Parents of emaciated woman found fused to a sofa face 40 years in prison after pleading ‘no contest’ to manslaughter

The parents of an emaciated woman who died fused to a sofa in her own excrement pleaded ‘no contest’ to manslaughter in a Louisiana court Monday – as can reveal new harrowing details of her ordeal.

Clay and Sheila Fletcher, both 66, dramatically switched at the last minute to admitting their guilt over the horrific death of 36-year-old daughter Lacey Ellen in a case that shocked the nation when first revealed in May, 2022.

And Sheila’s lawyer Steven Moore made an impassioned defense outside the courtroom following the hearing.

‘They loved their daughter to death,’ he said, adding that they are ‘completely remorseful’ about her death. 

The Fletchers had spent nearly 18 months denying second-degree murder after being indicted twice by a grand jury in Clinton, Louisiana, and faced the prospect of life in prison without parole if convicted at a trial due to start this week.

They stood nervously before District Judge Kathryn ‘Betsy’ Jones at 9.30am precisely, where they agreed to withdraw their previous not guilty pleas to second-degree murder and formally agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter.

Clay and Sheila Fletcher arrived at court in Clinton, Louisiana, Monday, stone-faced with their heads down.
Lacey Fletcher’s emaciated body was discovered partially naked, sitting upright and partly submerged in a hole in a couch in her parents’ home January 3
A distressing photo released by the coroner’s office shows a close-up of the leather couch Lacey was fused to. The coroner estimates that Lacey was sitting in that hole in the couch for her last 12 years

Clay appeared to speak with hesitation at times as he answered the judge’s questions.

East Feliciana District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla asked Judge Jones to take the couple into custody and not allow them freedom before the March 20 sentencing. ‘We say they should be sent to jail immediately,’ he told the hearing.

However, the judge ruled the couple should be allowed to continue their bond until February 20, ‘when they must surrender themselves’.

Both Fletchers were stone-faced in the courtroom as they stood with their attorneys. Clay was dressed in dark pants and a gray jacket while bespectacled Sheila wore black pants and a black jacket with a green top underneath.

D’Aquilla told before Monday’s hearing he will be pressing for the Fletchers to be sentenced to the maximum 40 years for the manslaughter charges.

‘The Fletchers are pleading no contest to the new charges. They had no choice. This is an open and shut case – they allowed their daughter to suffer unbearably on that couch.

‘We want this case to be a message. We want to stand for the people who can’t speak for themselves, to say this treatment will not be tolerated.

After the hearing, Sheila Fletcher’s attorney made a long and impassioned defense of the couple.

Steven Moore said the Fletchers never intended to harm their daughter. ‘They were negligent, yes. It is clear they were negligent. They loved her to death, that is the true statement with the Fletchers. They loved their daughter to death,’ he said.

‘When you look back at it, you wonder, why? How could this happen? It did happen. But at no point did Sheila or Clay Fletcher ever have a single intent to harm their daughter. They loved their daughter to a fault.’

Moore cited Lacey’s autism by adding: ‘Anyone with handicapped children can tell you those things can happen. This is an extreme example of how that happens. They have taken responsibility. Now they look back they can’t believe they got to the position they’re in.

Sheila Fletcher was consoled as she went into court in Clinton to plead no contest to manslaughter
The couple were flanked by friends, family and law enforcement as they left court after thier hearing Monday morning
Attorney Steven Moore (right) said the couple ‘loved their daughter to death’

‘They are good people who have never been in trouble in their life. They are great members of this community, people came to support them, because that is not who they are.

‘They are not criminals. They are on bond because they are not a danger to anybody in this community. They have never been a danger to the community.’

He admitted: ‘The things that happened to Lacey are horrible. But they cared for her daily. Sheila Fletcher would come home at lunch every day to care and eat lunch with her daughter every single day.

‘She slept on the couch, with her daughter every night.’

Of the couple’s current mental state, he said: ‘They are completely remorseful. Their life revolved around Lacey Fletcher. They did nothing but Lacey Fletcher. They lived for Lacey Fletcher.

‘Everybody says, how come this and how come that? They were blinded by her handicap and they tried to appease that handicap as best they could and this is the result. It’s terrible, but that’s what happened.’

Lacey’s body was discovered ‘melted’ into a crater in a couch from where she allegedly hadn’t moved for 12 years at her parents neat family home in the small town of Slaughter, Louisiana.

