Palm Desert caretaker sentenced to 30 years to life for the overdose murder of 69-year-old woman

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A Palm Desert woman was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison for causing a string of ultimately fatal overdoses in a woman she cared for, so she could gain control of the victim’s bank account and belongings, officials announced Monday.

Marilyn Joy Zemek, 62, was convicted by a Riverside County jury in November 2019 of first-degree murder, elder abuse, grand theft and identity theft, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office said in a news release.

The jury also found true a sentencing enhancement that Zemek committed fraud in taking more than $100,000 following the June 2016 death of 69-year-old Pamelia Sue Heislar-Powell of Indio.

In the months prior to her death, Heislar-Powell’s health seriously deteriorated. She was unable to care for herself and had been hospitalized due to an overdose of her seizure medication, according to the DA’s office.

Heislar-Powell was placed under the care of Zemek, who became her primary caregiver in April 2016, according to prosecutors.

While under the care of Zemek, officials said Heislar-Powell overdosed on her medication again and was hospitalized before being placed in a skilled nursing facility. 

Heislar-Powell, however, was signed out of the nursing facility in late May against the advice of medical personnel, the DA’s office said.

Prosecutors said Zemek had Heislar-Powell draft a new will and trust naming Zemek as the sole beneficiary to all her possessions and bank account information.

Zemek then left the Heislar-Powell alone with medications she was no longer supposed to take, officials said, which led to the victim’s fatal overdose.

Following the Heislar-Powell’s death, prosecutors said Zemek spent more than $200,000 from the victim’s bank account even though she was legally required to keep the money in a trust. 

Zemek also used the victim’s identity to charge thousands of dollars on Heislar-Powell’s credit card. When the account was frozen, prosecutors said Zemek impersonated Heislar-Powell in a telephone call to the victim’s credit card company to successfully restore access to the account.

The defendant also filed probate paperwork to become appointed special administrator to Heislar-Powell’s estate and made a false declaration about her activity, officials said.

Zemek was arrested on June 12 by Indio police in Palm Desert. She will first serve a five-year sentence and then begin a sentence of 25 years to life in prison. 

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