The police officers knew something was wrong as soon as they walked into Donald Parojinog’s bedroom.
The 83-year-old was dead — curled on his side atop a plastic-covered mattress. Air fresheners sat nearby, unable to mask the overwhelming odor of decay. The officers pulled back a thin blanket to find an emaciated, naked body covered with more than a dozen open sores. Five of the wounds were so deep that bones were exposed.
The discovery led to a 21 / 2- year neglect investigation and ultimately the conviction of Donna Parojinog, the victim’s daughter and caregiver — a case that culminated with her sentencing hearing Monday in a Montgomery County courtroom. The central question: How much jail time, if any, should the 61-year-old educator, who had no previous criminal record, receive?
“This raises a number of different issues which many people of our age have to deal with,” said Judge David Boynton, 55, ticking off the challenges of caring for aging parents. “It is difficult. It is expensive. It is emotionally demanding.”
At the hearing, Parojinog said that her father, who had suffered three strokes, told her he was ready to die. He refused food, she said, and she heeded his wish.
“He didn’t want to live if he could not get around on his own,” Parojinog, who has continued to care for her elderly mother, told the judge.
Experts in elder care expect more neglect cases to surface around the country as people live longer and more suffer from dementia. Many of them are with family members who can become overwhelmed by stress and fail to provide the care that’s needed, said Mary Twomey, co-director of the National Center on Elder Abuse.
“We can not like what she did,” Twomey said of Parojinog’s actions, “and still understand how she got into that situation.”
Donald Parojinog once worked for the U.S. Postal Service and cut hair in a barber shop on Georgia Avenue in the District. He and his wife, Sylvia, were longtime members of Nativity Catholic Church, and Donald was an active member of a local Knights of Columbus chapter, serving for two years as the grand knight. A snappy dresser, he’d show up for Knights meetings in, say, a white suit, white shoes and a tie, while his buddies arrived casually attired.
“Dressed to the nines,” his friend Bill Davis fondly recalled in an interview.
Behind the chair at the barber shop, Donald was more reserved, conversing about the topic of the day but generally following the lead of his loyal customers.
But by 2007, he was growing forgetful. The strokes eventually left him unable to get around on his own — a frustrating situation. “He wanted to be able to take care of himself and he couldn’t,” said another friend, Everett Crosson. Nor could he help his wife, who had also fallen ill, as much as he wanted to, according to Crosson and others.
Stepping into the role of his caregiver was the couple’s daughter, Donna. As she took him to hospitals for treatment, nurses and doctors increasingly took note of Donald’s unkempt condition. They reported what they saw to social workers, who tried to arrange at-home assistance, according to prosecutors. But they said Donna Parojinog sometimes turned away help.
“She was a red stop sign at the door. Do not come in,” Montgomery Deputy State’s Attorney John Maloney said in court Monday.
On Jan. 18, 2011, the county’s 911 operators received a call from a woman speaking in a soft voice from her home on Billman Lane in the Glenmont area of the county.
“I have an elderly, deceased person in my home,” Donna Parojinog said. “He’s not moving or responding, and he’s not breathing.”
The 911 operator said they were sending someone right out.
“Now, ma’am,” Parojinog responded, according to a recording of the call played in court, “when they come, do they have to have all those bells and whistles going on?”
Montgomery Police Officer Chris Malouf arrived about the same time as the medics. Speaking in court Monday, he said he could smell the odor of a decaying body as he walked in. And he noticed something else: “There were flies in the entryway,” he said. “Flies were flying around everywhere.”
The officers found Donald Parojinog on a hospital-style bed.
Donna Parojinog told the officers that she had tried to give her father food three days earlier. The next day she saw her dad alive, but then she didn’t see him for two days — in large part because she spent that time in her own room, sick herself. “I had a very violent something, flu, virus. I don’t know what,” she told detectives.
An autopsy showed that Donald Parojinog weighed 99 pounds at his death and had suffered from malnutrition and sepsis linked to the open sores on his body.
On May 30, his daughter pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, admitting that she had neglected her father. As part of the deal, prosecutors agreed to ask for a maximum of 18 months behind bars — a reflection of Parojinog’s otherwise clean record.
In court Monday, Maloney, the prosecutor, criticized her explanation that she was heeding her father’s wishes, saying that he was too mentally impaired to know what he wanted. “I don’t think he asked to die with bug larvae inside infected wounds,” Maloney said. “I don’t think he asked to die in his own feces and urine, and live in that squalor.”
Parojinog’s two daughters spoke at the hearing. “She’s just a very caring and loving person,” one of them told Boynton. “Never malicious. Not a malicious bone in her body.”
Her attorney, Jeffrey Harding, urged the judge to put her on probation, not in jail, so that her work as an educator wouldn’t be affected and she could continue caring for her mother.
Parojinog spoke for about 11 minutes, starting off by saying how much she admired and loved her father. For him, living meant going to church on Sundays. It meant taking care of his wife.
“When he couldn’t do that anymore, he lost interest in living,” she said. “He said so over and over again. He apologized all the time to my mother and to myself for having to care for him.”
Then it was time for the judge, Boynton, who spoke about Donna Parojinog’s life outside the case. “There’s certainly a lot there that indicates you are an otherwise very fine person,” he told her.
He acknowledged the hardships of caring for aging parents. But he drew a distinct line: Once a person assumes that role, he said, they have to at least provide a minimum level of care.
“There has to be some punishment imposed. There has to be some message sent that this type of conduct is unacceptable and it cannot be tolerated by our community,” Boynton said. “If you can’t do what it takes, then initially you have to say no. You can’t say yes and fail to act. It’s that simple.”
Boynton sentenced Parojinog to 12 months in the county jail.
Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.