updated 8/28/2009 6:05:09 AM ET 2009-08-28T10:05:09

On the quiet street where she spent the last few years of her life, Emily Errico might as well have been a ghost.

Neighbors who socialized regularly at block parties and Halloween trick-or-treating said they never saw the recent college graduate who lived with her parents in a house bordering an elementary school at one end of the street.

There was a reason for that, according to Union County authorities: A mother who obsessively controlled every waking moment of her daughter's life, which included severely limiting the amount of food she ate and forcing her to wear plastic bags instead of clothes.

The mother, 62-year-old Ermina Errico, was indicted Wednesday on one count of neglect stemming from Emily Errico's death more than two years ago at age 25. In a chilling testament to the odd goings-on, one neighbor said the first time she saw Emily Errico was when her lifeless body was carried out of the house on Jan. 27, 2007.

"I never knew there was a wife or daughter that lived there," said next-door neighbor Melissa Mehalick, who estimated the Erricos have lived at the house for about five years. "I saw the husband. He was a very nice man, always saying 'Hi' and asking how you were."

Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow said that cooperation from husband Edward Errico led to the indictment announced Thursday. Edward Errico pleaded guilty earlier this year to third-degree neglect, the same charge his wife faces, and was sentenced to probation and ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation.

Ermina Errico was processed at the Garwood police station Thursday and released without bail, according to the county prosecutor's office. A man responding to a knock on the door of the family's house did not answer questions, and an attorney for Ermina Errico did not return a phone message.

If Errico is tried and convicted on the neglect count, she could face a maximum prison sentence of five years.

Computer science degree
The indictment alleges that Ermina Errico exerted severe control over her daughter's life almost from birth, keeping her in her crib for most of her toddler years. Her food intake was strictly controlled and she was prohibited from interacting with her classmates outside of school, according to the indictment.

The girl still managed to succeed academically and even attended nearby Kean University, receiving a bachelor's degree in computer science technology in 2003, according to a university spokesman. Yet even though she lived on campus, her father would bring her meals daily, Romankow said.

After college, Emily returned home to live with her parents. In December 2004 she visited a nutritionist who recommended follow-up visits, but Edward Errico canceled those appointments. It was the last time Emily left the house, the indictment alleges.

She was found on the floor of a bedroom dressed in sweatpants and a plastic bag fashioned into a halter top. The cause of death was malnutrition and anorexia nervosa, and the autopsy revealed that she suffered from brain atrophy and excess fluid in her lungs and brain.

"She was mentally and physically disabled," Romankow said. "During that time her parents neglected and failed to give her the proper treatment for her mental and physical well being."

When investigators entered the house after her death, they found plastic bags "everywhere," according to Romankow. It took months of interviews before they were able to piece together what happened.

The case leaves many unanswered questions for investigators.

"It's perplexing to believe that a person who's attending college and has the world open to her through her professors and other students cannot overcome the emotional and mental issues that confronted her at her home," Romankow said. "I can't enter into her mind. I wish I knew her."

More on: New Jersey

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