California Rehab Facility Faces Murder Charges

By May Wilkerson 02/29/16

A San Diego-based rehab facility is the first corporation in the state of California to ever face murder charges.

California Rehab Facility Becomes First Corporation In State To Face Murder Charges
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A grand jury in Riverside County indicted A Better Tomorrow and four of its employees on second-degree murder charges. The charges are related to the death of Gary Benefield, who died at the facility at the age of 53 in July 2010.

Benefield was just released from the hospital for pneumonia and hooked to an oxygen tank when a driver for A Better Tomorrow picked him up at the airport. He later collapsed by his bed that night and died, but the house manager who was supposed to make regular checks on him had fallen asleep. Benefield’s body wasn’t discovered until the morning. His family settled out of court with the facility, but the state attorney general’s office decided to move forward with the murder charges.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Elaine M. Kiefer acknowledged that the facility’s practices were questionable at best, but said that she wasn’t sure if they amounted to a murder conviction. In order for the center to be found guilty, prosecutors will need to prove that A Better Tomorrow knowingly engaged in practices that endangered Benefield's life. Prosecutors have argued that A Better Tomorrow ultimately killed Benefield by not refilling his oxygen tank and allowing employees with minimal medical training to give him drugs that actually made it harder for him to breathe.

Jose Ochoa, who served as Operations Director of A Better Tomorrow until he was fired in 2012, testified that he told company director James Fent that the facility was not equipped to care for Benefield. He also claimed in a separate lawsuit filed by Benefield’s widow that staff at the facility were “under tremendous pressure to bring in paying clients…regardless of any health issues.”

Benefield’s death was the fourth at the facility in just over two years. Investigations into those deaths by the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs found that A Better Tomorrow failed to provide “safe and healthful” living conditions for its patients. Another client who died under the facility's care had never received a medical assessment even after he told the staff that he suffered from liver disease. An investigation into Benefield’s death found that the company was inadequately serving in 14 areas including providing medication without a prescription and medical services beyond the scope of its license.

Defense attorneys for A Better Tomorrow have asked for the case to be thrown out. They argued that Benefield’s death report confirmed that he died of heart and lung disease, and that neither the drugs given to him nor a lack of oxygen were related to his death.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.