Coroner: 46-Pound Woman Starved to Death

Couple faces manslaughter charges in a family member's death from malnutrition.

ByDavid Schoetz
February 10, 2009, 7:58 PM

Oct. 25, 2007— -- A Georgia couple living among cobwebs, cockroaches and feces face involuntary manslaughter charges after a blind and deaf family member weighing just 46 pounds was found dead outside their home.

Rescue personnel went to the couple's Augusta, Ga., residence Sunday evening after receiving a 911 call about a deceased person. Paramedics found 30-year-old Christine Baxter's tiny body in the front yard, Capt. Calvin Chew of the Richmond County Sheriff's Office told ABC News. Efforts to revive her were unsuccessful.

Paramedics called for police backup when the residents of the house, Jeanne Peterson -- Baxter's 47-year-old sister -- and her husband, 52-year-old Buel Peterson, refused to let the officials into the house, Chew said.

Inside, investigators for the Richmond County Sheriff's Office found foul living conditions, including a roach infestation, walls and floor smeared with both human and animal feces, and a 200-pound pot-bellied pig living among several free-roaming dogs and cats.

"I've never see anything like it before in my life," Chew said, describing the scene.

Still, no arrests could be made based solely on the condition of the home. "Anyone can live any way they want to live," Chew said.

Baxter, whose health condition also prevented her from feeding herself, had previously lived under the care of her mother, Chew said, and when her mother died, she moved in with her sister and brother-in-law. While Baxter may have been at their residence, there was no documentation citing the pair as her new legal caregivers.

The Richmond County coroner ruled the cause of Baxter's death "malnutrition" and, because of Baxter's helpless condition, a homicide. Armed with the new determination, Chew said, Richmond County investigators brought the case before a grand jury, which swiftly indicted the Petersons on involuntary manslaughter charges.

The pair was arrested Tuesday and are being held at the Richmond County jail, where they are scheduled to face arraignment this week. If convicted of the involuntary manslaughter charge, each faces up to 10 years in prison.

Code enforcement officials, who had received complaints about the house in the past, condemned the residence Tuesday. The pot-bellied pig and one dog had to be euthanized, while four other dogs have been quarantined.

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