St. George — Four months after being arrested -- and two weeks before indicted by a Knox County grand jury for endangering her bedridden husband by not providing him the care he needed -- a 67-year-old Spruce Head woman was declared to be a devoted care giver by a probate judge.
Lincoln County Probate Judge William Avantaggio signed an order Dec. 21 in response to a request by the children of the late Ralph Cline Jr. for custody and control of their father's body. The judge ruled that his wife Shirley Cline should be granted immediate and exclusive custody and control of his body.
"That he was unhealthy was simply the existing state of affairs, and clearly not the result of any lack of care by Mrs. Cline," Judge Avantaggio stated. "While Mrs. Cline could perhaps have made a call to find care for her husband during her absence, she was also dealing with a head injury and ambulance attendants."
"Far from indifferent, it is clear Mrs. Cline devoted her life to to the care of her husband," Avantaggio stated.
Ralph Cline Jr. died Dec. 6 at the age of 83 at Coastal Manor in Yarmouth. He had been married to Shirley Cline for nearly 10 years.
He suffered a stroke in October 2014, was hospitalized for several months followed by a stay at a rehabilitation center until returning home. In July 2015, he suffered a second stroke.
He was brought back to their home in January 2016. Shirley Cline "virtually exclusively" cared for her husband from that date until her arrest in August 2017, according to the probate judge.
On July 28, 2017, Shirley Cline slipped outside her home and struck her head. She was taken by ambulance to the hospital and later in the day returned to the home.
When she returned, she found Ralph Cline had been removed from the home. Law enforcement had found Cline alone in bed in a "poor state of health and cleanliness."
An affidavit filed by the Sheriff's Office in Knox County Unified Court in August reported that police were called when Shirley Cline had been taken to the hospital and Ralph Cline had been left alone. Police managed to enter the house and found he was covered in feces and needed medical care.
Ralph Cline was later returned to the home. Police returned to the house on Aug. 3 to talk with Shirley Cline and found the house and Ralph Cline clean, according to Probate Judge's Avantaggio's ruling.
But Shirley Cline was uncooperative with the Knox County Sheriff's Office detective, a home health care nurse and a representative of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, according to the judge's report.
She was then arrested by the Sheriff's Office detective and charged with endangering the welfare of an endangered person.
His children were then granted temporary guardianship and conservatorship of their father on Aug. 16 in the wake of Shirley Cline's arrest.
After his death in December, the children filed its motion to have custody of their father's body. Judge Avantaggio ruled on Dec. 22, however, that Shirley Cline had properly cared for her husband.
Shirley Cline was indicted Tuesday, Jan. 2, by a Knox County grand jury for endangering the welfare of a dependent person. The charge is a Class C felony.
The indictment alleges that between July 28 and Aug. 3, 2017, in Spruce Head, Cline "intentionally or knowingly endangered the health, safety or mental welfare of a dependent person, Ralph Cline, who was unable to perform self-care because of advanced age or physical or mental disease, disorder or defect."
Ralph Cline was a lumberman by trade and operated a family sawmill. He was a local historian and a civic leader. He served as a selectman and chairman of the select board for the town of St. George.
A 2015 story by The Courier-Gazette featured Shirley Cline as serving as the coordinator of the Midcoast Stroke Support Group. She talked about caring for her husband, who had suffered his second stroke in two years.
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Probate judge order contradicts criminal charge against Spruce Head woman