Detectives: Father of man who starved to death spent thousands in a casino

jkegley@herald-leader.comMay 14, 2013 

Lexington police are trying to determine how much money Jerry Lakes spent at casinos while one of his mentally handicapped sons starved to death in the motel room where they lived.

Lakes, 64, and Peggy Whitlock, 58, were charged with murder after Gerald Lee Lakes, 24, was found dead in a room at the Knights Inn on Stanton Way on March 13.

An autopsy showed Gerald Lakes died from starvation and dehydration, detective Kristie Smith said at a hearing Tuesday.

The couple also was charged with abuse and exploitation related to two of their other children, who also were handicapped and badly malnourished. Police have said Jerry Lakes and Whitlock used their children's disability benefits for themselves.

Smith and detective Chris Russell testified about the case at a preliminary hearing for Lakes and Whitlock in Fayette District Court on Tuesday.

Russell said he questioned Jerry Lakes about the nearly $4,000 the family received in disability benefits each month. The money was deposited in bank accounts at the beginning of each month. Lakes was the only one who had access to the money, he said.

Lakes at first told Russell he didn't know where the money went, and said it all must have gone toward various debts.

"Then he made the statement, 'Maybe I'm just gambling it all away,'" Russell said.

Police found evidence that Lakes had spent "thousands of dollars" in at least one casino in Indiana, Smith said. Investigators sent subpoenas for financial records to at least five casinos to determine how much Lakes had spent and where.

Meanwhile, the couple's sons lived in appalling conditions and were fed very little, the detectives said.

Three other disabled adults, all children of Lakes and Whitlock, were found in the motel room.

A daughter, Mary, appeared to be clean, fed and cared for, Smith said. However, two living sons, John and Tommy — who weighed 66 pounds and 92 pounds respectively — were badly malnourished and were unable to stand up without supporting themselves on a wall, Smith said. John and Tommy have put on about 10 pounds and were showing "measurable gains in strength" in the state's care, Russell said.

The children were between ages 19 and 24. All of the children showed severe mental deficiencies and autistic behavior. The parents told police that John and Tommy were non-verbal, but detectives noted that the men began "learning to use words" after they were taken from their family's care.

"Whitlock and Lakes both said in separate interviews that they pulled the boys out of school at a very young age," Russell said.

The family of six had lived in the two-bedroom motel room for weeks, police have said. The sons appeared to have mostly had chocolate milk for nourishment.

Smith testified about the food that was found in the apartment.

Police found a package of hot dogs and a package of lunchmeat in the refrigerator, Smith said. There were four TV dinner boxes, which the family said they had eaten the night before, in the trash can.

Whitlock told police that Gerald Lakes wouldn't eat the TV dinners, so she made him pork chops. However, "there was no evidence of pork chops" or any equipment to cook them in the room.

Witnesses told police that they regularly saw Whitlock bringing back a single order of biscuits and gravy from a nearby McDonald's. An employee told police that Whitlock also bought four hamburgers on one or two occasions.

The chocolate milk the children were given was kept in baby bottles in the refrigerator. The milk was "spoiled. I would say they were not fit for human consumption," Smith said.

About a half-cup of chocolate milk was found in Gerald Lakes' stomach during an autopsy, she said.

Gerald Lakes was severely mentally handicapped. He was non-verbal, had limited mobility and had not been toilet trained, Smith said. Gerald Lakes and the other boys wore adult diapers.

Evidence showed "that he was not able to feed himself, that he was completely dependent on others for everything regarding his care," she said.

The couple had not taken Gerald Lakes to a doctor in more than two years, the detectives said.

"When I asked (Whitlock) what she thought her son died of, she clearly said, 'He didn't have enough to eat,'" Smith said.

Smith said Gerald Lakes had been having seizures the night before he died — a symptom of starvation — and he was found in a puddle of vomit on the bed when police arrived.

She said nobody called 911 until after Gerald Lakes died. Whitlock and Jerry Lakes had cellphones and they had a land-line in their room, but Jerry Lakes walked to the front counter and asked the clerk to call an ambulance.

Whitlock told police her cellphone was prepaid, and it was out of minutes. However, most prepaid phones allow free emergency calls.

Jerry Lakes and Whitlock said little during Tuesday's hearing. Jerry Lakes looked down and shook his head whenever detectives or attorneys mentioned the word "murder."

Lucas Roberts, Whitlock's attorney, said after the hearing that he didn't want to comment. Jeremy Kemper, Jerry Lakes' attorney, called the case "troubling."

"This is an extremely unfortunate situation, but I would remind everyone that he was innocent when he walked in there," he said. "At the end of the case, he's going to be innocent of murder."

Roberts asked Fayette District Judge Kim Wilkie to set a bond for Whitlock, but the judge refused. Wilkie sent the case to be reviewed by a grand jury, which will determine whether to indict the couple.

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service