Louisiana parents accused of neglecting their adult daughter to the point that she “melted” into a couch have been indicted on murder charges for the second time, authorities recently announced.
Lacey Ellen Fletcher, 36, is believed to have suffered from nearly complete paralysis – a condition referred to as “locked in” syndrome. On Jan. 3, 2022, she was found dead on her parents’ 1960s-style couch at the family’s home in Slaughter.
The woman was found covered in feces, emaciated, her body riven with ulcers. A human-sized hole was worn down into the couch where she allegedly sat – and relieved herself – for several years, according to East and West Feliciana Parish District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla.
The woman’s body slowly rubbed the hole through the upholstery and cushion, authorities said. The hole was filled with feces and urine. The DA’s office said there was also feces shoved into the victim’s face, chest, and abdomen – and that her hygiene had been neglected to the point that maggots lived in her matted, knotted hair.
The floor beneath the couch was reportedly “buckling” due to the feces and urine that had compiled there, “sources close to the case” said, according to Baton Rouge-based ABC affiliate WBRZ.
Parish Coroner Dr. Ewell Dewitt Bickham III reportedly said the woman had last seen a doctor some two decades ago. She weighed all of 96 pounds at the time of her death and had COVID-19.
“I couldn’t eat for a week, and I cried for a week,” Bickham told WBRZ.
Starvation, the coroner determined, contributed to the woman’s death.
“The question on everybody’s mind is, how could they be caretakers living in the house with her and have her get in a condition like that?” D’Aquilla told New Orleans metro area outlet NOLA.com in late April 2022. “It’s cruelty to the infirm. We can’t just let it sit.”
Months passed before the investigation into Lacey Fletcher’s death had been wrapped up. But by the end, the DA was intent on pressing charges. A formal indictment on charges of murder in the second degree was issued against her parents, Sheila Fletcher, and Clay Fletcher, in early May 2022, Law&Crime reported at the time.
“This case was so horrific,” D’Aquilla told WBRZ. “The coroner and the sheriff’s office initially investigates this case in January and the condition she was found was just unbelievable. You don’t treat anybody or animals like that.”
Each of the accused parents had their bond set at $300,000 and they were able to quickly get out of the East Feliciana Parish Jail.
Prominent members of the community, Sheila Fletcher resigned as town alderman shortly after her daughter died.
But the criminal charges didn’t last.
On May 8, the Fletchers’ defense attorney, Steven Moore, filed a motion to quash the indictments against his clients, arguing the DA’s office served documents that were different from those filed with the local court clerk. Moore said there were six mostly small, but material, differences between the court papers, according to The Advocate.
“In sum, the indictment in the record is either a substitute or a different indictment returned by the grand jury,” Moore reportedly wrote, in a copy of the defense motion obtained by the paper.
One of those amendments, however, which was written by hand, added language from a law regarding cruelty to the infirm. And that addition, Moore said, was an untoward effort to “create a new crime.”
“The District Attorney seeks to convict the Fletchers of second-degree murder by improperly amending the indictment so the State can attempt to convict by a lesser burden,” the defense attorney wrote.
A court agreed.
On May 30, District Judge Kathryn “Betsy” Jones tossed the second-degree murder indictments against the surviving Fletchers due to defective language in those charging documents.
Undeterred, D’Aquilla promised to convene a second grand jury on June 19 – the same day the defendants’ trial was originally set to begin. He told the Advocate that the new indictments would nix the language from the cruelty to the infirm law. The DA also predicted the process would play out quite a bit quicker now because the defense had previously been apprised of all the state’s information in the case.
According to Baton Rouge-based CBS affiliate WAFB, citing D’Aquilla, the court denied two other reasons to dismiss the indictments – based on an alleged lack of specific intent and a missing signature. But one reason was enough.
On June 19, the couple were indicted again, the DA said. They were then re-arrested and were quickly able to make bond again.
“We will ensure there is justice for Lacey and the public knows that caregivers will be charged for neglecting or abusing a person in their care,” D’Aquilla said in a statement obtained by The Advocate.
The DA predicts the murder trial will begin this fall.
Alberto Luperon contributed to this report.
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