“Every voice must be heard”; the starvation death of Robert Gensiak

By Dave Andrusko

Susan Gensiak, the mother of Robert Gensiak who was starved to death, is escorted by police

Susan Gensiak, the mother of Robert Gensiak who was starved to death, is escorted by police

It seems like only yesterday, not for a good reason, but because  the horror of the case made the memories so vivid.

A year ago last June we reported on the arraignment of the mother and sisters of Robert Gensiak. The women were charged in the starvation death of the 32-year-old  Taylor, Pennsylvania, man.

Mr. Gensiak, who had Down syndrome, weighed 69 pounds at his death, ”his shrieking flesh raked by scabies and lice,” wrote Chris Kelly for the Scranton Times Tribune.

I just learned today that earlier this month all three were sentenced by Lackawanna County Judge Margaret Bisignani Moyle. The mother, Susan Gensiak, was sentenced to 10 to 20 years. “Joan Gensiak, 36, will spend six to 15 years in state prison while Rebekah Gensiak, 25, was sentenced to six to 23 months in Lackawanna County Prison,” Kelly wrote.

When we first reported on this ghastly case, we quoted Lackawanna County District Attorney Andy Jarbola. “This is the worst case of neglect I’ve seen the last 26 years,” he said at a press conference. “This family, the mother and two sisters, basically let this young man rot to death” [http://nrlc.cc/1tTP73X].

According to Joseph Kohut of the Scranton Times Tribune

“An autopsy conducted by forensic pathologist Gary W. Ross, M.D., revealed an extreme case of neglect. Autopsy photos show his skin was a sickly yellow with cracked areas that had oozed with blood and fluid. Open sores pockmarked his body, so extreme in spots that his bone was visible. As a matter of taste, The Times-Tribune is not publishing the photos.”

   Just what Mr. Gensiak meant to the family was clear from the very beginning. When police came by the day after he died to find out how his health had deteriorated so badly, “Family members expressed concern that if they placed Mr. Gensiak in a personal care facility, the financial support they received from his Social Security benefits would dry up,” Kohut reported.

“Before the end of the interview, investigators said Mr. Gensiak’s mother asked if she would still receive her son’s Social Security check even though he died.”

All that came back at the trial.

Mr. Gensiak “was confined to a child-sized bed soiled with human waste and his emaciated frame was pockmarked with oozing open sores,” Kohut reported. “He had a mouth full of rotten teeth that probably gave him agony when he tried to eat, Assistant District Attorney Suzanne Tierney said.”

“He suffered and suffered as he lay in a room inside that home,” Judge Moyle said. “No one (in the home) can claim ignorance or that they didn’t know better.”

All this unfathomable neglect transpired while the “mother and the sisters cashed the $1,042 monthly state checks meant for his care,” Kelly wrote.

“Help was available, but Robert’s mother and sisters refused to seek it,” Kelly wrote. “They filled their prescriptions, had doctor appointments and ate regularly. They had money for Internet and cable TV, but none to feed the miserable prisoner in the next room. Robert was a source of income, nothing more.”

Rebekah Gensiak received a far lesser sentence. She had “pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of neglect of a care-dependent person because she testified against her family at court proceedings as part of a plea deal,” Kohut reported.

The conclusion of Kohut’s story is extremely powerful:

Don Broderick, the executive director of the Arc of Northeastern Pennsylvania, and Sara Wolff, a motivational speaker who has Down Syndrome, sat in the courtroom and watched. They wanted to speak, but settled for writing the judge letters.

“Had we known of Robert, we could have helped the family find services and supports for him,” Broderick wrote. “We could have received day services and even residential care if warranted. But he was removed and hidden from society, secluded and isolated, eventually to die a horrible death.”

The Arc will place a memorial plaque at their Meadow Avenue office in the coming weeks that reads: “Robert Gensiak: Every voice must be heard.”