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Greed called motive for woman's death in San Jose

Posted on Wed, Apr. 02, 2003  at:

Greed called motive for woman's death in San Jose
By Elise Banducci
Mercury News

Stanford physician Cheryl Walker wept openly Tuesday and her mother sat stoically as a prosecutor told a Santa Clara County jury that the two women hastily moved Walker's 95-year-old grandmother from Florida, looted her estate and gave her a ``lethal cocktail'' of prescription drugs.

The motive, according to Deputy District Attorney Cameron Bowman: greed.

Dozens of Janice and Cheryl Walker's friends listened intently to opening arguments during the first day of the pair's trial for embezzlement and elder abuse in connection with the death of Mary Koleber in May 2001.

Prosecutors say the women used the money from Koleber's estate, valued at about $476,000, to help finance the purchase of two homes.

But Janice Walker's attorney, Ann Moorman, vigorously disputed the prosecution's version of events, arguing that the Walkers were the only relatives who cared enough to respect Koleber's wishes. Koleber, Moorman told the jury, had made it clear that she did not want to linger in a nursing home or to receive aggressive medical care.

She died the way she wanted to, Moorman said, at home surrounded by her family.

``She died with her dignity and her self-respect.''

Though the Santa Clara County coroner officially ruled the cause of Koleber's death as unknown, an autopsy showed a potentially lethal mixture of morphine, codeine and a third medication in Koleber's system.

Moorman told the jury that Koleber died of pneumonia. She said the drugs had nothing to do with her death. After the trial recessed on Tuesday, Moorman declined to specify how the drugs got into Koleber's system.

Janice Walker, 74, is free on $1.5 million bond. Her daughter, Cheryl Walker, 45, a prominent doctor on unpaid leave from Stanford Medical Center, is free on $1 million bond.

In outlining his case, Bowman said that Koleber had insisted for many years that her estate be divided among each of her family members. But in April 1999, after being hospitalized and diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease -- a diagnosis the defense disputes -- Koleber gave her daughter power of attorney.

At that point, Bowman says, ``the embezzlement of Mary Koleber's estate begins.''

Soon after, Koleber changed her will, making Janice Walker her sole heir and Cheryl Walker her alternate beneficiary.

The prosecution alleges Koleber, suffering from dementia, was manipulated into doing so.

But Moorman argued that Koleber made a clear-headed decision to leave her estate to the only people who stayed in touch with her during her declining health and who later cared enough to take her into their home. The Walkers moved Koleber from her Florida home to San Jose about two months before she died.

The defense claims that the criminal case was pushed by two relatives who neglected Koleber during her life and were angry about being disinherited. The relatives, Cheryl Walker's brother and cousin, have sued both Walker women for elder abuse, wrongful death and breach of fiduciary duty.

Opening statements by Cheryl Walker's attorney are scheduled to begin today.

Contact Elise Banducci at or (408) 295-3983. 


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