An 81-year-old infirm woman repeatedly broke into tears as she testified Wednesday that her neighbor, a professional caregiver, barely fed her, withheld water and cut off her contact with her daughter and friends two years ago.
A prosecutor asked Lorraine Vega why she didn’t request more food from her caregiver, Shirley Montano.
“I was afraid to,” Vega replied, before pausing and crying quietly. “I was afraid she’d yell at me.”
Deputy District Attorney Rebecca Zipp asked Vega why she was afraid.
“I don’t remember,” said Vega, who now lives with her daughter in Phoenix.
|Lorraine Vega who in a previous case was abused by Shirley Montana, sobs during her testimony Wednesday in San Diego Superior Court. (Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)|
Vega, seated in a wheelchair, had a hard time hearing but appeared to answer questions as best she could in a San Diego Superior Court hearing known as a conditional exam.
Such exams are given to prospective trial witnesses to capture their testimony in case they are unavailable later — possibly because of death or a military deployment.
Vega’s testimony was lined up in advance of a Jan. 16 preliminary hearing for Montano, 52, who is charged with murder, kidnapping, elder abuse and false imprisonment in a case involving two other alleged victims.
Further charges against her are kidnapping for ransom, theft from an elder and perjury for allegedly falsifying an application for federal housing aid.
She faces life in prison if convicted of all charges.
Prosecutors allege that Montano imprisoned, starved and beat a woman for 23 years. The motive was to collect the woman’s $910 monthly Social Security benefits, Zipp said.
Montano also allegedly kept a disabled man in such horrible conditions that he died in her care. The murder charge stems from his death.
At Montano’s arraignment on the charges in August, Zipp referred to the female victim only as Josefina, 59, and did not name the male victim. In that hearing, Zipp outlined horrific conditions Josefina lived in at Montano’s City Heights apartment.
Josefina was kept for years in a small room, beaten, intimidated, made to lie in soiled diapers on a urine-soaked mattress and prevented from contacting anyone on the outside, Zipp said.
At her most emaciated level, the 5-foot 6-inch woman weighed 81 pounds, the prosecutor said.
Before Wednesday’s hearing got underway, Zipp said she wanted Vega’s testimony on the record because of the similarities between what Vega and Josefina endured.
Vega fell and broke her hip at her home in May 2016. She said Montano, a neighbor she knew slightly, volunteered to care for her.
But, Vega said, Montano barely helped her.
“If I was lucky, once a day, a container of frozen yogurt,” Vega said. “Once in a while she gave me a bottle of water — not every day. She canceled my (doctor) appointments.”
Montano’s lawyer, Shannon Sebeckis from the Office of the Alternate Public Defender, got Vega to acknowledge there were times when she spoke to her daughter and to friends, and that Montano arranged for workers to make repairs at Vega’s house.
Police came to her house in July, and Montano was charged with elder abuse of Vega. Montano pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in custody.
While in jail, she asked a neighbor to check on Josefina, and soon afterward authorities began investigating that as an elder abuse case, Zipp said. She said Josefina had suffered some sort of disability around age 36 that put her under Montano’s control.
Josefina has since been relocated to a safe residence, Zipp said.
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Woman, 81, testifies to abuse by City Heights caregiver