MEMPHIS (AP) — Court records indicate that a Republican candidate for the state Senate once tore up a dying widow’s last will and testament while she was unconscious.
The candidate, John Stevens of Huntingdon, is running for the open Senate District 24 seat in northwest Tennessee against Democrat Brad Thompson of the Midway Community.
The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/RGQzUt) reported that legal proceedings show Stevens in 2009 visited Ruth Keras’ hospital room and told a nurse he was her attorney.
He said the woman, who had named St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Youth Town of Tennessee as major beneficiaries, had requested in an earlier meeting that he destroy her will. The nurse, Amy M. Naylor, took a video of Stevens tearing up the will with a mobile phone at his request.
“I explained to him that she was not conscious and would not know that he was in the room,” Naylor said under oath.
Keras, 82, died the next day.
St. Jude and Youth Town sued to restore the original will, which directed her estate to be split between the two organizations, other than $100,000 left to Keras’ brother, Earl Allen.
According to court records, Stevens drew up a power of attorney on behalf of Keras, naming Peggy Wilkes of Carroll County as her attorney-in-fact. He also established a revocable trust establishing that upon her death its assets would be divided equally between Wilkes and Allen.
St. Jude and Youth Town alleged Wilkes had used “undue influence” and that the power of attorney was created under “suspicious circumstances.”
While Stevens wasn’t a party to the lawsuit, he did sign an affidavit in 2012 about his dealings with Keras.
“Mrs. Keras never acknowledged my presence. ... Mrs. Keras appeared to be asleep and non-responsive at all times during my visit,” he said. “Based on my observations of Mrs. Keras, I agree with the nurse that Mrs. Keras was not competent at the time I was present in her hospital room.”
The case eventually settled out of court, and attorneys declined to discuss the terms.
Stevens defended his actions in a statement released Monday.
“Ruth Karas hired me in Huntingdon. She was fully competent,” he said. “Her former lawyer, a chancellor who had retired, recommended me among other local lawyers. I was one of the last people Ruth met with. I carried out her wishes in the last days of her life. I acted on her wishes and her wishes alone.
“Ruth wanted her will changed — for the third time. After she lost consciousness, the only legal option left open to me was to tear up her second will in her presence — as required by law. I spend most of my time helping elderly people make some of the toughest decisions anyone will ever make. My sole purpose in this matter was to carry out Ruth’s wishes as expressed to me in the hospital in Huntingdon.”
Stevens said he carried out his duty as a lawyer and said he always will.
“It is what I will do as your state senator,” he said, claiming his opponent is playing dirty politics. “I think that is what we all expect from the people in our lives and should expect from candidates as well. Brad Thompson ought to be ashamed for dragging these good people through the mud."
Thompson’s campaign manager, Carol Andrews, said official court documents show Stevens admitted to an unethical and unlawful act involving interference with the wishes of a dying woman’s last wishes to leave her estate to helping sick and troubled children.
“John Stevens knows he has no defense for preying upon a dying, elderly woman who for many years had simply wanted to leave her estate to sick and troubled children,” she said. “If he didn’t do anything wrong, then why did he sign an official affidavit stating that he did?”
Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com. Published in The Messenger 9.25.12