Mary Tessmer booking photo courtesy of the Marathon County Sheriff's Department

By Shereen Siewert

A 50-year-old Ringle woman will spend two years in prison for her role in the death of her 78-year-old mother, whose emaciated body was discovered with multiple serious wounds and significant signs of chronic neglect.

Mary E. Tessmer was charged Nov. 19, 2019 in Marathon County Circuit Court of intentionally subjecting an individual at risk to abuse, causing death. In July, Tessmer pleaded guilty to an amended charge of recklessly subjecting an individual at risk to abuse, causing death, which carries a lower penalty than the initial charge.

Prosecutors asked Circuit Judge Greg Strasser to order Tessmer to spend 12 years in prison followed by eight years of extended supervision. But on Dec. 13, Judge Strasser chose to sentence Tessmer to a significantly lighter sentence than the one recommended by the state.

According to the criminal complaint:

  • Dispatchers on Oct. 4, 2019 responded to a Ringle residence for a report of an elderly woman who was not breathing. When a deputy arrived, Tessmer told the deputy she went to check on her mother, Mildred Costanza, to see if she needed to use the bathroom and discovered her cold to the touch.
  • A forensic autopsy revealed Costanza, who weighed 75 pounds at the time of her death, was emaciated to the point that many of her skeletal features were pronounced through the flesh.
  • A doctor performing the autopsy determined that the lack of underlying muscle and tissue in the area of Costanza’s cheek and temple region was “consistent with severe wasting from starvation.”
  • Investigators say Costanza’s hair was matted and dirty, and her teeth were in an excessive state of decay with some missing and broken; her toenails and fingernails had grown excessively and had grown in unnatural directions.
  • In addition, both of Costanza’s heels had large untreated infected sores and the flesh of her buttocks deteriorated to the point that there was minimal tissue remaining with a six-inch wound, according to the report.

The doctor who performed the autopsy attributed Costanza’s death to an “acute toxicological fatality…specifically involving tramadol, in the setting of chronic neglect,” the complaint reads.

Tessmer allegedly told investigators she left her job eight months earlier to better care for her mother and said she attended to her multiple times each day, and that her mother was “stubborn” and did not want to go to the doctor when her condition worsened.

Judge Strasser also ordered Tessmer to spend two years on extended supervision following her eventual release from prison, participate in a financial course and undergo a mental health assessment. Tessmer was also ordered not to be guardian of any person or estate, or act as power of attorney over any person, while in prison or on supervision. She was granted 30 days credit for time served while awaiting trial.