Jail time for woman who stole from comatose man
A woman with a financial criminal history spanning three states and at least two decades will spend the next several years behind bars after she admitted to stealing from her comatose, common-law husband.
Lenora Denise Reese-McNair, 52, was indicted by a Jefferson County grand jury July 18, 2013 for exploitation of a child, elderly individual or disabled individual, a third degree felony.
It all started when Derek McNair, a diabetic with a history of kidney and heart problems, suffered a massive heart attack and fell into a coma in December of 2012.
According to a probable cause affidavit, soon after Derek fell gravely ill, Lenora forged three key documents which allowed her complete access to Derek McNair’s bank accounts and estate.
Those documents include first, a marriage license filed at the County Clerk’s office dated Feb 11, 2013, signed by Derek and stated that Derek was “In military on duty — unable to get home until end of Feb.”
Police would later learn that Derek was not actually in the military “on duty,” but was in a coma from which he would never awake.
Lenora’s next move was a power of attorney which she admitted in court to presenting to hospital staff where Derek was staying and to Gulf Employee’s Credit Union where Derek banked. Within a few months of Derek’s death, Lenora admitted to spending at least $15,000 from Derek’s accounts.
Lenora’s third and final move was to file a Quitclaim Deed and a Terms of Life Estate, both of which were apparently signed by Derek McNair in January 2013 while Derek was in a coma. The probable cause affidavit said this last document gave Lenora 100 percent ownership of the home Derek bought a few years before his death.
All three documents were signed by Derek McNair while he was in a coma and were notarized by Jamaal Bush, Lenora’s son, who is also charged with exploitation of an elderly or disabled person.
When she appeared before Judge John Stevens’ Criminal District Court on Monday, May 12, Lenora had already pleaded guilty to a lesser third degree felony theft Friday, April 11.
During her sentencing hearing Monday, Lenora’s defense attorney, Kevin Laine, argued that Lenora and Derek were common law married as Derek had introduced Lenora as his wife on numerous occasions to friends and family. Indeed, Laine called three of Derek’s co-workers at the Army Reserve who testified that Derek talked about Lenora as his wife and said he was buying a home and a car for her.
Laine also pointed to Stevens’ court that the money Lenora took from Derek’s bank account was used to renovate their new home based on a contract that Derek signed before he fell comatose. Lenora said she had access to Derek’s accounts before Derek fell ill and claimed she was following her common-law husband’s wishes.
Though she admitted to forging Derek and her son’s names on the three documents — the marriage license, power of attorney and deed — Lenora claimed she was only trying to secure Medicaid benefits for Derek, who she said “made too much money” to qualify for Medicaid coverage and whose private insurance had run out.
By moving Derek’s home and assets into her name, Lenora said she forged the documents as part of her last effort to provide Derek with healthcare.
“So, you did this to defraud the Medicaid program?” Stevens asked.
It seems Lenora’s criminal history in the area of theft may have also been too much for Stevens to stomach. According to Steven's court, this will be Lenora’s third conviction for financial theft, the first of which was in 1985 in Orange County, California. The second of which was in 2003 involving two years confinement and restitution to the victim of more than $21,000.
“You have committed crimes all across this country,” Stevens said before sentencing Lenora to five years in state prison.
“I acknowledge my wrongdoing,” Lenora said.
As for Lenora’s son, Jamaal Bush, an attorney familiar with the case said the District Attorney’s office will likely drop the charges against Bush as his mother, Lenora, fully admitted to forging his name as a notary public on the three fraudulent documents.
Before Lenora was escorted to prison, Stevens said it was self-serving greed that brought Lenora to use Derek and her son’s names in a plot for material gain.
“Coveting those material things have put you in a big mess,” Stevens said.