She was hired to take care of elderly and disabled people, but Shirley Montano made them her prisoners.
Montano, 53, is now headed to prison for 13 years, the result of a plea deal that removed the possibility that she could get 15 years to life. She wiped away tears as a judge confirmed the sentence in a San Diego courtroom Friday.
The former caregiver from City Heights was originally charged with first degree murder and kidnapping, and causing harm or death to an elderly or disabled person. She pleaded guilty to false imprisonment of an elder, perjury by false information, and voluntary manslaughter in January.
One of her victims was Robert Chagas, who died while in her care. The other victim was a 59-year-old woman named Josefina who was held captive for more than a decade while Montano collected her social security checks.
Josefina weighed 81 pounds at one point during Montano’s care, according to prosecutors. Chagas was also emaciated, according to court documents and testimony.
Montano sought out people who were vulnerable, Deputy District Attorney Shanish Aloor said.
“Once she took over the caretaking role, she took over all aspects of their lives,” explained Aloor. “She was able to take over benefits and every other aspect of their lives.”
Absent during Montano’s sentencing hearing were family members of her victims. Aloor said they just wanted the case to end.
“I think they’re happy to have a final resolution of the case,” he said.
However, some family members were in court when Montano changed her plea to guilty.
Tamara Chagas, brother-in-law of Robert Chagas, testified she was estranged from her brother-in-law while he was under Montano's care, and had tried to meet with Montano to learn the circumstances that led to his death.
In October 2016, Tamara Chagas learned about her brother-in-law’s death from a secretary at a local cemetery because she was the family contact on the file.
Unaware her brother-in-law had been ill, she asked to meet with the defendant. In that meeting, the defendant was very calm and unemotional, she said.
Tamara Chagas described her brother-in-law as very tall and approximately 250 pounds when she knew him, but said he looked very different at his funeral.
“He looked emaciated to me,” she told NBC 7.
Chagas died of pneumonia in 2016. An autopsy found that severe malnutrition contributed to his fatal illness, although the medical examiner couldn't determine whether he had been deliberately starved, according to the Associated Press.
Montano’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Shannon Sebeckis, told NBC 7 the case has been difficult for her client.
“She cared deeply for these people and did not wish any harm to them,” she said following Friday’s hearing.
Montano still must pay restitution to Chagas’ family for the cost of his funeral services. Another $75,000 restitution payment to a government agency will be discussed at a hearing to be held next month.