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2 held in neglect of elderly relative

(ran PC edition of PASCO TIMES)

Three months ago, deputies found the body of 81-year-old Helene India Johnson in her Homosassa home. She was so thin that she appeared to have been malnourished.

On Tuesday, a grand jury accused Johnson's daughter and granddaughter of failing to care for her properly before she died. The panel handed up indictments charging them each with aggravated manslaughter of an elderly person, neglect of an elderly person and principal to a felony in the first degree.

Patricia E. Wells, 56, and Wendy Anita Wells-Morris, 28, were both at the Citrus County jail Wednesday afternoon, each held in lieu of $30,000 bail.

The manslaughter charge is designated as aggravated because the victim was older than 60. It does not imply that the neglect and negligence was violent, according to Assistant State Attorney Don Scaglione, who is handling the case and presented the state's evidence to the grand jury Tuesday.

For four months, the three women had lived together in the bluish-gray, doublewide mobile home with maroon shutters at 6201 W Holiday St., two blocks off Grover Cleveland Boulevard.

Now, only 77-year-old Cecil Wells, Patricia Wells' husband, remains there.

Wells-Morris' husband, Michael Morris, left two months ago with their infant son, according to Cecil Wells.

After the family's financial records and Johnson's medical records were subpoenaed and reviewed, Citrus County sheriff's detectives found there was more than enough money available for Johnson to have satisfactory medical care.

Authorities said a trust fund in excess of $100,000 and proceeds from the sale of Johnson's Largo home specifically were put in place for her day-to-day living and care.

Johnson's daughter and granddaughter had a joint account with $30,000 at the time of her death, an amount that included money from the sale of the Largo home, said sheriff's spokeswoman Gail Tierney.

"Apparently, there was no problem making medical payments from the trust fund," she said.

Despite the available money, authorities maintain, Johnson's daughter and granddaughter failed to get appropriate medical help when Johnson's health declined. They said she hadn't been under a doctor's care since February 2002.

A Pinellas County doctor had diagnosed Johnson with dementia and bowel absorption disorder, Tierney said. Johnson also had fallen a couple of times, possibly resulting in fractures. Before her death, she had been bedridden for two months.

Cecil Wells said his mother-in-law received adequate care, and that his wife and their daughter always looked after her.

Johnson was an aggressive woman with mental problems, fierce with doctors, often telling them to leave without attending to her, Wells said.

Wells said Johnson did not want to eat. He said she wanted to die.

"We couldn't afford doctors every time," he said during an interview Wednesday. "And when we could, she'd tell them to get out."

Jane Sutter, who has lived in the neighborhood for 11 years, described Cecil Wells as a kind and pleasant person, with whom she often conversed during his walks. But his wife, Patricia Wells, didn't welcome visitors.

"Nobody seemed to know what was wrong and didn't know how to find out," Sutter said.

On April 3, Cecil Wells said, he went to the grocery store and checked in on Johnson before he left. When he returned, Johnson was dead.

"My wife had been looking over her mother for 30 years," Cecil Wells said. "She's always been there."

Michael Morris' departure with his son upset Wendy Wells-Morris, Cecil Wells said. She became increasingly more upset during the days leading up to the grand jury.

"I don't think she had a good night's sleep for about a week," Cecil Wells said, noting that his daughter would spend late nights studying her grandmother's doctor's papers to prove her innocence.

Photographs shown to the grand jury revealed Johnson had marks on her body at the time of her death, according to Wells. But Wells, who did not closely view the photos, disagrees.

Autopsy reports showed Johnson died of marked generalized wasting and dehydration, Tierney said. She said a contributing factor to both was senile dementia.

Tierney said it was obvious to deputies that something was wrong. "It was visually apparent to people she was not getting fed properly," she said.

Additional charges for the women and possibly other people may be forthcoming, authorities said.

"We're still reviewing a lot of financial records for additional charges, and we're also reviewing other culpable individuals that might be charged," Scaglione said.

An arraignment date for the women, the next step in the judicial process, has not been set. Assistant State Attorney William Catto said it will occur within the next month.

_ Staff writer Colleen Jenkins contributed to this report. Suzannah Gonzales can be reached at 860-7312 or sgonzalessptimes.com. April Simpson can be reached at 860-7305 or asimpsonsptimes.com.

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