Jeanne and Buel "Chuck" Peterson were initially charged with manslaughter after officers found 30-year-old Christina Baxter in the front yard of the Petersons' Karian Drive home in south Augusta. The charges were upgraded to felony murder Tuesday.
The underlying felony is the abuse and neglect of a disabled adult, said Assistant District Attorney Inga Hicks.
Ms. Baxter was deaf, mute, physically unable to walk or to feed herself. She was so malnourished that she appeared to be a child with a thin layer of skin over her bones, Ms. Hicks said.
The autopsy revealed that she died of complications related to malnutrition, Ms. Hicks said.
The prosecutor told Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet that the neglect of Ms. Baxter was exacerbated by her apparent living conditions at the Peterson home, which was infested with roaches, covered in feces and home to cats and dogs and a 200-pound pig.
But relatives of the Petersons told the judge the description of Ms. Baxter has been distorted.
She had been extremely disabled since childhood and the medications she had to take left her extremely thin with little or no muscle mass. But she was happy with the Petersons, family members said.
Kate Mason and Debra Neumann of the public defender's office asked Judge Overstreet to set bond. The Petersons have lifelong ties to the community, extensive family connections in Augusta and no criminal history. In addition, Mr. Peterson, who is in poor health, has held the same job for more than 20 years.
Ms. Baxter was Mrs. Peterson's niece, not her sister as previously reported. Ms. Baxter was adopted by her maternal grandmother, who died in August 2004. The Petersons took over her care after that.
Judge Overstreet, who has been assigned to the Petersons' case, declined to set bond. He said he was concerned that Mr. and Mrs. Peterson could influence each other's potential testimony.
Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.