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Former caregiver sentenced to life in prison for torturing elderly patients at Calabasas retirement home [Updated]

May 26, 2010 | 11:31 am

A former caregiver who was convicted of torturing vulnerable residents at an upscale Calabasas retirement home was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison for torture with an additional six years for elder abuse.

[Updated at 11:40 a.m.: Cesar Ulloa, 21, stared blankly ahead as relatives of his victims described the pain he inflicted on their loved ones and pleaded with the judge for a stiff sentence.

Rita Kittower, 86, called Ulloa a "cruel, evil caretaker" who inflicted "sadistic animal-like torture" on her husband.

"I wish you suffer forever," she said in court.

Suspicions into Ulloa were spurred when Kittower received an anonymous call after her husband's funeral, alerting her that her husband's death was caused by abuse, not natural causes.

After the sentencing, the petite elderly woman said she was relieved but still grieving.

"I can't get it out of my mind what he did to my husband," she said.

Ulloa, boy-faced and clean-shaven during his trial, had a beard at Wednesday's sentencing.

He stared and nodded at his family, sitting quietly in the back of the courtroom, as he was escorted out.

His attorney, Daniel Teola, maintained that the witnesses who testified against Ulloa were co-workers jealous of his success and who had committed similar abuse themselves. He said he had hoped the life sentence, and the additional six years, could have been served concurrently, which the judge ruled against.

Judge Martin Herscovitz noted the "bizarre sense of pleasure" Ulloa seemed to derive from abusing his victims. He said the crimes were made worse by the fact his victims were "trapped in their own bodies" unable to call for help.]

Ulloa often laughed as he attacked residents, some of whom were too dementia-ridden to call for help, witnesses said. A Van Nuys jury found him guilty on eight counts of torture and elder abuse in April.

During his trial, a former co-worker testified that she saw the Reseda resident clench his right fist and punch a wheelchair-bound man in the stomach.

"Haven't you had enough?" former caregiver Luz Alvarez recalled Ulloa saying, laughing as the man gasped.

Ulloa was named employee of the month during his tenure at Silverado Senior Living, where he was responsible for bathing residents and escorting them around the facility.

Relatives of residents pay upward of $70,000 a year to house their loved ones at the elite retirement home. Silverado officials have denied any wrongdoing as an organization, though they said they respected the jury’s guilty verdict for Ulloa.

Caregivers such as Ulloa, 19 at the time of the abuse, often go to work with only a high school diploma and a few days of training. Though cameras were installed in the halls, there was no monitoring of caregivers in residents' rooms, a setup the prosecution alleged was ripe for abuse.

Co-workers recalled shocking stories of abuse during the trial. In one instance, Ulloa body-slammed a mute 78-year-old woman like a professional wrestler. In another instance, he leaped off a dresser and landed both knees into an elderly man's abdomen.

They said he often taunted residents. In one case, he told a male patient he "was sexing his daughter."

Suspicions about Ulloa were spurred after a resident’s widow received an anonymous phone call in 2007 alerting her that her husband’s death was caused by abuse, not natural causes as the family had believed.

Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies retrieved the man’s body from the grave and found dozens of broken bones around his chest. A radiologist at trial compared the trauma to being hit by a train.

-- Robert Faturechi at L.A. Superior Court in Van Nuys

Elmore KittowerRelated:

A nursing home death, and a shocking phone call

Homicide Report: Elmore Kittower, 80

Top photo: Cesar Ulloa appears in Los Angeles County Superior Court Van Nuys, where he received a life sentence for torturing elderly residents at an upscale retirement home. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Bottom photo: Elmore Kittower, in a family photo, died at Silverado Senior Living in 2007. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times