AG’s office challenges disabled woman’s ’cause of death’ determination

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An autopsy report for a disabled New Mexican woman says her death was “natural” despite allegations of abuse, neglect, and torture from her caregivers. The New Mexico Attorney General’s office wants a second opinion.

“The simple fact is that the end of Mary Melero’s life was brutal,” said Lauren Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the AG’s office.

The Texas Office of the Medical Examiner in El Paso County determined Melero “died of complications of Staphylococcus aureus infection secondary to multiple necrotic skin ulcers and pneumonia.” The report says chronic pancreatitis and atherosclerotic cardiovascular were also contributing conditions. It also revealed Melero suffered from a massive lung infection, inflammation surrounding the pancreas, and a remote brain infarct.

Despite those complications, the report says “the manner of death is natural.”

“For the Texas Medical Examiner to characterize Melero’s end as “natural” defies not only the sound practice of forensic pathology but basic reason and common sense,” Rodriguez said. “The findings by the Medical Examiner are incomplete and based on selectively-chosen information, and therefore unsurprisingly detached from the abundant evidence to the contrary.”

38-year-old Mary Melero died in an El Paso hospital in early April – nearly 2 months after she was rescued from the back of a van by border patrol agents. Investigators say she was found unresponsive and covered in open wounds. Officials revealed Melero suffered a heart attack and was diagnosed with septic shock once she arrived at the hospital.

“The abuse and neglect that [Melero] endured was horrific and the injuries she sustained are among the worst I have seen in my career as a prosecutor,” AG Raul Torrez said in May. “This was torture. There’s really no other word for it.”

3 women, including Melero’s state-provided caretaker Angelita Chacon, were arrested in May. They’re accused of abusing and torturing Melero leading to her death. The attorney general’s office is prosecuting the 3 women.

“Rather than being able to rely on those entrusted to care for her, she was blatantly abused and neglected, callously loaded into the back of a van and driven far away from any available medical treatment,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez says the AG’s office is seeking the opinions of renowned experts in the field to provide a more accurate picture of Mary’s tragic final days.

Melero’s case is putting a spotlight on the state’s Development Disabilities Waiver Program. Melero’s family – and AG Raul Torrez – are pushing state lawmakers to overhaul the program to include mandatory health and safety checks. They also want to establish criminal penalties for caregivers and companies involved in potential abuse.

“We need to make sure that our family members and friends that are in the system that are being watched by caregivers are taken care of appropriately,” said Adam Oakey, the Melero family’s attorney. “We just want to make sure that this never happens again.”

The New Mexico Department of Health challenged concerns with the program last month. Officials revealed after more than 6,000 wellness checks on people with disabilities in April, only 6 patients needed so-called “corrective action plans.”

Melero’s family and friends honored Mary with a balloon release and memorial in July.