The Appellate Group

State v. Covington

State v. Covington, 2020 UT App 110 (Christiansen Forster, J.)


Defendant and defendant’s wife fed defendant’s autistic son a restricted diet for nearly a decade. They would lock his door to keep him from eating. As an adult, the son stood five feet one inch and weighed only eighty pounds after collapsing and being hospitalized. Within a month, he was placed in his aunt’s care and was skin and bones: he weighed only fifty-five pounds. Aunt and Grandfather immediately took him to the hospital. A specialist could detect no subcutaneous fat and other specialists believed he was suffering from refeeding syndrome. He was removed from Defendant’s care. After rehabilitation and being taught that it was okay to eat, the son’s weight increased to 123 pounds. Defendant and his wife were charged and convicted of aggravated abuse of a disabled adult. They were tried together over defendant’s objection. Defendant appeals, arguing that insufficient evidence supported his conviction and that he was prejudiced by the joinder of his wife’s trial with his. The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed, holding:

  • Sufficient evidence supports the jury’s verdict that defendant was aware that his conduct was reasonably certain to result in injury to his son’s health. The son was severely emaciated, almost at death’s door. The jury could reasonably infer that defendant’s claim that he was ignorant of the severity of the situation lacked credibility. There was abundant evidence that defendant determined what his son was allowed to eat and failed to seek medical care for him when he was aware that his son was gravely ill.
  • The defendant was not prejudiced by joinder. The record showed an abundance of evidence that the defendant directly endangered his son’s health for the reasons stated above. The record also showed the defendant placed him in an injurious situation when he placed his son in his Aunt’s care and failed to instruct the Aunt on his recent collapse and give her special instructions from the hospital.

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