On FindLaw's Blotter, we recently told the story of alleged elder abuse and the death of the woman involved, Anne Copeland. EMTs and police were called to Copeland's home the second week in December to find the 98-year-old wounded and lying in a soiled bed. Her daughter, 60-year-old Gloria Park Clark, was charged with abuse and neglect resulting in death of a vulnerable adult, under South Carolina's elder abuse statues.
The story is sadly all too typical. With the exception of one extraordinary detail.
Upon arriving at the home of the late Ms. Copeland, the police investigator on scene told The Post and Courier that there was one bit of evidence that helped convince them they might be dealing with a unusually bad case of elder abuse.
There was a pet parrot in the house, and what the parrot had to say gave police Lt. Eric Bonnette a chill.
The parrot was mimicking, 'Help me. Help me.' Then he would laugh," Bonnette said. "We think he was mimicking the mother when he said, 'Help me. Help me,' and mimicking the daughter when he laughed."
The question attorneys reading this unusual case might just ask is: would the parrot's "statement" be admissible under hearsay rules during a trial?
Let's make an argument to allow the parrot's mimicry (which would certainly go to any intent or state of mind that might be required under South Carolina laws) under a hearsay exception. The first that comes to mind is that of excited utterance.
An excited utterance is one made under the stress of the moment. While the parrot's cry heard by Lt. Bonnette was not made under stress, the time at which the mimicry entered the parrot's repertoire arguably was. Based on what the parrot is saying, "Help me!" seems to be a statement made (allegedly by the victim) during a startling or stressful event as required by the exception. Therefore, it ostensibly should be admissible.
It would be better, of course, to have the parrot himself (or herself) testify.
If the court hears testimony by Lt. Bonnette as to what it was the parrot actually said, we may be heading into hearsay commenting on a hearsay exception territory (or an exception on an exception). Murky territory, indeed.
Perhaps the promise of a cracker will get this very valuable witness to testify in any trial that may occur over the death of Anne Copeland.
- Parrot's Chilling Comments Aid Police in Elder Abuse Case (ABA Journal)
- Summary of the Rules of Evidence ( Vincent Dicarlo, State of California Attorney General Medical Fraud Bureau, FindLaw)
- Hearsay, the Sixth Amendment, and Framers' Intent: The U.S. Supreme Court Hears Argument in Giles v. California (FindLaw's Writ)