On Monday, at the Fort Frances Courthouse, former registered practical nurse Lindsey Coyle pleaded guilty for criminal negligence causing death to the late Hermina Fletcher who was receiving care at LaVerendrye Hospital in Fort Frances.
The investigation of the death of 76-year-old Hermina Fletcher began on January 14, 2015. Rainy River District Ontario Provincial Police arrested and charged Coyle for criminal offenses including second-degree murder, criminal negligence causing death, theft, and other offenses.
Melvin Fletcher Jr. and his daughter Melissa Fletcher, surviving family members to the late Hermina Fletcher, expressed the difficulties of waiting for justice for so many years.
“It took 4 years for Ms. Coyle to be charged with second-degree murder, fraud, and other offences. She has lived freely in the community with little consequence since Hermina’s death. It has been over 3 years since she was charged,” the statement read.
“Ms. Coyle was a licensed medical professional in a position of authority and public trust. She abused that authority and trust. She knew what she was doing. She knew what the serious or fatal harm to Hermina could be. This was not a mere error or oversight – it was a selfish and calculated attempt to take advantage of an elderly victim who was in medical distress.”
According to the family’s statements, Coyle misappropriated Hermina’s medications for her own use. The Ontario Court of Justice accepted an agreed statement of facts that Coyle’s actions were the cause of Hermina’s death.
The family express their fear that the conviction of criminal negligence causing death may result in a sentence that does not fully reflect the gravity of what had happened.
“Not only would a light sentence be upsetting to our family and the suffering of our late mother and grandmother, but it would also disrespect all victims of elder abuse and all those who have been victimized or taken advantage of while undergoing medical treatment,” the statement read.
Hermina’s family will be submitting victim impact statements in hopes that the court will apply a just and severe sentence in accordance with Coyle’s actions.
In the same statement, Douglas W. Judson, the lawyer representing Melvin Fletcher Jr. and his daughter Melissa Fletcher, shares his sympathies for the family and said that his clients are optimistic that victim statements will help convey the issue.
The following details were outlined along with the family statement:
It would take over 4 years after Hermina’s death – until August 2019 – for Ms. Coyle to be charged with second-degree murder. Ms. Coyle’s charges have now been before the court for almost 3 years, with January 2022 marking the seventh anniversary of Hermina’s death. Today’s court appearance was the first and only public clarification of the events leading to Hermina’s death.
In the 7 years since Hermina was killed, Ms. Coyle continued to live freely in the community, despite breaking her bail conditions. Due to a publication ban, it is unclear whether the Crown has ever required Ms. Coyle to contest a bail hearing.
In the lead up to today’s plea, Ms. Coyle’s charges were adjourned over 32 times. Neither Ms. Coyle nor her lawyer have been present for the majority of these appearances. Instead, the Crown Attorney has appeared on behalf of Ms. Coyle’s defence lawyer on numerous occasions. This courtesy is rarely provided to other accused persons or counsel.
On April 19, 2021, Hermina’s estate, Melvin Fletcher Jr., and Melissa Fletcher commenced a civil action against Ms. Coyle and Riverside in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. Riverside has defended the allegations, denying liability. Ms. Coyle has not filed a defence. She is thus in default. The civil matter has yet to go to trial.
The matter has been adjourned to October 25, 2022 to set a date for sentencing and to monitor the completion of a pre-sentence report.
Elisa Nguyen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort Frances Times