The caretaker accused of murdering a 79-year-old woman whose torso was found last week in Coronado told investigators she committed the grisly crime because she was "being treated like a dog," a prosecutor said Thursday.
The apparent motive for the crime was announced as Mary Louise Asbury pleaded innocent to a murder charge in the death of Lillian B. Shepherd, who is believed to have been killed April 5.
The 59-year-old Asbury, who shared a Chula Vista mobile home with Shepherd, appeared frail and pale as she entered her plea before Municipal Judge Harvey Hiber.
According to investigators, Asbury had acted as Shepherd's caretaker for about three years at the home in the 1500 block of 3rd Street.
Asbury was arrested Tuesday, after authorities identified Shepherd's torso and found bloodstains inside the mobile home.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Lori Koster revealed new details of the crime as she urged Hiber to set bail at $1 million.
"She used a hacksaw to decapitate the victim and cut off her arms and the legs," Koster said.
Sheriff's investigators said Asbury told them she used a pillow to suffocate the elderly woman, who needed assistance in moving around, Koster said.
"She maintained the corpse in her house for three weeks," Koster said. "It is obviously a heinous and cruel crime."
Prosecutors have tentatively ruled out financial gain as a motive for the slaying. Although Asbury had access to Shepherd's bank accounts and safe-deposit box, the only money taken appears to have been for essentials such as rent, Koster said.
"The only statement we have from her is that she believed she was being treated like a dog," Koster said.
Koster also said that Asbury "basically" confessed to the details of the crime.
Although the limbs were allegedly kept in the mobile home for two weeks and the torso maintained there a week longer, neighbors did not report any unusual odors. Odor eventually drew officials to the plastic bag containing some of Asbury's remains in Coronado.
Koster also said Asbury disposed of the victim's limbs and head in a trash bin, and that there is little hope of recovering the remains.
Hiber agreed to set bail at $1 million, which drew loud gasps from several of Asbury's supporters who attended the hearing. Asbury is being held at Las Colinas Jail.
Deputy Public Defender Alfred E. Gossner had no comment on the case. He said it had been assigned to him minutes before Asbury's arraignment.
A preliminary hearing was set for Tuesday, when Gossner will attempt to have the bail reduced.