Documents obtained by reveal autistic Lacey had bone visible from severe wounds and sores when found – and she was infested with maggots while she was still alive. This infestation included the area around her genitals.

Forensic pathologist Dana Troxclair’s autopsy report described her body covered in pressure ulcers and suffering chronic bone infection with ‘polarizable fibers (most likely fibers from the couch) and maggots embedded in the exposed surface of the bones’.

Sheila Fletcher
Clay Fletcher, 65, was arrested alongside his wife Sheila in May 2022
Former classmates said Lacey began to retreat into isolation in her teens as her autism accelerated and she was home schooled after 9th grade

Dr Troxclair wrote: ‘Maggots were present in the perineum and areas of the decubitus ulcers. If the maggots would have appeared after death, there would have been at least a minimal presence of eggs or larvae in the region of the eyes, ears, or nose.

‘These areas, together with any wounds, are the preferred spots for colonization. There was no evidence of decomposition at the time of the autopsy; therefore, it was determined that the maggots were present prior to death.’

The forensic pathologist headed one of her findings ‘severe chronic neglect’ and said Lacey suffered from ‘chronic protein malnutrition and acute starvation’. She was 5ft 1ins tall but weighed 96lbs at death, said the report.

Dr Troxclair, of the Jefferson Parish Forensic Center in Harvey, Louisiana, said there was ‘fecal matter, both crusted and fresh, present on the body including face, chest, abdomen, perineum, and extremities’.

The medical expert described Lacey as ‘extremely dirty, matted/knotted hair with feces and maggots. There were ‘insect bites to her left ear, face and arms’ that happened before she died.

He said her hair was ‘extremely matted into a 24 x 18-inch knotted ball… and cannot be straightened. 

‘The scalp is red and crusted,’ the expert wrote.

‘The ears are extremely dirty with crusted feces and small abrasions/lesions on the left ear due to antemortem insect activity.

‘The fingernails are natural, long and extremely dirty with underlying fecal material… the toenails are natural, long, curled under and extremely dirty with underlying fecal material.

Cause of death was sepsis due to a chain reaction of conditions – the bone infection osteomyelitis which was due to the ulcers. These were ‘as a result of poor hygiene, prolonged immobility and malnutrition as a result of severe chronic neglect of a special needs individual’, wrote Dr Troxclair.

Lacey attended the former Brownsville Baptist Academy in Louisiana where she was featured (top left) on the school volleyball team
Neighbors revealed Lacey (center) appeared as ‘a fun, normal kid’ before becoming more isolated from her neighborhood friends from the age of about 14

Police were called to the Fletchers’ home on January 3, 2022 by Sheila Fletcher who told the East Feliciana Parish 911 service that Lacey had stopped breathing. The mother said her daughter had been sick ‘but it was a long story,’ according to the 911 report which was filed into court.

When Slaughter Police officer Daulton Corban arrived, Clay was performing ‘ineffective chest compressions,’ on Lacey, who was ‘sideways with her back pressed against the couch,’ said an East Feliciana Sheriff’s Department incident report obtained by

Lacey was wearing just a t-shirt and ‘it appeared that there was excessive urine and feces underneath the victim and on the floor,’ added the report written by Lt Kevin Garig.

It continued: ‘The wounds in the buttocks and head area were so severe that bone was visible. Based on a hole created in the couch cushion where she sat, it appeared that the victim had been.. in the position for quite some time.’

Lt Garig conducted a video interview with the Fletchers on January 18, 2022, in which they told him ‘Lacey is intellectually and mentally normal but that she has some degree of Asperger’s’.

He wrote in a report: ‘Sheila stated that Lacey had not been to a doctor in her adult years because she was never sick…

‘Clay stated that Lacey had developed phobias of things that eventually made her afraid to get off of the couch for any reason. He stated that they had to put a portable toilet in the living room for her but she was scared to even get off the coach to use it.’

Sheila told Lt Garig that her daughter was ‘even until the day she passed away of normal mind’ but before her death she ‘started eating less and less’.

The officer wrote: ‘She stated that Lacey would dress normally. Sheila stated that she was aware of the sores on Lacey’s body and that she (Sheila) would routinely clean it using saline wash, antibiotic spray, and Zinc.

‘Sheila stated that Lacey never complained that the sores hurt her.’

