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A Washington caregiver charged in connection with the 2019 poisoning death of a woman with an intellectual disability has been acquitted of felony assault.
Fikirte T. Aseged mistakenly gave a lethal dose of cleaning vinegar instead of colonoscopy prep medication to his 64-year-old client, Marion Wilson, who later died.
Aseged worked at Aacres, an assisted living facility in Spokane, Washington, which is now closed. She was fired on April 19, 2019.
Spokane County Superior Court Judge Harold Clarke delivered his verdict this week through an Ethiopian-language interpreter, according to Northwest News Network.
“It was a tragedy. It shouldn’t have happened,” Clarke said in announcing the acquittal.
The judge said Aseged’s actions met the definition of criminal negligence, but he could not find the vinegar was used as a weapon – a conviction requirement based on an earlier Supreme Court ruling.
Clarke also noted that when Aseged gave Wilson the vinegar, she was 1 p.m. away from a 4 p.m. double shift.
“The court is held back by the reasoning of the Supreme Court and I will follow what I believe to be that reasoning in this case,” Clarke said.
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Aseged, who waived her right to a jury trial, was indicted last year by the Washington state attorney general’s office. According to the investigation, Aseged mistook the bottle of vinegar for the bottle of GoLYTELY solution when she and another caregiver woke Wilson at 3 a.m. to take the second half of his prep medication.
The next morning, during her colonoscopy appointment, Wilson began having difficulty breathing and died in the emergency room. An autopsy determined that the cleaning vinegar had inflamed and killed tissue in Wilson’s esophagus, stomach, and small intestine, resulting in his death.
Aseged gave the vinegar to Wilson around 3 a.m. and the victim died around 10:15 a.m.
“I assumed it was the same thing… I just grabbed the bottle, I was rushing,” Aseged told state investigators.
According to the judge, Wilson had a cognitive level similar to that of a young child and generally followed the directions of his caregivers.
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At the time of the incident, Aseged told investigators she had not read the colonoscopy medication instructions, which were written on the whiteboard in Wilson’s unit. However, she said she had read the doctor’s written instructions.
Aseged told investigators that she read the label on the colonoscopy prep solution before giving Wilson his first dose, but did not for the 3 a.m. dose, in assuming it was the same bottle.
An investigation by the state Department of Health and Human Services found that Aacres failed to take a number of steps to protect Wilson. He also found that 18 Aacres employees did not immediately report Wilson’s death, as required by law. The state has since canceled its contracts with Aacres to serve customers in Spokane County, Washington.
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Aacres, which still operates elsewhere in the state, is in the process of being sold to a Minnesota-based company.
“Ms. Aseged is grateful for the Court’s verdict and appreciates the well-reasoned decision,” said Asseged’s lawyer, Derek Reid. “It was a tragedy, but not a crime.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.