TOULON — A challenge to Stark County Grand Jury testimony has led to dismissal of one of the multiple criminal charges pending against a former LaFayette couple accused of neglecting four children in their care, including a profoundly disabled young woman whom the couple allegedly allowed to starve to death.

Circuit Judge Stephen Kouri left intact the most serious felony criminal neglect charges alleging that Barbara and Dean Simoneaux, who now live in Galva, knowingly failed to provide food and nutrition to Marion Reynolds, who died at age 22 in Aug. 2017 from what an autopsy found to be complications from malnutrition.

Both defendants also still face misdemeanor child endangerment charges alleging that they failed to provide a clean and healthy environment for two minor children, aged 13 and 11. Investigators in July 2017 found the rental home filthy and littered with garbage and human and animal waste, and infested with fleas, flies, and maggots, according to court files.

But after two hearings, Kouri recently dismissed Barbara Simoneaux’s count of felony criminal neglect of a disabled person involving her then 18-year-old son. As with the minor children, it alleged that she failed to provide a clean and healthy living environment.

The dismissal was based on the fact that the charge specifically applied to a disabled person. Barbara Simoneaux’s attorney, Charles Schierer, maintained in court filings and hearings that the grand jury had not been provided sufficient evidence to conclude that the teen was disabled.

The only witness had been a police investigator who testified that the young man was “of diminished capacity,” according to a transcript made public in a court filing. When asked by a grand juror whether the victim was mentally retarded, the officer replied, “I don’t know what – if he is actually classified as mentally retarded. I don’t know.”

State’s Attorney Jim Owens filed documents from a separate probate proceeding in which a different judge had found the teen to be mentally disabled on the basis of a low IQ score. Owens argued that an amendment to the criminal charge could clarify the matter adequately.

Schierer successfully opposed that step. Even if the state can prove that the victim was disabled, “an amendment will not correct the lack of evidence before the grand jury,” he argued.

The charge was not dismissed with prejudice, so it possibly could be re-filed in a different form. Whether it will be “has not been determined,” Owens said.

Dean Simoneaux’s separate attorney, Patrick Murphy, has not challenged the charge, and it remains pending against him. Other than that, he and Barbara Simoneaux face an identical array of charges.

The defendants are free on bond as they await tentative trial dates in May. They could face up to seven years in prison on the most serious charges.

Gary L. Smith can be reached at (800) 516-0389 or glsmith@mtco.com. Follow him on Twitter @Glsmithx.