The report also detailed tragic Lacey’s minuscule last meal, which was the day before she died according to her mother’s account. ‘Sheila stated… she ate half of a sandwich and some Cheetos,’ wrote Garig.

‘Sheila stated that she was the last person to see Lacey alive and it was approx. 10pm on the night before she found her deceased.’

Lacey had attended Brownsville Baptist Academy where she featured in the volleyball team, but was homeschooled after 9th grade.

At the age of 14, her mother took her to clinical psychologist Donald Hoppe saying she suffered ‘severe social anxiety’, according to a letter from the medical expert to East Feliciana Parish coroner Dr Ewell Bickham and entered into court records.

Sheila shared information from another psychologist that ‘Lacey had a below average IQ and suffered from autism,’ said Dr Hoppe.

He saw her for 12 sessions between 2000 and 2002. In 2010 both Fletchers returned ‘and told me Lacey was refusing to leave the house and in fact had begun to refuse to leave the living room of the house’.

Clay and Sheila Fletcher were pictured in May 2022 when they were released on bail
Clay Fletcher, shown with Sheila in undated photo, was an officer of the nonprofit Baton Rouge Civil War Roundtable, which has a mission ‘to educate and foster an appreciation for the sacrifices made by all during the Civil War’
An undated photo of Clay and Sheila Fletcher, both 66, standing in front of their Christmas tree

Dr Hoppe added: ‘They were bringing meals to her, and she was urinating and defecating on a towel on the floor. She had not bathed or washed her hair for an extended period of time. They wanted to know what they could do to help her.

‘I urged them to consider hospitalization for Lacey, and discussed with them the process for obtaining a commitment order so that Lacey could be taken from the house… even if she refused to go on her own.’ The psychologist said 2010 was the last time he had contact with the Fletchers.

Lacey’s Baptist church-going parents were arrested after being indicted by a grand jury in Clinton in May, 2022, and released on $300,000 bond each.

But Judge Jones tossed the indictment on a technicality. The couple were re-indicted in June, 2023 and released after arrest on $250,000 bond each.

In them, Lacey appears almost buried up to her shoulders in the wide and deep hole in the sofa that her bony body has worn over the years, rubbing away the cushioning.

She is slumped over on her left side with her right arm across the top half of her emaciated body near her neck.

Lacey is naked apart from a small blue patterned t-shirt, which is pulled up on her chest and does not cover her breasts.

Her eyes are wide open, staring. Her mouth is also open, revealing what appears to be a full set of front teeth.

Her legs are pulled up and crossed underneath her, ironically in a way that people can make themselves comfortable.

Her face is covered in large and angry red blotches. Excrement is smeared over almost all her body. It is matted in her hair. It is even inside her ears.

The brown leather sofa is alongside a wall, with a gap of about 18 inches.

To the couch’s right side is a gray commode and a neat pile of clothes.

And to the front, only a few feet away, is a cluttered low black table.

It is strewn with lotion bottles, some talcum powder, a pack of wipes, a nasal spray, a box with a lid that had a child’s photo on it, and other items that make it appear the Fletchers had the resources to clean their stricken only child.

Between the sofa and table are two neatly stacked boxes of DVDs. It is not possible to discern the titles, but some appeared to be child-like from the covers.

Desperately sad photos of Lacey taken later on a physician’s steel table for a forensic examination further reveal the extent of her circumstances.

Close-ups show the flesh on her buttocks appears to be literally worn or eaten away from the 12 years that she hadn’t moved from the couch.

There are large raw yellow areas where the skin has disappeared. Other back and buttock areas are so blackened it is impossible for a lay person to identify any shape or form.

Neighbors of the Fletchers told in 2022 that they had not seen Lacey for 15 years. Robert Blades, 61, said she was ‘just a normal fun kid’ before vanishing from view.

‘When I saw her that last time, she appeared fairly physically normal,’ Blades said.

‘She was always pretty thin and she was exercising in the road with those small weights you carry.

‘I’d see her a few times, gently getting some exercise in the roadway. I didn’t say anything to her that final time, there was no reason to.’

Blades said he asked Clay Fletcher about his daughter’s whereabouts in 2017 because he hadn’t seen her for so long.

I actually thought maybe she got married and moved on,’ he said. ‘I said, how is Lacey? How’s she doing? Has she moved off? Went to college or what?

‘He replied, oh no, she’s still here. She’s fine. And then changed the subject. And that’s it. He didn’t explain why we hadn’t seen her at all.’

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