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Caregiver Testifies In Own Defense About Solvang ALS Patient’s Death

Wanda Nelson is accused, along with the victim's mother, of murdering Heidi Good in 2013

Caregiver Wanda Nelson took the witness stand in her own defense this week. Nelson is charged — along with the victim’s mother — with murder and conspiracy in the death of Solvang ALS patient Heidi Good.
Caregiver Wanda Nelson took the witness stand in her own defense this week. Nelson is charged — along with the victim’s mother — with murder and conspiracy in the death of Solvang ALS patient Heidi Good. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Caregiver Wanda Nelson continued testifying in her own defense Friday afternoon in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, recalling the 2013 death of her client, a Solvang woman with ALS.

Nelson is accused of conspiring with Marjorie Good to kill Heidi Good by giving her a heavy dose of medication and tampering with her ventilator.

Heidi relied on the breathing machine to stay alive, and was paralyzed due to the ravages of the progressive neurodegenerative disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's disease.

However, defense attorneys contend the ventilator malfunctioned and that Heidi was not overmedicated when she died on March 25, 2013. 

Nelson said she took pictures and logged scratches and other injuries on Heidi, adding the patient claimed her husband gave her the injuries.

Under questioning from her attorney, Lori Pedego,Nelson said she initially kept track of the injuries and conversations with Heidi  “because God forbid something happens" while she was working.

Nelson said she gave the information to law enforcement officers following Heidi’s death after recalling conversations with her patient about her husband, Stephen Swiacki. 

He reportedly called his wife names and was rough while suctioning mucous from her tracheosotomy. 

“She was telling me he did not want her to live,” Nelson said. 

On the day Heidi died, Nelson had left the Solvang house to pick up a prescription, testifying she erred when she first told officers she was gone at noon. 

“I was wrong,” she said. 

A receipt proved the prescription was picked up after 2 p.m., at the same time the ventilator stopped working.

While Nelson ran the errand, Good remained behind and said she had left Heidi’s room minutes earlier.

“She told me she did so I didn’t have no reason not to believe her,” Nelson said, adding she wasn’t aware that the ventilator’s alarm had sounded for 30 minutes. 

Nelson recalled being “devastated” and “in shock” at the death of her longtime client.

“I just couldn’t believed that happened,” she said. 

Prosecutors contend the women have motives for wanting Heidi dead — the elderly mother reportedly was going to be kicked out of the house and the caretaker had tax problems.

Defense attorneys say Heidi’s husband was stressed about the high cost of hiring people to care for his wife, a toll that added up to $100,000 annually.

Good, who turns 90 later this month, is represented by attorney David Bixby.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Gresser is prosecuting the case.

Testimony will resume at 9 a.m. Monday in a Santa Maria courtroom before Judge Rogelio Flores, who told the two juries they may receive instructions for deliberating by the end of the week.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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