BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — TOPSFIELD — A “chronic” alcoholic who served two years in state prison for killing his elderly mother during a drunken assault on her in 2009 was given a stern warning after admitting yesterday that he’d been drinking again.
“If you don’t work at this every single day, you know where you’re going to end up,” Salem Superior Court Judge David Lowy told Robert Friberg. “Your mother is the victim of your alcohol abuse, and she deserves no less than you getting up every single day and fighting this.”
Priscilla Friberg was 72 and living in an over-55 community with her unemployed, alcoholic son when she returned home from her job at a school cafeteria one afternoon in March 2009 to find that he had been drinking much of the day. Police later determined that he had a blood alcohol level of 0.229.
Friberg, who had no license, demanded that she drive him to a doctor’s office to pick up prescription painkillers, and became irate when she refused. When she tried to pick up the phone to call for help, he struck her with it.
It wasn’t that blow that killed her, however. Instead, prosecutors argued, and Friberg later admitted, the stress of the situation caused a drastic and dangerous spike in the elderly woman’s already high blood pressure, causing an aneurysm that killed her.
Friberg, now 48, pleaded guilty in 2010 to manslaughter, witness intimidation, and two counts of assault and battery involving a person over 60, and was sentenced to two to 21/2 years in prison, to be followed by seven years of probation, by Judge Timothy Feeley. Prosecutors at the time had sought a far-lengthier sentence of seven to 10 years.
One of the conditions of that probation was no use of alcohol, to be enforced by the use of an alcohol monitor.
After his release last summer, Friberg was sent to the Salvation Army treatment program in Saugus, which he successfully completed, a probation officer reported yesterday.
He then moved into a “sober house” in Peabody.
But in February, Friberg twice failed random alcohol tests, probation officer Steve Busby told the judge yesterday. On one test, on Feb. 15, he showed a blood alcohol level of 0.05 and, three days later, tested positive again, with levels of 0.02 and 0.03, the probation officer told the judge.
Those results led to him being locked up again on Feb. 18.
Both Busby and Friberg’s lawyer, Denise Regan, said Friberg had been doing well before the relapse.
“Despite this setback, he has made significant progress,” Regan argued yesterday. “Relapse is common in this disease.”
Lowy agreed to go along with the request to put Friberg back on probation.
Friberg was released yesterday with an order that he return to the Salvation Army program for another round of treatment.
The case had some similarities to that of Daniel Kerrigan, the brother of Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, who was charged with manslaughter but later cleared by a jury after prosecutors accused him of causing his father’s death from a heart attack by assaulting him. Kerrigan served two years for the lesser offense of assault and battery.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.