An Axtell woman convicted of deception to become heir to an elderly man’s estate was sentenced to 10 years in prison Friday.
Jurors in 54th State District Court rejected the pleas of Melissa Adler’s attorneys to spare her from prison, recommending that retired State District Judge George Allen send her to prison for 10 years on each of two counts.
The jury convicted Adler, the former marketing director for Woodland Springs Nursing Center, 1010 Dallas St., of two counts of securing the execution of a document by deception, while acquitting her of a third count involving a witness to the will signing.
The charges were second-degree felonies, each punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
She will serve the sentences concurrently and must be given credit for serving a quarter of her time before she can be considered for parole.
Adler, 45, was convicted of defrauding former McLennan County Judge Jim Lewis and Waco attorney Gerald Villarrial as part of the process of probating the will of Eugene Handley, a World War II veteran who lived at Woodland Springs.
Assistant Attorney General Carolyn Denero said Adler befriended Handley and “took a particular interest in him outside her duties as marketing director.”
That relationship led to Adler being the beneficiary of more than $100,000 after Handley changed his will to include her, Denero said.
The attorney general’s office prosecuted the case after McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna recused his office because of his relationship with Waco attorney Ray Rushing.
Rushing was indicted with Adler in June 2011 in the case for his alleged role in helping her prepare the will.
The attorney general’s office dismissed the charges against Rushing in March after he completed an undisclosed pretrial diversion agreement, court records show.
The prosecutors alleged that Adler took advantage of Handley, who they said had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was not competent to lawfully alter his will.
Handley died in 2005 after a stay at the Waco Veterans Administration hospital.
Bill Johnston, Adler’s attorney, argued that Handley essentially was all alone with no one to look after him.
Adler cared for him and he was of sound mind and under medication for his condition when he decided he wanted Adler to have his estate, Johnston told jurors.
“Who was defrauded? If Mr. Handley told his own lawyer that he wanted her to have his estate, who was defrauded? Has the statute even been violated?” Johnston asked.
In the punishment phase, Denero told jurors that Adler was charged with insurance fraud in January as part of an investigation into a suspicious fire at her residence on Retreat Center Road near Axtell in November.
Those charges remain pending.
Axtell woman gets 10 years in will dispute
August 10, 2013
Woman Who Convinced Elderly Man To Leave Her $160K Sentenced
August 9, 2013
WACO (August 9, 2013)—Melissa Adler, of China Spring, who was convicted of forcing a change in an elderly man’s will that left her with a $160,000 inheritance, was sentenced to two 10-year prison terms Friday.
She’ll serve the terms concurrently.
Jurors deliberated about four hours Thursday before finding Adler guilty of two counts of securing a document by deception.
They acquitted Adler on a third count.
Adler, 45, was accused of convincing the elderly man for whom she was caring to alter his will to include her, which at his death, the state says, left her with a $160,000 to which she was not entitled.
McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna recused himself and his office from prosecution and requested attorneys from the Texas Attorney’s General’s office proceed with the issue to trial.
Judge Matt Johnson told Adler earlier that if she repaid the funds, he would not proceed with the trial, but when she failed to do that, the case was returned to court.