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Judge says defendant would 'likely die in jail,' imposes probation

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A woman who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of her elderly father was spared jail time after a judge Wednesday expressed doubt that she had been negligent, instead asserting that Tammy Zdon had been "set up to fail."  

PITTSFIELD — A woman whose elderly father died while under her care has been spared jail time after a judge expressed doubt that she had been negligent and acknowledged that she would “likely die in jail.”

Tammy M. Zdon, 50, was sentenced Wednesday to a year’s probation by Judge John Agostini, who agreed with the recommendation by Zdon’s attorney. Agostini rejected the prosecution’s request that Zdon serve six months in jail.

That period of incarceration, defense lawyer Jill Sheldon argued during the sentencing hearing, would be “akin to a death sentence” for Zdon, who she said is suffering from “end stage” chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Zdon walked slowly into court with an oxygen tank, which Sheldon said she requires constantly when she is not receiving other nebulized medical treatments.

Because of Zdon’s compromised immune system, Sheldon said, she is not eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. And Zdon successfully has been treating a substance use disorder with methadone after becoming addicted to medication that was prescribed to her years ago for a dental issue, she added.

Zdon was the caregiver for her 72-year-old father, John Zdon, who required around-the-clock care, according to Assistant District Attorney Andrew Giarolo. Despite his physical difficulties, John Zdon was adamant about not wanting to go to a nursing home.

He died in August 2016, days after a family member found him unresponsive, “emaciated” and suffering from numerous, severe bedsores. He weighed about 71 pounds at the time of his death. It later was discovered that he had a broken femur.

At a previous court hearing, the prosecutor said John Zdon had missed doctor’s appointments and wasn’t taking his medications.

Zdon was trying “desperately” to treat her father’s bedsores, and was open with her brother with her opinion that their dad rapidly was declining, but ultimately failed to “recognize her own limitations” as a caregiver.

Her family has forgiven her “wrongdoing,” Giarolo said. But, he said, a man died in pain, so, the commonwealth believed that a period of incarceration was appropriate.

She pleaded guilty in Berkshire Superior Court in July to involuntary manslaughter and caretaker abuse on an elderly or disabled person.

Agostini said he did not believe that her conduct was intentional, and expressed doubt that it even was negligent.

“Ms. Zdon was put into a position to fail,” he said.

Sheldon and Zdon embraced after the judge announced the sentence.

After the hearing, Sheldon said that Zdon was not well enough to stand trial, so, the decision was made to plead guilty to the charges.

“This was not an intentional act, I think [Judge Agostini] was right when he said she was set up to fail,” she said. “There was no family stepping in to help out, and given her health, this is the only resolution that would have been just.”

Amanda Burke can be reached at aburke


or 413-496-6296.

Cops and Courts Reporter

Amanda Burke is Cops and Courts Reporter for The Berkshire Eagle. An Ithaca, New York native, she previously worked at The Herald News of Fall River and the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise.

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