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Woman pleads no contest in toilet corpse case

A woman accused of helping her religious leader hide a decaying corpse in her toilet so they could collect Social Security was convicted of a misdemeanor in a deal for her to testify against the leader.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A woman accused of helping her religious leader hide a decaying corpse on her toilet so they could continue collecting her Social Security was convicted of a misdemeanor in a deal for her to testify against the leader, a prosecutor said Monday.

Tammy Lewis, 36, of Necedah, pleaded no contest to obstructing a police officer and was fined $350 in a plea bargain that defers prosecution of more serious charges. Juneau County Circuit John Roemer ordered her to pay the fine within 60 days or serve a seven-day jail sentence.

Lewis and Alan Bushey, 58, were accused of hiding 90-year-old Magdeline Alvina Middlesworth's body on a toilet in Lewis' home after she died in March. Investigators said Middlesworth and Lewis were members of a religious sect Bushey led called the Order of the Divine Will.

Bushey told Lewis that God would revive Middlesworth, who friends and family said was from Washington state, investigators said.

Lewis in May initially told a sheriff's deputy that Middlesworth was on vacation.

The deputy later discovered the elderly woman's rotting body in Lewis' stench-filled home.

She also told authorities she was Middlesworth's power of attorney, and the older woman used all of her money to support their six-member religious group. Investigators believe Middlesworth's Social Security and annuity checks totaling nearly $3,000 were deposited after her death into a bank account she shared with Lewis.

As part of Lewis' plea deal, five other charges, including three felony counts of hiding a corpse and causing mental harm to a child, will be dismissed in two years if she cooperates with prosecutors and follows other court orders involving her children, District Attorney Scott Southworth said.

Lewis 'a victim' of cult leader
"We view her as a victim as well of Alan Bushey," Southworth said. "We also understand the power, the mental power, that Alan Bushey was exercising over her, the coercion he was exerting over her."

A deferred prosecution agreement calls for Lewis to continue to receive mental health treatment and testify against Bushey in a trial set to begin in April, the prosecutor said.

She and her two children, now ages 12 and 15, will be witnesses in the trial, he said.

Lewis' son told detectives Bushey told him demons were destroying Middlesworth's appearance as she decayed in the bathroom to make it look like she wouldn't rise from the dead, the criminal complaint said.

The mother certainly engaged in odd activities, Southworth said Monday.

"I realize some people may say she just got off with a slap on the hand or whatever," he said. "There is a volume of information on the case, a lot of which I cannot divulge to the public. Based on everything we learned, I do believe this was a fair and just way of handling her matter."

Mother trying to get life back together
Lewis' attorney, Dan Berkos, said his client turned to Bushey and the sect for support about three years ago after she separated from her husband. "She had no work skills. She didn't have a way to provide for her children."

Bushey provided security for her, the attorney said. "It appeared he was using money from other people to support everybody."

The attorney said he didn't know whether Lewis believed that praying would bring Middlesworth back to life. But Bushey had convinced her to follow whatever he said to do, Berkos said.

Lewis is "very relieved" her case has been resolved, he said. "She has made some really great progress emotionally and even physically. She is looking forward. She is no longer looking backward at how things should have been different. Everybody is geared toward reunifying her with the kids and getting the family back together."

That could happen within the next year, "assuming things go well," he said.

Southworth said no plea negotiations are taking place with Bushey.