The carer of a 54-year-old woman with cerebral palsy who died in April 2020 has pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
Rosa Maria Maione was charged last year, four months after Ann Marie Smith died in hospital from severe septic shock, multiple organ failure, severe pressure sores and malnutrition.
Ms Maione came before the Adelaide Magistrates Court on Wednesday and admitted to unlawfully killing Ms Smith.
Police previously alleged Ms Smith died of serious criminal neglect and her death was preventable.
Ms Smith – known as Annie – was found in what police described as “disgusting and degrading” circumstances, in her Kensington Park home.
She relied on a carer for all of her needs and her death sparked multiple investigations and public outrage last year.
Police reports allege she may have spent up to a year confined to a cane chair before she died in hospital.
In the period leading up to her death, Ms Maione had worked as Ms Smith’s carer.
Details of Ms Smith’s death were revealed by police last May and Ms Maione was charged last August.
Ms Smith was a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participant who lived alone in the Adelaide suburb of Kensington Park.
Her care provider, Integrity Care SA, was fined more than $12,000 by the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission for failing to report her death.
In June last year, Major Crime detectives revealed $35,000 of jewellery and two fridges were missing from Ms Smith’s home.
They also revealed her car had been used by an unknown person, her inheritance had disappeared and two separate loans totalling $70,000 were taken out in Ms Smith’s name in the last six years.
Last month, a friend and former schoolmate of Ms Smith told the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with a Disability that she was a caring person who loved to laugh and was cherished by her family.
In a statement read to the Disability Royal Commission, the woman gave a moving account of their longtime friendship and said Ms Smith’s treatment and death remains “incomprehensible”.
The pair had gone to primary school together in Adelaide and kept in touch during high school and as adults but had lost touch in the year before Ms Smith’s death because of a falling out.
“This is something I really struggle with,” the woman said.
“I shouldn’t have made excuses. I carry a lot of guilt about that and I know that things would have been different if I had gone around to see her.”
“For me, it is still incomprehensible what has happened to her.”
As well as the South Australian Police investigation, the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commissioner, Graeme Head, launched an independent inquiry by former Federal Court Judge Alan Robertson, with his report last year essentially clearing the Commission in terms of how it exercised its regulatory functions.
Mr Robertson said the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission had no information to act earlier and would not have been able to ban Ms Maione prior to Ms Smith’s death.
People With Disability Australia President Sam Connor labelled Ann Marie Smith’s death “organised crime” and “system failure”, while Greens Senator and Disability Spokesperson Jordon Steele-John says Ms Smith’s manslaughter “was avoidable”.
“The neglect she experienced at the hands of those who were paid to support her is outrageous, and sadly, not an isolated experience,” Senator Steele-John says.
“Many disabled people experience violence, abuse and neglect. We must change the systemic problems that lead us here. “
Ms Maione will appear in the Supreme Court in September for the sentencing process.