In August 1996, 78-year-old Dessie Ball was checked out of a nursing home by her daughter and son-in-law and moved to their Sandy home. Two months later, Ball was dead. Her daughter and son-in-law, Janet and Ronald Tuckfield, have been charged with elder abuse, a second-degree felony, in connection with the death.

A state medical examiner wrote in a report that "Dessie Ball died of a combination of natural disease processes complicated by apparent abusive treatment," but how that treatment might have contributed to her death was not defined in the report.

The criminal case is still awaiting a preliminary hearing, now set for Aug. 30 in 3rd District Court. As the wheels of justice slowly turn, Ball's other four children have become increasingly at odds with the Tuckfields, who are embattled in numerous civil court proceedings.

Most notably, the siblings have filed a wrongful death suit against their sister and her husband. Patricia O'Connor, Ball's oldest child, said the suit is an attempt to uncover more evidence for county prosecutors, who shied from the case for three years before filing charges last July.

The Tuckfields have since filed for bankruptcy, which O'Connor considers a stall tactic designed to prolong the wrongful death suit, since bankruptcy immediately stopped all civil proceeding against the Tuckfields.

Tuesday the bankruptcy was changed from a Chapter 13 proceeding to a Chapter 7, further prolonging the ordeal. O'Connor and her siblings fought for the change because a Chapter 7 proceeding will allow the family to sell their mother's $2.4 million Colorado farm, willed to the children and two aunts.

Ronald Tuckfield's criminal attorney, Susanne Gustin, said the siblings' actions are more about money than justice for a dead mother, but she refused to comment on the criminal case's specifics.

Earl Xaiz, criminal defense attorney for Janet Tuckfield, said, "At the time this happened the mother was very physically ill and not in good mental health."

Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Edward Leis, who performed Ball's autopsy, agreed, stating Ball suffered from pneumonia and emphysema but noted other factors contributed to the woman's death.

In his report Leis wrote, "The natural disease processes found would explain the death of this individual. However, the multitude of bruises and injuries on the body are in excess of what would be anticipated. . . . The distribution and some patterns of injury are more consistent with inappropriate treatment or abusive-type acts. The significance of these injuries and their part in the death of this individual is undetermined."

Leis further pointed out that Ball had been dead for four to five hours before medical crews were summoned. Ronald Tuckfield, however, told 911 dispatchers the woman was still breathing when he contacted them for help, court documents state.

Ball, who weighed 114 pounds when she left the nursing home, lost 22 pounds by the time she died, and Leis found her system void of the many drugs she needed to survive. Still, due to Ball's medical condition, Leis couldn't say for certain the case was a homicide.

The death's undetermined status probably played a part in the decision not to file murder charges, prosecutor Paul Parker said, but he remains confident the state has evidence to gain a conviction on the rarely used elder abuse statute.


E-MAIL: bsnyder@desnews.com