San Mateo sisters plead no contest to elder abuse in death of mother

Two San Mateo sisters pleaded no contest Monday to felony elder abuse and infliction of great bodily injury in the death of their elderly mother, who died of pneumonia and was found decaying in her own bed and covered in fecal matter, prosecutors said.

Moala Siafoou Tatola, 41, and Tafolosa Haisaane Tatolamahe, 48, were charged after police responded to a report of a dead body in the 1600 block of Third Avenue on March 9, 2013, according to the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office.

Sela Tatola, 78, was nude and her lower extremities were "nearly black due to filth and necrotic tissue," prosecutors said. Gangrene was found throughout the body.

Defense attorney Mitri Hanania described the defendants as committed and loving daughters who worked full time and stepped up to take care of their mother when other family members did not.

The victim did not want to see a doctor, and her daughters should have encouraged her to seek medical treatment, according to Hanania.

"This wasn't a case where the daughters weren't cruel to their mother, they were overwhelmed," Hanania said. "They should have done better, and they acknowledged that they should have done better."

"They took responsibility, and that's why they pled," he added.

The family is Tongan and that may have been a factor in the case, according to Hanania.

"In the Tongan culture, the theme that I heard a lot was that the matriarch in the family is very, very highly respected, so since she was the mother and the matriarch of the family, the daughters were really committed to listening to what the mother's wishes were," he said.

The defendants face no more than three years in state prison and are scheduled to return to court for sentencing on May 12.