At a Tuesday preliminary hearing, Columbia County Magistrate Judge Grady Blanchard ruled there was sufficient evidence against Denise Marie Chinnery, 46, to proceed with prosecution. Chinnery was arrested April 28 at her home on Mahala Lane and charged with concealing the death of another and cruelty to a person 65 or older.
Authorities arrived at Chinnery’s house that Sunday in response to a call from Chinnery’s sister about a welfare check for Catherine Simmons, 79, said Columbia County sheriff’s Investigator Teresa Lamb. Upon arrival, the sister told deputies that Chinnery was inside with their mother’s deceased body and refused to let her in. The sister and others said they could smell a strong odor coming from the mobile home.
“Her body had started to decompose,” Lamb said. After pulling Chinnery out from behind the barricaded door, Lamb said, deputies and family members found Simmons’ decaying body sitting in a metal-frame chair.
Chinnery did not report her mother’s death to authorities but she had told others.
Lisa Williams, a case worker, met Chinnery outside the home April 19. Chinnery told Williams that her mother had died but refused to let Williams inside.
On April 25, Chinnery sent a text message to her manager at Cracker Barrel explaining that her mother had died.
Pictures of the mobile home show countertops covered in trash, empty food containers and vodka bottles, a bug-ridden refrigerator, animal feces in cabinets and a mouse skeleton on the floor. The home was condemned.
Lamb said complaints were made to Caring Hands United, an in-home health care provider, by all of the aides who cared for Simmons.
The last aide who visited the home on March 3 confirmed the house’s condition. She said there was nothing edible in the house. She returned on March 4 with TV dinners and adult diapers, however paperwork for Medicaid assistance was not filed by the family and services ceased that day.
There were also complaints were about Simmons’ physical condition.
She was unable to move around, use the bathroom independently or bathe herself, and she appeared to be losing a significant amount of weight.
Adult Protective Services and the Division of Family and Children Services were both contacted about Simmons before her death but were unable to reach Chinnery.
Lamb said Simmons was receiving Social Security checks, but to her knowledge none were cashed after her death.
Columbia County Coroner Vernon Collins estimated Simmons had been dead at least a week. The cause of death is still undetermined with autopsy reports pending.
Chinnery’s bail was set at $15,200. The judge said the bond was appropriate based on the charges and the issue of flight risk.