Judge sets trial for trio charged with neglect in Monticello man's death

Judge sets trial for trio charged with neglect in Monticello man's death

MONTICELLO — A Piatt County judge has found there is enough evidence for the trials of three people charged with criminal neglect following the death of a 64-year-old Monticello man to go forward.

Jury trials for Mason Brown, 34, and his mother, Christy, 61, both of Monticello, and Justin Tatman, 37, of Bement have been tentatively set for Jan. 7.

All three pleaded not guilty Friday before Judge Brad Rau, who ruled there was probable cause for their cases to proceed.

All three have been charged with criminal abuse or neglect of an elderly person, a Class 2 felony, in the Aug. 23 death of Ron Blankenship — brother of Christy Brown and uncle of Mason Brown — in his home in the 300 block of West Monroe Street.

On Thursday, Monticello police Officer James Kiefer testified that he responded to the home about 7 p.m. that evening and was met outside by Tatman. The officer said he found Mr. Blankenship unresponsive and "definitely cold to the touch."

Although a definitive cause of death has not been released, initial reports were that Mr. Blankenship had severe bilateral bronchopneumonia and a closed-off larynx and suffered from diabetes. Kiefer said Mr. Blankenship was hooked to tubes connected to a stoma — an artificial opening that allows feces or urine to pass.

Kiefer expanded on conditions in the house that police Chief John Carter earlier called "deplorable." They included what Piatt County prosecutor Tammara Wagoner said were soiled "puppy pads" layered underneath Mr. Blankenship in his bed.

During a court-authorized search, Kiefer said police found bed bugs and mouse droppings in the bed.

Mason and Christy Brown lived in the home with Mr. Blankenship. Tatman, who along with Mason Brown claimed to be power of attorney for Mr. Blankenship, lives in Bement.

Defense attorney Roger Simpson said his client, Tatman, "doesn't live there, he's not related," and therefore should not be subject to the neglect charges.

Wagoner argued that state law considers Tatman a "caregiver," noting its definitions include those who "regularly visit" or agree to regularly visit a person. Kiefer testified that Tatman was in possession of a do-not-resuscitate order for Mr. Blankenship that he gave police when they arrived.

An adopted daughter of Christy Brown who has Down syndrome was taken from the home and placed in protective custody.

Four dogs and three cats were also taken from the house, two of which were euthanized shortly after due to poor health.

Both Mason and Christy Brown also face charges of aggravated cruelty to a companion animal.

Prosecutors say there is an ongoing investigation into possible financial exploitation. Wagoner said Thursday that subpoenas had been issued for additional medical and financial records. A court date to review those was scheduled for Sept. 25.

Mason Brown had initially claimed on Facebook that his uncle had been murdered and that masked gunman showed up at the home later in an attempt to "kill the rest of my family." Carter said police responded to the Monroe Street home and that there were no signs of a disturbance.

Steve Hoffman is editor of the Piatt County Journal-Republican, a News-Gazette Media community newspaper. For more, visit journal-republican.com.

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