse, went to live with the pair in December 2003.

Dr. Kevin Baxter testified that Wilks looked better than she had in months at a January appointment, but then she stopped keeping her appointments and he never saw her again.

When Wilks died, she had four bedsores that were infected to the bone and no sign of prescription drugs in her system. Her medication included 10 to 12 painkillers a day.

Clatsop County District Attorney Joshua Marquis said Beverage and Harris abandoned Wilks in her room in late January without food or drugs, then traded her prescription drugs for cocaine and methamphetamines.

"Withdrawal from dependency on oxycodone and Valium would be horrible in and of itself," Marquis said. "Worse, her body was being eaten away every day by nine deciduous ulcers."

Defense attorneys painted a picture of Wilks as a verbally and sometimes physically aggressive woman who ignored doctors' advice, abused her body and frequently told friends she wanted to die.

"All she had to do was ask for the help she needed. She could use a slide board to get in and out of bed. She could take a bus around town. She had resources available, but she could not be compelled to accept care," said Charles Fryer, Harris' attorney.

Marquis originally sought a conviction of murder by abuse. The charge was unusual -- it is normally filed against parents or guardians of children or caretakers of the elderly, not roommates, said Margaret Paris, a professor specializing in criminal law at the University of Oregon in Eugene.

The jury's decision to return guilty verdicts on lesser charges wasn't surprising, she said. "It is an indication why most of these cases don't get charged as murder by abuse," she said. "The murder by abuse is a real reach, a real gamble."

Marquis agreed such cases are challenging but said "the jury made it clear that Sharon Wilks' life had value and these women took that life."

Jurors deliberated for roughly 14 hours over two days before reaching their verdict. Sentencing is set for Sept. 16.

First-degree manslaughter carries a mandatory penalty of 10 years in prison, and secondary manslaughter carries a mandatory term of six years and three months. Beverage also was found guilty on charges of abusing a corpse, and both women were found guilty on multiple charges of criminal mistreatment.

Marquis is expected to ask that the sentences run consecutively.

Lori Tobias: 541-265-9394; loritobias@aol.com
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