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Vulnerable adult case dismissed after victim's death

BISMARCK, N.D.—Kathleen Bennett will not see legal penalties for the alleged exploitation of her senile mother, Mary Trujillo.

With one case already dismissed in Morton County, Burleigh County Assistant State's Attorney Marina Spahr motioned Wednesday, Jan. 10, to dismiss felony exploitation of a vulnerable adult against Bennett, which South Central District Judge John Grinsteiner granted Friday.

Why? Mary Trujillo is dead.

"(T)he victim is deceased and the case became difficult to prove once the Morton County companion case was dismissed," Spahr wrote as the reason for her motion to dismiss.

Bennett, 59, was accused a year ago of using about $1,200 of her mother's money to rent hotel rooms, purchase meals and pay legal fees in Bismarck while her mother was hospitalized.

In November, Judge Allan Schmalenberger dismissed felony endangering of a vulnerable adult charges against Bennett, stemming from allegations she tied her mother to a chair and left her, on one occasion, without pants in her own excrement. At the time, the women were staying at the Oceti Sakowin camp in southern Morton County.

It's unclear when Trujillo died. Spahr said defense attorney William Kirschner told her about the woman's death, but Kirschner said he didn't know exactly when she died.

"It's been a few months," he said Friday.

An online search did not locate an obituary for Trujillo, who was about 83.

She resided in Nevada with family after she was discharged from a Bismarck hospital last year, according to court letters.

Spahr said Trujillo's death does not void the crime.

"It is one of the many factors analyzed when determining whether to proceed to a jury trial or not," she said. "It may not be the heaviest weighted factor either, depending on the case."

Bennett's previous case was dismissed after she was absent for her pretrial conference and when attorneys noted that key witnesses were out of state and resistant to testifying.

Kirschner said Bennett was in Nevada at the time with limited funds.