Megan Schnipke and defense attorney Robert Grzybowski watch as evidence provided by the State is presented to the jury during Tuesday's hearing - Putnam Sentinel
Megan Schnipke and defense attorney Robert Grzybowski watch as evidence provided by the State is presented to the jury during Tuesday's hearing. (Putnam Sentinel/Steven Coburn-Griffis)

OTTAWA — Megan Schnipke, the last of three defendants facing charges related to the death of Phyllis J. Campbell on Jan. 7 at Hilty Memorial Home, appeared in Putnam County Common Pleas court this week.

Some time after midnight, Campbell, a resident in the home’s memory care unit, wandered into the facility’s courtyard where temperatures were well below zero. An autopsy determined the 76-year-old died of hypothermia.

Following an investigation by the Ohio Department of Health and Human Services, which determined a host of failings on the part of the facility and the staff contributed to Campbell’s death, three employees were charged in the matter.

In August, Destini Fenbert and Rqachel Friesel, both state tested nurses aids, pleaded guilty to forgery, gross patient neglect and patient neglect in a plea deal eliminating an involuntary manslaughter charge for both women.

On Monday, Schnipke, a licensed practical nurse who refused a plea deal, appeared before a jury of her peers on charges of forgery, gross patient neglect and patient neglect.

The first day of the trial set the stage for both the prosecution and the defense. For both, Schnipke’s guilt or innocence hinges on Schnipke’s responsibilites as the charge nurse at the time of Campbell’s death.

Putnam County Prosecutor Gary Lammers and Deb Wehrle, a senior assitant attorney general with the state attorney general’s office, asserted Schnipke’s negligence contributed to Campbell’s death.

According to Wehrle, Schnipke, without alerting other staff on duty, left Campbell unattended for roughly 20 minutes while administering breathing treatments to another resident. Robert Grzybowski, Schnipke’s defense attorney, argued his client is not criminally liable, asserting Fenbert and Friesel were to blame, that Schnipke’s other responsiblilitie precluded constant, personal observance of Campbell.

As the trial continued into Tuesday, both sides pointed to failures on the part of the three employees and the facility alike: propped open doors, faulty alarm units and a failure to adhere to established protocols at shift change.

Current Hilty Home employees were called to the stand, questioned and cross-examined. All painted a picture of a woman whose perceptions were ravaged by Alzheimers Disease.

“She used to think she worked with us, that we were friends,” Maria Richardson, a second shift LPN at Hilty told the court. “And we were.”

However, Richardson added Campbell could be combative and was at constant risk of wandering.

“She was a visual check all the time,” Richardson said. “You had to keep an eye on her.”

Final arguments in the case are expected to be heard today.