The Louisiana parents whose daughter’s body was found “melted” into a maggot-ridden couch have pleaded no contest to ma*nslaughter — with prosecutors seeking 40 years behind bars for the horrific neglect.
Sheila and Clay Fletcher, of East Feliciana, were initially arrested in January 2022 after their 36-year-old daughter, Lacey Ellen Fletcher, 36, was discovered de*ad in a waste-filled crater in the family’s couch covered in urine and feces.
She had sat there for 12 years, and weighed less than 100 pounds.
The parents, who faced second-degree m*urder charges, pleaded no contest Monday to reduced charges of man*slaughter, WBRZ reported.
Prosecutors will request the maximum sentence of 40 years behind bars, East Feliciana Parish District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla said, according to the Advocate. Their sentencing hearing has been set for March 20.
“The Fletchers are pleading no contest to the new charges. They had no choice. This is an open-and-shut case — they allowed their daughter to suffer unbearably on that couch,” D’Aquilla said.
“We want this case to be a message. We want to stand for the people who can’t speak for themselves, to say this treatment will not be tolerated.”
The DA called for the parents to be jailed immediately after entering their pleas, but District Judge Kathryn “Betsy” Jones allowed them to continue their bond until Feb. 20, when they must surrender, according to the outlet.
The Fletchers’ defense team said the couple cared for their daughter and did not intend to hurt her.
“They were negligent, yes. It is clear they were negligent. They loved her to death — that is the true statement with the Fletchers. They loved their daughter to death,” defense attorney Steven Moore said during the hearing, according to the Daily Mail.
“When you look back at it, you wonder, why? How could this happen? It did happen. But at no point did Sheila or Clay Fletcher ever have a single intent to harm their daughter. They loved their daughter to a fault,” he said.
“They are completely remorseful. Their life revolved around Lacey Fletcher. … They lived for Lacey Fletcher,” Moore added.
When Lacey was found in her family’s home, she was stuck inside a waste-filled crater in the couch — with the local medical examiner describing her as having “melted” into the piece of furniture — and weighed less than 100 pounds.
She was covered in maggots and sores, had ulcers on her bottom and fecal matter on her face, chest and abdomen, officials said about the case they described as “acute medical neglect.”
The parents had maintained their innocence, claiming Lacey was “of sound mind” and refused to leave the living room, where they said they brought her meals and set up a potty.
Authorities said Lacey was diagnosed with social anxiety and had a history of severe Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism spectrum disorder which leaves people with maladjusted social skills.
She also reportedly suffered from locked-in syndrome, a rare neurological disorder characterized by complete paralysis of voluntary muscles, except for the eyes.
On Monday, Moore cited her autism spectrum disorder.
Anyone with handicapped children can tell you those things can happen. This is an extreme example of how that happens. They have taken responsibility. Now they look back, they can’t believe they got to the position they’re in,” he said, according to the Daily Mail.
“They are good people who have never been in trouble in their life. They are great members of this community, people came to support them, because that is not who they are,” Moore said.
“They are not criminals. They are on bond because they are not a danger to anybody in this community. They have never been a danger to the community,” he said.
“The things that happened to Lacey are horrible. But they cared for her daily. Sheila Fletcher would come home at lunch every day to care and eat lunch with her daughter every single day,” the attorney added.
In her autopsy report, forensic pathologist Dana Troxclair said Lacey’s body was covered in pressure ulcers and that she suffered chronic bone infection with “polarizable fibers (most likely fibers from the couch) and maggots embedded in the exposed surface of the bones,’” the outlet reported.
“Maggots were present in the perineum and areas of the decubitus ulcers. If the maggots would have appeared after death, there would have been at least a minimal presence of eggs or larvae in the region of the eyes, ears, or nose,” he wrote.
“These areas, together with any wounds, are the preferred spots for colonization. There was no evidence of decomposition at the time of the autopsy; therefore, it was determined that the maggots were present prior to death,” Troxclair added.
Lacey’s cause of death was listed as sepsis due to a chain reaction of multiple conditions, including bone infection, prolonged immobility, malnutrition and “severe chronic neglect of a special needs individual.”
On Monday, many people showed up to support the parents, while the prosecution brought in victim advocate Dana Lovett to support her late daughter, WBRZ reported.
“Nobody should have to have lived like she did all these years,” Lovett said. “They had so many resources at their fingertips, especially Mrs. Fletcher. Why she didn’t utilize those resources when she was actually almost hand in hand with people that could help is beyond me.”
The mother resigned her post as alderman in the town of Slaughter after Lacey died.