A paroled killer and two others accused of keeping mentally disabled adults locked in filthy, cramped quarters while they spent their Social Security checks will face fewer charges when they head to trial in January.
A Philadelphia judge Friday found no evidence the defendants were the victims' official caretakers and dropped charges of neglect of a care-dependent person.
Alleged ringleader Linda Weston, 52, Gregory Thomas, 47, and Eddie Wright, 50, will still face trial on kidnapping, conspiracy, assault and other charges.
"The defendants never held themselves out ... as caretakers," said Common Pleas Judge Daniel J. Anders, who found no evidence of any oral or written agreement.
Weston has served time for the slow starvation death of a man she locked in her Philadelphia apartment nearly three decades ago. In the current case, a charge against her of forcing two female victims into prostitution in Texas also was dismissed Friday on grounds the Philadelphia courts did not have jurisdiction over the charge.
The petite woman with graying, braided hair rocked and twitched in her chair during the four-hour hearing. All the defendants remain in custody.
Prosecutors say Weston's group kept at least five mentally challenged adults locked in basements, closets and attics over 10 years, until a landlord found the malnourished victims locked in a boiler room in October. One man was chained to the boiler.
Wright's lawyer argued that his client is a victim, not a captor, but the judge upheld the charges against the street preacher, which a previous judge had dropped before they were refiled.
Weston allegedly took in at least $3,000 a month in Social Security checks for various people in her care, including a niece and Maxine Lee, a disabled Philadelphia woman who died of meningitis and wasting disease while living with Weston in Virginia.
No one is charged in Lee's 2008 death, but the death will be part of the "prior bad acts" evidence prosecutors hope to use at trial.
Authorities say the rescued victims _ three men and two women _ suffered disfiguring scars, welts, bruises and even cauliflower ears from assaults they allegedly endured over the years. Authorities also removed eight juveniles from Weston's care. They included two children authorities say were conceived by two of the victims, but were being raised by Weston and Thomas, her boyfriend. The biological father never knew the children were his, prosecutors said.
One victim, 31-year-old Edwin Sanabria, testified previously that Weston took him to a Social Security office and took over his financial affairs soon after he moved in with her. He said he never again saw his $674 monthly Social Security checks or food stamp card.
Police said they found dozens of identification cards, Social Security cards, power of attorney papers and other forms when they arrested Weston, whose niece also received government benefits. Relatives of some of the victims had reported them missing, and searched for them at times.
Investigators maintain Weston moved the group to Philadelphia, Killeen, Texas, West Palm Beach, Fla., and Norfolk, Va., over the past decade. Weston's adult daughter, Jean McIntosh, is also charged in the case, but was not in court Friday because her lawyer had not challenged the charges against her. She lived in the Philadelphia apartment house where the group was ultimately found.
The next pretrial hearing was set for August.