Mental state is key to couple's defense

An Augusta couple facing charges of murder in the death of a severely disabled relative will present a defense of insanity or mental incompetence.

A hearing on the issue of mental examinations scheduled for Wednesday was canceled.

A notice of the defense was filed for Jeanne Peterson and Buel "Chuck" Peterson last month. The Petersons are scheduled to go on trial April 13.

The Petersons face charges of murder in the Oct. 21, 2007, death of 30-year-old Christina Baxter, who weighed 46 pounds when she died.

According to earlier accounts in The Augusta Chronicle , Ms. Baxter died of complications related to malnutrition. She was deaf, mute and unable to walk or to feed herself.

The Petersons took in Ms. Baxter, who is Mrs. Peterson's niece, after her former caregiver died in August 2004.

The day EMT personnel arrived at the Petersons' home, Mrs. Peterson refused to let them in to see Ms. Baxter. She brought the child-sized body outside.

When sheriff's investigators entered the home, they found feces covering the floors and walls.

The cockroach-infested home was inhabited by a number of cats and dogs and a 200-pound pig.

The Petersons were initially held without bond, but both were released on bond last year.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.