The high profile investigation of a popular Payson doctor that started more than a year ago concluded Tuesday with a jury returning a not guilty verdict.
Dr. Michael P. Lowe was acquitted of taking over the nearly $600,000 estate of a former patient illegally, putting an end to what many supporters called a “witch hunt.”
The case involved allegations that Lowe used his influence and charm to befriend Alicia Christopherson, who later became a hospice patient, to sign him into her will and trust as the sole benefactor.
Dr. Lowe testified that Christopherson added him into her will at first without telling him and then reaffirmed her wishes several more times by resigning under her own free will.
The trial, in Gila County Superior Court in Payson, is the first stemming from a detective’s investigation that led to the indictment of Lowe and his then-wife Heather Driscoll last year.
Driscoll is still set to face trial in March for the same count Lowe faced, theft from a vulnerable adult.
Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores said her office is reviewing Driscoll’s case, but has not determined “if the verdict has any impact on our continued prosecution.”
Flores said while she was disappointed with the verdict, “the county attorney’s office will continue to vigorously prosecute cases where vulnerable adults are taken advantage of by those entrusted with their care. We appreciate the jurors’ service and the days of deliberation they devoted to this tough case.”
The jury deliberated for two days after the defense rested Nov. 10.
The case was unquestionably a complicated one, with defense attorney Elizabeth Flynn telling the jury in opening arguments to take copious notes and pay special attention to dates.
Of Tuesday’s verdict, Flynn said justice had been served.
“We were fortunate to have a very attentive jury,” she said. “They followed the law and made sure justice was done. Alicia would approve.”
During deliberations, the jury requested to review the transcript of one witness in particular.
The testimony of Dennis Omoto, a local attorney Lowe had sent Christopherson to see, to review her will and trust.
That meeting happened in June 2004, four months before Christopherson’s death on Halloween night.
Driscoll drove Christopherson to Omoto’s office after Lowe set up an appointment.
During that meeting, Omoto took notes on what occurred and what was said.
Omoto noted that Driscoll spoke with Lowe on the phone while she was in his office.
Afterward, Driscoll told Omoto that Lowe had said he was worried about Christopherson because she could not care for herself and was vulnerable.
Lowe testified he could not recall that phone conversation with Driscoll, but trusted Omoto’s notes.
At that same meeting, Omoto noted talk of another will reportedly leaving everything to another friend of Christopherson’s, who has since passed.
Lowe testified he knew nothing of this other will and no additional will was found.
In the end, Lowe maintained that Christopherson did what she wanted. Even after he tried to talk her into leaving her estate to someone else or an organization, she persisted.
“Alicia made her decisions of her own validation,” Flynn said during closing arguments.
“She did what she wanted to do and she did not do what she didn’t want to do.”