HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – The state’s highest court has ruled that criminal cases against the former superintendent and former medical director at the Holyoke Soldiers Home can resume, a year and a half after a Hampden Superior Court judge had dismissed grand jury indictments against them.
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled 5-2 Thursday that the superior court judge had erred in dismissing the indictments against Bennett Walsh and Dr. David Clinton back in the fall of 2021.
The Attorney General’s office, which was at the time headed by now-Governor Maura Healey, had appealed the lower court’s decision to the SJC.
Walsh, who was the superintendent of the Soldiers Home, and Clinton, who was the medical director, were charged with elder neglect for their alleged failure to provide services or treatment to veterans at the Soldiers Home during the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak at the facility, in which more than 70 veterans died.
The defense had argued that Walsh and Clinton specifically could not be charged under state law, because they did not provide primary care to residents. They further argued that no one should have been held criminally responsible in connection to the outbreak.
In their opinion, Thursday, written by Justice Dalila Argaez Wendlandt, the majority of justices said that will have to be decided at trial.
“Of course, sometimes bad things happen for no discernible reason, and no one is to blame. At any subsequent trial, prosecutors will need to prove their case. We conclude only that they will have the opportunity to do so,” Wendlandt wrote.
Erin Shadel, the daughter of 84 year old veteran, Francis Hennessy, a resident of the the Holyoke Soldiers Home, and a survivor of the COVID-19 Outbreak that took the lives of more than 70 veterans says those responsible should be held accountable.
“I’m relieved to think that someone may finally be held accountable for the tragedy that took the lives of so many, but it also continues to impact the survivors,” Shadel says. “What I would like to see is change; Change so this could never happen again, change so that persons that are in this position of responsibility and are responsible for lives, are appropriately trained and appropriately skilled to take care of those lives.”
In a statement sent to 22News, current Attorney General Andrea Campbell applauded the high court’s decision.
“The Court’s decision today is welcome and important news, and it affirms what we already knew: the leaders and managers of facilities like the Soldiers’ Home share responsibility for the health and safety of their residents. Today’s decision allows us to focus once again on securing accountability for the tragic and preventable deaths at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke,” Campbell stated.
22News also heard from Dr. Clinton’s lawyer, who said that this prosecution is “misguided” and that they look forward to clearing his name at trial.
Two of the court’s seven justices, David Lowy and Elspeth Cypher, dissented.