Sonya Owens vividly recalls the day an ambulance brought Marci Garvin to the emergency room.
The registered nurse at Texas Heath Resources Harris Methodist Fort Worth remembers the stench of rotting flesh coming from numerous sores that covered the severely disabled woman’s body. She recalls how she and hospital staff had to clean the feces and dirt off Marci’s chest to get their adhesive pads to stick.
And she can still picture the clean linens that had been transported along with Marci — in contrast to the filthy, 39-year-old seriously ill woman who lay atop them, bugs falling from her body.
During a sentencing hearing Monday before state District Judge Robb Catalano, Owens sometimes fought back tears as she described the photographs she had snapped of Marci’s wounds.
Catalano will decide punishment for Marci’s father, Mike Garvin, and her older sister, Tabby Martinjak, who pleaded guilty in April to injury to the disabled in Marci’s death on March 11, 2013 — two days after arriving in the Harris ER.
The circumstances of Marci’s death were detailed in a two-part Star-Telegram series in March.
When asked why she was there to testify, Owens was quick with her answer.
“I want to talk for Marci. Somebody needs to do that,” Owens said.
In an opening statement Monday morning, special prosecutor Michael Jarrett asked the judge to imagine Marci’s last months of life — her body rotting away in her own excrement, hungry, alone and abandoned by her family.
Meanwhile, he said, her father and sister went on with their lives, working and with Martinjak even taking a vacation to Hawaii.
“They did not simply just neglect her, they killed her,” Jarrett said.
The Tarrant County district attorney’s office recused itself from the case because Mike Garvin, a former Fort Worth police officer, had also worked as a DA investigator until retiring in 2013.
Jarrett, who is prosecuting the case along with Gabrielle Massey, is asking the judge to sentence Garvin and Martinjak to life in prison.
The visiting prosecutors from McLennan County called eight witnesses to the stand before resting their case Monday afternoon. Defense attorneys Jim Lane and Timothy Choy will begin presenting their case Tuesday morning.
‘Always an excuse’
Earlier in the day, Michael Callahan, a training consultant for those working with the disabled, testified about how Marci became a unique example of what the severely disabled could achieve after getting a job stapling papers at the Star-Telegram.
Callahan said he had met Marci and her mother, Elaine Garvin, in the late 1990s after Bill Eaton asked Callahan to help him in finding Marci a job.
Though Marci was severely disabled and needed help with every aspect of her life, including dressing, eating and bathing, Callahan testified that Marci learned to push a button to staple, and later shred papers, while working at the newspaper.
He testified that she seemed to enjoy a good quality of life, working almost 10 years at the Star-Telegram. He said Elaine Garvin, then Marci’s primary caregiver, kept her daughter impeccably clean and dressed at the time that he knew the family.
But other witnesses Monday painted a far different picture of Marci’s life after her mother began dealing with her own declining health in 2011, and Martinjak took over as Marci’s foster care provider.
Looks like a hoarder’s house’
While receiving services through Southern Concepts, a Home and Community-Based service provider, repeated attempts by nurses to conduct a health assessment on Marci were met by resistance by Martinjak.
Karen Fletcher said Martinjak would not let the nurses in or answer the door, often claiming someone in the house was sick.
“There was always an excuse,” testified Fletcher, now a program manager with Southern Concepts.
Fletcher testified that the company would have been there to help Marci with any medical issues or even place her in a group home or with another foster provider if the family had indicated they were too overwhelmed to care for Marci.
Yet, she testified, neither Mike Garvin, nor Martinjak, ever asked for help from the agency in 2012 or leading up to Marci’s death the next year.
I want to talk for Marci. Somebody needs to do that.
ER nurse Sonya Owens
Prosecutors showed Fletcher pictures of the Garvin home. From the outside, the two-story brick house appears well-kept, with leaves bagged and sitting under a tree on the well-manicured lawn.
But inside, the house was packed full with boxes, trash and other items, reaching almost to the ceiling in areas and with only a small path to get through. A bathtub was filled with a mountain of clothes. In the kitchen, the counters, oven and dining table can barely be seen under the piles and piles of items.
“It looks like a hoarder’s house,” Fletcher said upon seeing the photographs.
In Marci’s room, her bed appears stained with urine and feces and clutter and boxes fill the room, including stacked upon Marci’s electric wheelchair, crammed among the items.
“Do you think it’s fair to assume that for quite some time, Marci never left that room?” Jarrett asked Fletcher.
“I think so,” Fletcher responded.
Asked if such a home was a clean and safe environment for Marci, Fletcher said, “No.”
Under cross-examination, Choy pointed out that Diana Salas, then care coordinator for Southern Concepts, had brought the clutter to the attention of Eaton, then program manager for the company. Yet, Choy indicated, nothing was done to remove Martinjak as foster care provider for Marci.
Fletcher testified that in her 30 years with Southern Concepts, she had never known the company to fire a foster care provider.
She pointed out, however, that Eaton and Salas no longer work for the company.
Fletcher said the company had alerted Tarrant County MHMR to the problem of not being able to conduct a nursing assessment on Marci and believed that the agency was working to address it.
Mona Patel, then a service coordinator with Tarrant County MHMR, testified that she visited the Garvin house twice in the weeks leading up to Marci’s death but never noticed any foul odors or saw any sores on Marci. Patel said she only looked in briefly at Marci both times, however, as Martinjak had told her that her sister was sick.
Although Patel was concerned about the house’s condition, she said Martinjak had explained that she had just moved in and was in the process of cleaning it up and that she took Martinjak “at her word.”
Prosecutors contend that Martinjak had lived with her parents since 2004 or 2005.
‘She was helpless’
Owens, the registered nurse, described Martinjak, who had accompanied Marci to the hospital, as “nervous and uncooperative.”
She said when she asked for Martinjak’s name, Martinjak would not give it to her.
“She said you can just call me Marci’s sister,” Owens testified.
Owens said Marci was obviously in pain, moaning and trying to push nurses away as they examined her wounds.
She died two days later from sepsis, pneumonia, acute renal failure and severe dehydration.
The state’s last witness, Dr. John Halphen, said he reviewed Marci’s records and photographs for Adult Protective Services and concluded that the neglect she suffered ultimately led to her death.
“She probably felt miserable but she couldn’t do anything but just scratch a little bit. She was helpless,” Halphen said.
Halphen said some of Marci’s wounds appeared to more than a month old and that her skin was sloughing off in areas because she hadn’t been bathed.
“I think they stuck her into a room and left her,” he testified.
He called the lack of care given to Marci “beyond gross neglect.”
“You wouldn’t treat a dog this way. Nobody would,” he said.