Sanford woman to serve 2 years for financially exploiting elderly neighbor

January 30, 2023
Accomack County Courthouse

By Linda Cicoira

A 63-year-old Sanford woman will spend the next two years in prison for financially exploiting her elderly and mentally incapacitated neighbor.

Rose Marie Thornes, of Saxis Road, pleaded guilty last September to one of 17 counts of financial exploitation of the late Philip Douglas Fisher, who was 87 years old when he died in 2019.

In a plea bargain, the other 16 counts were not prosecuted and the defendant agreed to pay back the $68,200 she obtained from Fisher between May 16, 2017 and Sept. 24, 2018 through a civil judgment. Commonwealth’s Attorney Spencer Morgan said the restitution would likely be collected with “garnishment through tax returns” as they “can’t rely on her to make the payments.”

Morgan said Fisher lost his wife and his health started to deteriorate in 2015 when Thornes became his self-appointed caregiver. His family started noticing large cash withdrawals before Fisher died. The local department of social services received a complaint and investigated. The prosecutor said a bank video showed Thornes making a $9,000 withdrawal from an account that belonged to Fisher. The defendant and her husband also paid $14,000 in cash for repairs to the roof of their house, an expense that coincided with money withdrawn from one of Fisher’s accounts, Morgan said.

Thornes asked for leniency Thursday, through loud sobbing and partly indecipherable words. With her back to spectators, she was heard saying, “I’m sorry …  I loved Phil … I’m sorry for any pain that I’ve caused … I regret anything that I’ve done.”

The defendant was facing Judge W. Revell Lewis III, who also heard her deny her guilt.

“You stand before me today and say you didn’t take anything from him” despite the evidence, said Lewis. “The court is incredulous,” he added just before sentencing her to 10 years in prison with all but two years suspended.

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Fisher did not get diagnosed with dementia until 2018. That late diagnosis was the reason the prosecutor said he offered a plea bargain. Defense lawyer Carl Bundick said Thornes made the agreement for one charge to avoid conviction of more.

The defendant’s husband of 43 years, Johnny Wayne Thornes, testified on her behalf. He brought two bags of pill bottles to the court and talked about her depression, COPD, and tremors.

     Johnny Thornes said that after Fisher’s wife died, he spent every holiday with the Thornes family and that they were all friends. “I gave Charles Fisher and his wife seafood for 40 years,” he added. It was unclear why he called the victim Charles.

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