West Chester man charged in father’s death

Updated at 3:30 p.m. with defense attorney's comments

“No way for any person to die” is how Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan described the manner in which a 92-year-old veteran met his end.

Edward J. O’Brien III

Edward J. O’Brien III

On Wednesday, April 29, Hogan and West Whiteland Police Chief Joseph M. Catov Jr. announced the arrest of Edward J. O’Brien III, 61, of West Chester, in connection with the death of his father, Edward O’Brien Jr., on Sept. 8, 2013. The son, who served as his father’s caretaker, faces charges that include third-degree murder, theft, and related offenses.

O'Brien's attorney, Joseph P. Green Jr., called the charges outrageous and accused Hogan of resorting to "trial by press release." In a prepared statement, Green called his client "a kind and decent man who cared for his aged father every day for two and a half years until his father passed away at age 93," having declined further medical care.

Hogan said that when police responded to the O’Briens’ residence, they found the victim dead, covered with bedsores and feces, and they learned that the son had removed his father from a rehabilitation facility two years earlier. During a lengthy investigation, detectives determined that the son had deprived his father of proper medical care and stolen $30,000 from him.

“This was a complex investigation that involved extensive review of both financial and medical records,” said Hogan. “If somebody treated an animal so shamefully, everybody would be horrified. The fact that it happened to an elderly man, and was caused by that man’s own son, is inexcusable.”

Hogan said the victim was a veteran of the U.S. Army, where he served from 1942-45. He later worked for the U.S Postal Service. In 2011, the victim, a widower, was living alone at his home in Collingswood, N.J., and taking heart medication.

According to the criminal complaint, the senior O’Brien fell in 2011 and was taken to the hospital and then Cooper River West, an acute rehabilitation facility in New Jersey. On May 29, 2011, his son, his only child, checked his father out of the rehabilitation hospital, claiming that they could not afford the care; he also transferred $30,000 from his father’s bank account into his own, the complaint said.

Green said his client, who had power of attorney for his father, removed him from the facility in accordance with his wish to be spared "death by nursing home" and that he moved money from one joint account to another.

The complaint said the victim had a government pension and was eligible for health care as a veteran, but the son returned his father to his Collingwood home, ignoring discharge instructions that he receive acute care 24 hours a day.

A day later, the Collingswood Police Department conducted a well-being check and discovered that the victim was not receiving around-the-clock care, the complaint said. The police informed O’Brien III that they would be reporting the issue to Adult Protective Services. As a result, the son brought his father to live at his house in West Whiteland Township, the complaint said.

The complaint said that during the next two years, the elder O’Brien received minimal care, did not get his prescribed medication, and did not even have a doctor. When West Whiteland police responded to a 9-1-1 call from the son on Sept. 8, 2013, they found O’Brien Jr. unresponsive amid filthy conditions. An autopsy revealed that he died from congestive heart failure and acute bedsores, the complaint said.

Green disputed that account. He said his client devoted the next two and a half years to caring for his father. He prepared three meals a day for him, coming home from work each day to make him lunch.

“We are extremely sad to have lost a valued member of our community and a veteran of our armed forces under these conditions,” said Catov, adding that investigators will continue to ensure that O’Brien is “held fully accountable for his actions.”

O’Brien III was arraigned on Friday, April 24, and bail was set at $150,000 unsecured. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for May 11, according to court records.

"Ed O'Brien is innocent of these charges, and we look forward to a prompt trial by jury, to a complete acquittal, and to the restoration of Ed's reputation for honesty and integrity," Green's statement said.

Anyone with further information on the case, which was handled by the West Whiteland Police Department and the Chester County Detectives, is asked to call West Whiteland Sgt. Jason Madormo at 610-363-0200.

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