Two Tongan sisters were sentenced Friday to 23 days in jail and three years of probation for abusing their elderly mother who died and was found decaying in her bed in 2013, according to the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office.
Moala Tatola, 41, and Tafolosa Tatolamahe, 48, have three days of credit for time served and could also have their sentences reduced to misdemeanors if they follow all the conditions of their probation for 18 months, according to prosecutors.
On March 9, 2013, police went to the 1600 block of Third Avenue in San Mateo because someone called to say someone died.
The sisters’ 73-year-old mother Sela Tatola was nude and her lower body was “black due to filth and necrotic tissue,” according to prosecutors. Gangrene was found throughout her body.
Tatola died of pneumonia, prosecutors said. She was diabetic and the sisters told prosecutors that their mother would not go to a doctor.
Mitri Hanania, defense attorney for Tatolamahe, said that the family is Tongan and their culture may have played a part in the case because it is a matriarchal one. He said Friday’s hearing was an emotional one, with his client and her sister showing great remorse.
“It was neglect and the judge saw that, he saw the remorse,” he said.
Hanania said the sisters admitted that they should have done better, and that the outpouring of support from their family and church community attesting to their remorse and commitment to their mother was indicative of that.
District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said he doubted the judge and the probation officer who wrote the pre-sentencing report fully grasped what is involved in elder abuse and wondered if the sisters’ sentence would have been the same if the victim had been a child.
“The duty is the same,” he said. “If you choose to provide the care.”
-San Mateo Daily Journal