A gay man found guilty in June of forcing a Dallas socialite to leave her home to him and his partner in 2005 will be sentenced Friday.
Mark McCay, 50, and partner Justin Burgess faced second-degree theft charges after Mary Ellen Bendtsen signed over her portion of her family home at 4949 Swiss Ave. to them just weeks before she died.
McCay said the battle for the home began among Bendtsen’s family before she died from a stroke in February 2005. He said when her husband died, Bendtsen’s sister and brother, who each owned a third of the home, wanted to sell it. But Bendtsen refused, wanting to stay in the home.
“The house was her and she was the house. They were one,” McCay told Instant Tea on Wednesday. “You just don’t uproot an 88-year-old from her home.”
The home has since been sold after a judge nullified the will Bendtsen signed in the hospital that left her portion of the home to McCay and Burgess.
McCay’s trial began in mid-June and the jury spent a day and a half deliberating before returning a guilty verdict. He now faces up to 20 years in jail.
He said the friendship between him, his partner and Bendtsen went back 14 years with the couple having dinner together several nights a week and McCay often fixing things around her home.
When Bendtsen became ill, her sister and daughter, who had only recently moved back to the area, wanted to move her into a nursing home, McCay said.
In January 2005, Bendtsen slipped outside on slick pavement during a rainy day, twisting her ankle and cutting her forehead. McCay said her daughter forced her to go to the hospital. The accident made her daughter file for guardianship, but the daughter lost the case after Bendtsen was declared competent.
In the meantime, Bendtsen gave McCay power of attorney so the daughter couldn’t make any permanent decisions about her home.
Bendtsen was against leaving the home or selling it and wanted to leave it to McCay and Burgess to commemorate their long friendship that her family didn’t understand, he said.
After the will was nullified, McCay and Burgess went to mediation in 2006 to try to settle their claim to the home, even offering to buy it at full market value, he said.
“She wanted us to have it,” McCay said. “I’d spent so many years doing repairs and things for her.”
McCay’s partner Justin Burgess said after the probate court ruling, he and McCay were indicted for theft, along with Bendtsen’s attorney. He said that former anti-gay District Attorney Bill Hill wanted the gay couple prosecuted and they were portrayed as sneaky during McCay’s trial. Hill was a member of Park Cities Presbyterian Church, which disassociated from the national church after they approved ordaining gay ministers, he said.
But McCay had met Bendtsen shortly after moving to Dallas while in similar social circles and had hit it off, Burgess said. McCay had lost his mother early in life and he and Bendtsen were close like a mother and son. He said the relationship was closer than Bendtsen had with her own daughter.
McCay said the jury during his trial was biased, with many members wore crosses or religious T-shirts. When potential jurors were asked if they were against the “homosexual lifestyle” during the screening process, McCay said only one man raised his hand and was dismissed.
“You can’t tell me that out of a group of 65 people only one was against the gay lifestyle,” he said.
McCay will be sentenced Friday by state District Judge John Creuzot. He said he plans to appeal.
Meanwhile, Burgess’s trial date has not been set, but he worries about McCay’s sentencing. Burgess started treatment in December for cancer and finished in March, but McCay has been vital to his survival. He said he hopes that because he and McCay have clean records the judge will sentence McCay to probation.
“Without him I would be completely lost,” Burgess said. “Things that we used to do together, I can’t do because I’m still too weak.”