A judge has tossed out charges against the parents of an East Feliciana Parish woman who prosecutors say died after years of sitting on a couch in a muck of feces, maggots and ulcers — but the district attorney says he intends to indict them again this month.

Clay and Sheila Fletcher were charged with second-degree murder last year in the death of their 36-year-old homebound daughter, Lacey Ellen Fletcher, who prosecutors say sat fused to a waste-covered couch in her family’s living room for years.

District Judge Kathryn “Betsy” Jones dismissed those indictments during a May 30 hearing, citing defective language in the charging affidavits. District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla said he plans to re-indict the defendants before a grand jury June 19.

That’s the day Clay and Sheila Fletcher’s murder trials were originally scheduled to begin, court officials said.

Steven Moore, the Fletchers’ lead defense attorney, filed a motion to quash the indictments May 8. The motion says D’Aquilla’s office served the defendants with indictments that differed from the one filed with the Clerk of Court. Moore said the official version included six tweaks that weren’t properly amended from the indictments produced in discovery.

“In sum, the indictment in the record is either a substitute or a different indictment returned by the grand jury,” he wrote.

Most notably, Moore argues D’Aquilla's office improperly added verbiage from cruelty to the infirmed law, which isn't a lesser-included charge of second-degree murder. He says that amounted to attempting to "create a new crime."

"The District Attorney seeks to convict the Fletchers of second-degree murder by improperly amending the indictment so the State can attempt to convict by a lesser burden," Moore wrote.

D'Aquilla said the new indictment will not include the language from the cruelty to the infirm law. He said the process will move more quickly now because the defense has all the information, and he anticipates a trial in the fall of this year. 

According to Moore's filing, D’Aquilla's office made handwritten amendments to the indictments. Several were minor tweaks — Clay Fletcher’s birth date was corrected and the layout of the pages was modified.

Moore also argued that the original version did not include a signature from the grand jury foreperson as required by law to validate the charging documents. That signature was added later on the indictment submitted for the official record, the defense attorney indicated.

Lacey Fletcher was found dead in her family’s Slaughter home Jan. 3, 2022, sheriff's deputies said. She was sunken into a waste-filled crater in her family’s living-room couch, where she'd anchored herself.

She was covered in maggots and sores, she had several ulcers on her underside and fecal matter was crushed into her face, chest and abdomen, according to authorities.

Days before a grand jury formally indicted them last year, D’Aquilla described the defendants as Lacey’s caretakers and said they “just let her sit on the couch” for years in her own urine and feces. He called the case “horrific."

It was unknown exactly how long she remained planted on the couch, prosecutors said. Dr. Ewell Bickham III, East Feliciana Parish’s then-coroner, ruled Lacey’s death a homicide after conducting her autopsy and pushed for an investigation. He concluded she died of “acute medical neglect” inflicted over a period dating back to at least 2010.

The Fletcher family’s house sat at the end of a cul-de-sac near Hog Bayou in the 2500 block of Tom Drive. When East Feliciana Parish Sheriff’s deputies discovered her emaciated body, she weighed 96 pounds and tested positive for COVID-19.

The couple has maintained their innocence. In an interview with detectives two weeks after their daughter’s death, Clay and Sheila Fletcher said Lacey was “of sound mind to make her own type of decisions” and refused to leave the living room. They said they brought her meals and set up a potty, but Lacey instead relieved herself into a towel or on the floor, afraid to leave the couch.

Authorities noted the woman was diagnosed with social anxiety and had a history of “severe” Asperger’s, a lifelong condition known to leave patients with maladjusted social skills.

The couple remain free on bail; they bonded out of jail soon after they were indicted last May.

Email Matt Bruce at Matt.Bruce@TheAdvocate.com or follow him on Twitter, @Matt_BruceDBNJ.