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Caregivers sentenced to prison for man’s starvation death in Penn Hills

April 9, 2018

Barbara LaFace turned to the husband and wife who had let her 54-year-old brother, David Furhman, slowly starve to death under their care in Penn Hills, and wondered aloud how it could have happened.

“I just can’t grasp the thought of how a decent human being could ignore cries for food and water,” LaFace said at the sentencing hearing for Pamela McNeal and Adam Haynes, who had been Fuhrman’s housemates and caregivers for more than 15 years. “My brother died at the careless and selfish hands of these monsters.”

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Donna Jo McDaniel gently reminded LaFace to address her, not the defendants, before sentencing the couple to seven to 14 years in prison Wednesday afternoon.

Police said Haynes, 49, called 911 to their Penn Hills home from an OnStar device in his vehicle on Nov. 24, 2015. Police and medics responded and declared Fuhrman dead in his bed. He weighed 76 pounds, was wearing three adult diapers and had infected bedsores.

Fuhrman had mental disabilities that left him functioning at about the level of a 5-year-old. LaFace said he connected with McNeal and Haynes through a volunteer service similar to foster care, but they gradually withdrew him from contact with the rest of the family.

The couple told police that Fuhrman’s health declined in the six months prior to his death, as he became unable to walk or sit up, was incontinent and was unable to feed himself. They noticed a large bedsore on his back but did not call 911 or seek medical treatment beyond cleaning the wound with peroxide, according to the criminal complaint against them.

In January, they pleaded guilty before McDaniel to third-degree murder, conspiracy, neglect of care and reckless endangerment. Brandon Herring, defense attorney for McNeal, 60, said his client had health issues of her own until she could no longer adequately care for Fuhrman. McDaniel agreed she could serve her time in a correctional facility for geriatric inmates.

“She was working multiple jobs to provide for her family,” Herring said. “She allowed this situation to get well beyond her control.”

Both defendants offered their apologies to the court and said they wish they had done more.

But Assistant District Attorney Julie Capone said all either one of Furhman’s caregivers had to do was pick up a phone to call medics; instead they kept him in their house, his body slowly withering and consuming itself while they continued to collect his benefits checks.

“I pray every night when they lay their heads down, that they are haunted by my brother’s cries,” LaFace said.

Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6660, msantoni@tribweb.com or via Twitter @msantoni.