The Hall of Justice in downtown San Diego. File photo

A woman testified Tuesday that her caretaker, who’s facing murder and other felony charges for allegedly mistreating the witness and another person who died while under the defendant’s care, beat her, forced her to stay in her bedroom for hours each day and demanded that she hand over her monthly Social Security benefits.

Shirley Montano, 52, is accused of keeping the woman, Josefina Kellogg, and a man, Robert Chagas, captive for years at several apartments throughout San Diego, while spending their Social Security payments and withholding food from them.

Prosecutors allege Chagas’ Oct. 7, 2016, pneumonia death at age 74 was due to malnutrition while he was under the care of Montano, who is charged with murder, elder abuse and identity theft in relation to Chagas, and also faces charges of kidnapping, false imprisonment, elder abuse, identity theft and perjury in relation to Kellogg.

Testifying at the defendant’s preliminary hearing, Kellogg testified that Montano did not allow her to leave her room between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily, and would berate her and sometimes beat her if she did not obey the rules of the house. She was also not allowed to speak to Montano’s niece or her children, who stayed with their aunt at an apartment in North Park for about a year, according to testimony.

Kellogg said Montano wouldn’t allow her to leave the apartment on her own and only rarely accompanied her in public. Those few public outings included occasional medical checkups and trips to the grocery store, where Kellogg said she was rarely allowed to choose what food she wanted.

Montano’s niece testified Tuesday that for the first month she lived at her aunt’s apartment, she was not even aware Kellogg existed because the woman would hardly ever emerge from her bedroom.

The niece said Chagas and Kellogg never ate with her or Montano and that she was not permitted to take them food, even though she felt they were not given enough to eat.

She testified that Montano gave her a variety of explanations regarding Chagas and Kellogg’s presence at the home, including stating that Kellogg was Montano’s sister or Chagas’ wife.

The niece said Kellogg appeared unhappy and occasionally fearful, walking around the home with her head down, and was sometimes scolded by Montano, who referred to Kellogg as nina — Spanish for girl.

Chagas fell ill while in Montano’s care and was taken to Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego, where he died five days later.

His family members, including his brother, sister-in-law and niece, testified last week that they were only informed of his hospitalization after he had died. They were told that a woman claiming to be his niece brought him to the hospital.

The woman, later identified as Montano, told family members that Chagas did not want them informed of his hospitalization, and told medical personnel that he did not want to be resuscitated and should be taken off life support, according to testimony.

San Diego County Chief Medical Examiner Glenn Wagner said “severe malnutrition” played a role in Chagas’ death, but that he could not definitively say that the death was a homicide. Wagner said Chagas was not getting sufficient food, but he could not opine as to why, only that it appeared to be due to non-medical factors.

No calls were made by family or medical professionals to Adult Protective Services in Chagas’ case, which also contributed to Wagner’s opinion not to classify his death as a homicide, the doctor said.

Montano previously pleaded guilty to an elder abuse count in relation to her one-time neighbor, Lorraine Vega, who Montano began caring for in early 2016.

Police took notice of Montano’s relationship with the woman when Vega’s daughter informed them that larger-than-usual amounts of money were being withdrawn from her mother’s bank account.

The wheelchair-bound Vega later told police that Montano was canceling her doctor’s appointments and keeping her from using her phone or purse.

Montano told police that she was using Vega’s credit card to shop for groceries and Vega’s medication, as well as pay contractors to maintain a nearby rental property that Vega owned.

The preliminary hearing, which will continue Wednesday, will determine whether there is enough evidence to order Montano to proceed to trial on the 10 felony charges.

— City News Service

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