Judge rules there is probably cause for neglect trial

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

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

All three pleaded not guilty Thursday (Sept. 6) before Judge Bradford A. Rau, who ruled there was probable cause for their cases to proceed.

All three have been charged with the Class 2 felony of criminal abuse or neglect of an elderly person after reporting that Ronald Blankenship – the brother of Christy Brown and uncle of Mason Brown – had died in his Monticello home located in the 300 block of West Monroe Street.

On Thursday, Monticello police officer James Kiefer testified he responded to the home about 7 p.m. on Aug. 23. He was met outside by Tatman. The officer said he found 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, a closed-off larynx, and suffered from diabetes. Kiefer said Mr. Blankenship was hooked to tubes connected to a stoma – an artificial opening made on the surface of the body, in this case in the trachea to allow for breathing.

Kiefer expanded on conditions in the house that Monticello Police Chief John Carter earlier called “deplorable.” They included what Piatt County prosecutor Tammara Wagoner termed soiled “puppy pads” that were 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 Brown and Christy Brown lived in the home with Mr. Blankenship. Tatman, who along with Mason Brown claim to be powers 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 still considers Tatman a “caregiver,” noting its definitions include those who “regularly visit” or agree to regularly visit a person. Kiefer testified Tatman was in possession of a do-not-resuscitate order for Mr. Blankenship that he gave to 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.

Mason Brown 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 found no signs of a disturbance.




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