Holly Norris, the 38-year-old Bunnell woman accused of neglectfully causing the death of her 65-year-old invalid uncle three years ago, pleaded guilty to manslaughter this morning. She faces up to 15 years in prison when Circuit Judge Matthew Foxman sentences her on Feb. 17.
Norris had faced a charge of aggravated manslaughter, a first-degree felony that exposed her to up to 30 years in prison in the death of John Satanoski, 65, on May 9, 2013. The plea agreement lessened the charge to manslaughter, cutting in half the maximum punishment she faces. The minimum she may be sentenced to under law is 22 months in prison. She has been at the Flagler County jail since mid-November 2015. If she were sentenced to the minimum, the time she’s spent in jail would be credited to her, so she would end up serving just five months in prison.
That’s assuming Foxman chooses to go with the minimum sentence. While Foxman is known as a more lenient judge than most in the Seventh Judicial Circuit, he generally does not apply the minimum allowable sentence, edging closer to the halfway point between the minimum and the maximum. But Norris has already taken away one of his options: she said, through her attorney, Ray Warren, that she would plead guilty to the lesser charge only if she were not sentenced to any probationary term following her prison sentence. “She just doesn’t want probation hanging over her,” Warren said.
“When you get out with that hundred dollars or whatever they give you and you don’t have a job, you don’t have a place to stay, your mother is dead, your father is dead, you’re an only child, you’re all of these things, the chance of violating probation are pretty high. Let’s say the judge gives four years. Do your four years, you get out, you’ve got three years’ probation at the tail end of it, you violate your probation, the judge comes back and gives you 11 more.” He added: “Society is going to exact a punishment. It’s going to be a minimum of 21.75” months, he said. “It might be 11 [years]. I just don’t want probation on the tail end of it.”
The sentencing hearing is expected to take half a day and resemble a mini-trial before Foxman, with both sides bringing up witnesses to sway the judge one way or the other.
“This is a very unique circumstance,” Foxman told Norris. “If there are people that I need to hear from about you, you need to help Mr. Warren get them into this courtroom. let him know who they are.”
He added later: “You need to thank your attorney, he did a very good job, just the reduction in charge alone is something, and I know you feel this is a tremendous compromise on your part. But you’ve avoided what could be way worse already. I’ve got to hear from the people from the state, I’ve got to hear from whomever you want to hear from including yourself, but I’m going to give you a fair sentencing hearing.”
The case illustrates the blurry line between willful criminal negligence and mere negligence in the death of an elderly invalid. The judicial system is seeing more of these cases as the population ages and invalid individuals are left in the care of family members who can’t necessarily afford professional care.
But that was not the case with Norris.
Though not well off, Norris had been able to enroll her uncle at an adult day care center, where he was take care of eight hours a day for years. When he didn’t show up for three days, care center staffers got worried and called Norris. Norris told a staffer that her uncle was fine, and that she wasn’t bringing him to the center because she’d gotten into a car crash. The center, however, had a bus assigned to picking up clients without transportation. On the fourth day without seeing Satanoski, and unable to reach Norris, care center staffers got worried, and called for deputies to check on Satanoski. That’s when deputies found the house locked from inside and outside. They were able to get in through an unlocked window.
Norris, who has numerous felony and misdemeanor charges in her past, said she intends to testify at her sentencing. The hearing is expected to take half a day and present unusual circumstances about the uncle she’d cared for through eight years of his disabilities and dementia, and who died of a stroke two weeks after Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies found him unconscious and alone at Norris’s house. A sheriff’s investigation found that Norris, according to the investigation, “finally admitted she left her uncle unattended without care for three-four days.”
Warren said the plea agreement concedes only that she had left her uncle alone from about 9:30 in the morning to 4:30 in the afternoon on April 15, 2013, the day deputies found Satanoski unconscious on the floor of a bedroom. That day, Norris went to Daytona Beach to run errands.
The prosecution is going to rely on a Department of Children and Families nurse who claimed in a deposition that Norris should not have left her uncle even for 30 minutes. On the other hand, Norris will claim that she had asked her father–since dead–to check on her uncle.
Much of the prosecution’s case rests on Michael Marsh, a Palm Coast resident and confessed drug addict with a long arrest record and charges ranging from child abuse to aggravated battery, aggravated assault, domestic violence, and manufacturing meth. Marsh was sentenced last month to a short term in state prison on felony battery and contempt of court charges. He transferred out of the Flagler County jail to the state prison system this morning. Marsh had been caring for Norris’s young son at the time when she had left her uncle alone in the house on County Road 305.
Marsh was at the county jail months later when detectives interviewed him about the case. He told detectives that Norris had stayed with him on Bunkerview Lane in palm Coast “the entire week” leading to the day when deputies found Satanoski, “including through the nights,” according to the investigation. Marsh’s girlfriend at the time is the prosecution’s other witness in the case.