The trial of Mark McCay, an antique dealer facing attempted theft charges in conjunction with the estate of Mary Ellen Bendtsen, entered its second week today in a Dallas courtroom.
McCay stands accused of conspiring to use a now-discredited will signed under suspicious circumstances by Bendtsen to divert her partial ownership of 4949 Swiss Ave. from Frances Ann Giron, Bendtsen’s daughter, to McCay and his partner, Justin Burgess. McCay, Burgess and their attorney Edwin Olsen all face charges and up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Olsen has since been disbarred. Meanwhile, trial dates are pending for he and Burgess.
McCay’s lawyers kicked off the defense today with two witnesses – Beatrice Grayson and Rhonda Decker Chandler. Both women, friends of the late Mary Ellen Bendtsen, also maintain current relationships with Mark McCay.
Despite Grayson’s hearing impairment being an issue throughout her testimony, she described a relationship spanning five decades with having met the Logan family (Bendtsen’s parents and former residents of 4949 Swiss Ave.) in the early 60s while living in an apartment adjacent to the Swiss Avenue house. The friendship endured through Bendtsen’s 2005 death.
She described Bendtsen’s independence, her love of the 4949 Swiss Ave. property and unwillingness to move saying “Mary Ellen was the house and the house was Mary Ellen. You couldn’t take one without the other. She made it what it was and she loved it.”
Grayson told of ongoing stresses between Bendtsen and her daughter that peaked in early 2005 with Giron’s transferring money out of Bendtsen’s bank account and petitioning for her guardianship – moves both fueled by Giron’s concerns over the seemingly predatory relationship between her mother and Mark McCay.
Expressing a differing point of view regarding the Bendtsen-McCay friendship, Grayson described how McCay was a “best friend” to Bendtsen in terms of taking her out, doing things around her house and always bragging about her. Bendtsen thought of McCay, per Grayson’s testimony, as a son.
Bendtsen and Grayson’s relationship was further tied through befriending Rose Cline, a woman Grayson says she met at an Albertson’s grocery store. Grayson said she later introduced Cline to McCay and Burgess who then hired the woman as a caregiver for Bendtsen. Grayson also hired Cline to drive for her and her 90+-year-old friend/roomate as Grayson is blind in her right eye and the other woman is wheelchair-bound.
Cline later was a witnesses along with Dixie Tidwell for the now-discredited will executed Feb. 22, 2005, the date of Bendtsen returning to Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas with a stroke-related diagnosis and occurring just six weeks after a fall in which she was termed to have “brain bleed.”
Grayson says that over the years – including after the fall – she saw no decline in Bendtsen’s mental capacity. She said 88-year-old Bendtsen was exactly the same as she had been for the decades prior.
Grayson continues a relationship today with Mark McCay and Justin Burgess seeing them once or twice a month. She also maintains a relationship with Edwin Olsen – or “Char” as she’s nicknamed him.
McCay and Burgess visit Grayson and her now 92-year-old roommate sometimes taking them to dinner, others times just coming to visit, listen to music and drink a glass of wine. Olsen comes and plays Scrabble with the pair or else drives them places as needed. Prior to his disbarment, he also became her friend/roommate’s attorney.
When asked about her own financial situation, Grayson testified that with living on Social Security and not owning a home, she has no money to offer McCay. She did, however, say that in addition to introducing McCay and friends to her roommate, she also introduced them to a now-deceased gentleman friend, a University of Texas at Dallas professor and nuclear physicist. When asked if she had made similar introductions to other friends, she replied “many.”
The second defense witness, Rhonda Decker Chandler, echoed much of Grayson’s testimony. Bendtsen and McCay were both, per Chandler, like family. McCay took care of Bendtsen, Bendtsen did things for McCay like throwing him a 30th birthday party.
Chandler said Bendtsen was frustrated by changes implemented by Giron during the last months of her mother’s life. Seeking the guardianship was a major issue for Bendtsen.
Bendtsen’s mental capacity was intact as per Chandler’s testimony. The January 2005 fall took no mental toll. From the time she met Bendtsen in the early 90s until her death, no signs of mental decline occurred.
Since Bendtsen’s 2005 death, Chandler has also maintained a relationship with McCay. Per her testimony, they talk largely via phone at least once a month.
The defense presentation continues Tuesday.
Lou Ann Anderson is an advocate working to create awareness regarding the Texas probate system and its surrounding culture. She is the Online Producer at www.EstateofDenial.com, a Policy Advisor with Americans for Prosperity – Texas and a Director of Women on the Wall. Lou Ann may be contacted at info@EstateofDenial.com.