Special Reports

Two ex-employees of Carter County group home plead guilty to abuse charges

Two former employees of a Carter County group home pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges that they abused a mentally handicapped man.

They were among 11 employees of Community Presence Inc. indicted in 2008 in connection with a pattern of abuse there.

Robert Thompson, 55, of Ironton, Ohio, pleaded guilty to two counts of knowingly abusing a vulnerable adult and one count of first-degree wanton endangerment, the state Attorney General's office announced. Ira Griffith, of Mount Sterling, pleaded guilty to wantonly neglecting a vulnerable adult.

Under plea agreements, Thompson would serve nine years on the three charges to which he pleaded guilty Tuesday, and he agreed to waive appeals to a conviction in March. Griffith will have a one-year sentence diverted under his agreement.

Thompson is scheduled for formal sentencing in Carter Circuit Court at 1 p.m. May 26, while Griffith is to be sentenced at 2:30 p.m. June 20.

The two men had been indicted for using "improper physical restraints" to confine and intimidate Craig Martin, a resident at Community Presence Inc. who was not posing a threat to anyone, on Sept. 10, 2007, according to the news release.

On Sept. 12, 2007, Thompson slammed mentally and physically handicapped resident Michael Price's head into the hood of a car, and on Nov. 8, 2007, he threw resident Annie Thomas "to the floor using improper prone restraints, endangering her life," the release said.

Thompson had already been convicted in Carter Circuit Court in connection with a related case.

On March 1, a jury found Thompson and Michael Yates of Ashland guilty of abusing Price, 25, recommending that Thompson serve eight years in prison and Yates serve three years.

Two other employees, Todd Gribbin of Flatwoods and Earl Pelphrey of Grayson, pleaded guilty in 2009 to abusing Price, who had cerebral palsy. They and others had been accused of lying on Price's back and chest for extended periods.

Price died Oct. 14, 2007, after caregiver Matthew Bortles, of Soldier, lay on his back for more than 30 minutes. Bortles was sentenced to eight years in prison in April 2009 after pleading guilty to intentional abuse of a vulnerable adult and tampering with physical evidence.

Another caregiver, Branden Starostka of Grayson, was sentenced to five years in prison for wanton abuse of a vulnerable adult and tampering with physical evidence because he watched television during the incident rather than intervening to stop Bortles. The two men cleaned up Price's blood, concealed a bloody pillow and put a bloody washcloth in the washing machine after his death.

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