San Diego Superior Court.
San Diego Superior Court. Photo by Chris Stone

A judge on Friday sentenced the caregiver for an elderly man who died in her care to 13 years in state prison.

Shirley Montano, 53, pleaded guilty earlier this year to multiple charges. They include voluntary manslaughter, false imprisonment of a dependent adult and perjury.

Prosecutors dropped a murder charge stemming from the death of Robert Chagas, 74, under the plea agreement. Montano also stood accused of involuntarily locking away another senior.

Authorities alleged the defendant withheld food from Chagas and Josefina Kellogg, 61, causing their health to deteriorate. They lived with her over the course of several years, during which she moved often and relocated the victims as well.

Chagas died in October 2016, at Sharp Memorial Hospital. Prosecutors argued severe malnutrition worsened his pneumonia.

Montano used the victims’ social security checks and other government benefits to buy herself a truck, among other personal purchases. She also gambled away their money at local casinos, according to prosecutors.

Testimony from Montano’s 2019 preliminary hearing indicated she kept Chagas and Kellogg isolated from others, confined to their respective bedrooms.

Montano’s niece stayed with her for about a year. She testified that for the first month she lived at her aunt’s apartment, she did not see Kellogg. The woman, she said, hardly ever emerged from her bedroom.

The defendant offered other residents or visitors various explanations for the presence of the victims, according to testimony.

Kellogg testified that she stayed in her bedroom for several hours each day. She feared angering Montano, who hit her if she did not obey the rules of the house.

Chagas was “emaciated” when he was brought into the hospital, where he died five days later, prosecutors said.

At the hospital, Montano posed as Chagas’ niece. She told medical personnel that he did not wish to be resuscitated, according to testimony.

Chagas’ family members only received word of his hospitalization after his death, they testified.

Montano’s attorney, Shannon Sebeckis, argued at the preliminary hearing there was no evidence that her client cause Chagas’ malnutrition. She called his poor health the natural result of aging.

Sebeckis reiterated the testimony of San Diego County Chief Medical Examiner Glenn Wagner, who declined to classify Chagas’ death as a homicide. Wagner said Chagas was not getting sufficient food, but could not determine why. He said only that it appeared to be due to non-medical factors.

Adult Protective Services received no calls from family or medical professionals in Chagas’ case. That factor contributed to Wagner’s decision not to classify his death as a homicide, he said.

The court heard evidence that Chagas once attributed his weight loss to not having enough money for food, Sebeckis said that issue did not prove that Montano had taken his money or withheld food. Chagas also had issues with handling his own finances.

His family testified that an accident at childbirth had left him “slow,” as his brother Richard described it. Throughout his adult life, Chagas fell victim to scams and lost exorbitant amounts of money. Family members also took an active role in assisting him with taxes and paying bills.

Sebeckis argued there was little direct evidence that Montano didn’t feed the seniors. Past roommates said they had seen her providing food for Chagas and Kellogg. The attorney also said Montano did not imprison Chagas, who she alleged left the apartment each day for his janitorial job at Sea World.

Moreover, he took a sack lunch prepared by Montano each day, the attorney said.

She also called it “pure speculation and conjecture” that Montano failed to use the seniors’ funds for their basic needs.

– City News Service