Charge rests in Orlando guardian trial

Prosecutors closed their case Thursday morning at the Tampa trial for Rebecca Fierle, the former Orlando guardian charged with abuse and neglect in the 2019 death of an incapacitated client.

Jurors will now hear defense witnesses at trial.

Fierle, 53, is charged with aggravated abuse and neglect of an older or disabled adult in the case of Steven Stryker, 75, whose death sparked a statewide scandal in the guardianship system from Florida.

Fierle, who pleaded not guilty, denied any wrongdoing in the past.

Authorities say Fierle signed a ‘do not resuscitate’ order on Stryker’s behalf against his will and ordered medical staff at a Tampa hospital to plug his feeding tube so he could be discharged to a hospital. assisted living center, despite warnings that he could choke and die.

Stryker aspirated and died five days after the tube was plugged.

A Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation found that Fierle left St. Joseph personnel unable to take lifesaving action due to the DNR order. Jurors, however, did not hear about the order after a judge ruled to exclude him from the trial.

Before prosecutors rested, Circuit Judge Samantha Ward heard arguments from Fierle’s lawyers about why she should be acquitted. Defense attorney Warren Lindsey says Fierle went to ‘herculean lengths’ to place Stryker in a facility, which was difficult because of his feeding tube and registration as a sex offender for lewd exhibition .

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“There was no indication that she intended to harm him,” Lindsey said. “…She was coping with a very difficult situation as best she could.”

Despite Stryker’s death certificate citing aspiration as the cause of death, no autopsy was performed on Stryker, Lindsey said. The attorney also said there was “no evidence” presented that Stryker had choked on food or liquid.

Prosecutors argued Fierle knew the plan to plug Stryker’s tube so he could move to an assisted living facility was a ‘failed plan’ because she had done it once before and Stryker immediately returned to the hospital.

Ward denied the judgment of acquittal.

Stryker’s death has led to multiple investigations into Fierle, who has resigned from his position as court-appointed caretaker for hundreds of disabled people in more than a dozen counties. She was accused of abusing DNRs, ignoring her wards’ wishes, double billing and having conflicts of interest.

Investigators and news outlets, including the Orlando Sentinel, uncovered widespread flaws in Florida’s guardianship system, prompting lawmakers to pass reforms in 2020. Under the law signed by the Governor Ron DeSantis, guardians must obtain court approval before signing DNRs on behalf of unfit clients.

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