Deputies: Death of nursing home patient ruled a homicide

84-year-old accused of striking 71-year-old who later died

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – The death of a nursing home patient has been ruled a homicide, the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office said Thursday.

Veteran Daniel Henson, 71, died Sunday after he was attacked April 9 at the St. Augustine Health and Rehabilitation Center off State Road 207, according to family. 

The Sheriff's Office said Thursday that it responded April 9 to the nursing home and rehabilitation center, where staff had discovered an 84-year-old resident on top of the 71-year-old, repeatedly striking him in the head and face, before staff separated the two men. 

Deputies said the 71-year-old was transported to Orange Park Medical Center and then to another facility in Jacksonville, where he died Sunday.

The medical examiner's office in St. Johns County conducted an autopsy. On Thursday, the medical examiner's office released its preliminary findings in the case, and ruled the cause of death as blunt force trauma and the manner of death a homicide, according to the Sheriff's Office. 

Henson's family told News4Jax that the 84-year-old was his roommate. According to the Sheriff's Office, due to the various medical needs of the 84-year-old, charges of battery of a person over 65 years of age were forwarded to the State Attorney’s Office for its review.

Mary Henson, Daniel Henson's older sister, told News4Jax by phone Wednesday from Colorado that her brother had a stroke 25 years ago and had been living in a nurse home since then. 

"He had some use of his left arm, but the rest of him was totally paralyzed and had been for years," she said. "My brother was not able to get out of bed or move or anything except for his left arm."

According to News4Jax I-TEAM sources with knowledge of the investigation, Henson had a fractured skull, broken bones and severe injuries to his eyes. The sources described the attack as "horrific" and "sickening."

On Thursday, Henson's sister said she was relieved to learn the case had been classified as a homicide.

"I want justice for my brother," she said. 

The Sheriff's Office said the homicide investigation continues. 

Early Thursday evening, the St. Augustine Health and Rehabilitation Center released the following statement:

The professional staff and caregivers at St. Augustine Health and Rehabilitation Center are deeply saddened by the tragic outcome of an incident at the facility on April 9th. The staff extends its deepest condolences and prayers to the impacted family.

"Facility caregivers immediately reacted to a situation and took the appropriate steps to separate the individuals. The facility contacted the St. John’s Sheriff’s Office as well as Fire Rescue to assist. As required by state law, the incident was reported that morning to The Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) in Tallahassee. We are cooperating fully with both local law enforcement and AHCA as the incident remains under investigation. Federal health privacy laws restrict us from commenting on any resident, past or present, without the written consent of the resident or his or her responsible party.

"The death of a resident is a very emotional time for facility staff. Our caregivers develop true relationships with the residents and families that enter our facility on a daily basis and take seriously their care and wellbeing.

"Skilled Nursing Facilities are the most regulated of all health care providers and undergo rigorous surveys throughout the year. Our employees are real people who answered a calling to care for our most frail and elderly population. We stand by the care of the professionals at St. Augustine Health and Rehabilitation Center and extend our prayers to the family and friends of the resident involved in a tragic situation."

About the Authors:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.