State Worker Found Not Guilty In Psych Patient's Death
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
March 13, 2006
VERNON, TEXAS--After a three-day trial and three hours of deliberation, a Wilbarger County jury found a psychiatric hospital employee not guilty Friday of manslaughter in the beating death of a patient.
Former North Texas State Hospital aide Michael Fontenot faced a possible 20-year prison sentence in the February 9, 2005 death of Michael Fiala, who was described as having mental illness and mental retardation.
An autopsy found that Fiala died as the result of blunt force trauma to the head. His body was also covered with both old and new bruises.
While no witnesses came forward to say they saw Fontenot assault Fiala, security cameras videotaped Fiala's rapid decline after an 11-second period in which he was alone with Fontenot -- out of the camera's range -- the day before he died.
Fiala's father, Raymond, testified that his son told him on the phone just a few hours before his death that staff members at the psychiatric facility were beating him up.
And before he lost consciousness, Fiala reportedly told a nurse: "Michael Fontenot just beat me up."
But doctors at the psychiatric unit testified that the fatal blow came two or three weeks before Fiala's death, a conclusion with which prosecutors disagreed. Staff members added that other patients at the facility physically and verbally abused Fiala.
Videotape taken in the morning of Fiala's death reportedly showed a staff member causing his wheelchair to fall over backwards and Fiala's head to hit the floor of the padded "quiet room". A neurosurgeon who performed emergency surgery on Fiala before he died said that blow was not sufficient to bring about Fiala's death.
Even though Fiala did not have problems with the law, he had been transferred the previous year to the facility that is normally reserved for patients who are accused of crimes or are considered too dangerous for the general psychiatric population, the Times Record News reported.
Raymond Fiala has said he would file federal suits against the hospital, its superintendent, and Fontenot.
"Fiala's father angered by video of son's deteriorating condition" (Times Record News)
"Fiala's stay at hospital painful" (Times Record News)
"State rests in hospital death trial" (Times Record News)