Prosecutors Look into Messy Divorce That Raises Questions; Others Wonder Why Authorities Would Take on What Looks like a Family Dispute

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Byline: Adam Kealoha Causey

The State Attorney's Office in St. Johns County has launched a criminal probe into a 2009 divorce filing in the county that experts call unusual.

Investigators are tight-lipped with details of their involvement in the civil case, citing the ongoing investigation. But the inquiry landed a woman in jail on a perjury charge, first in North Carolina and last week in St. Johns County, where she could be brought to trial.

The investigation stems from accusations that the woman divorced her husband - who suffered from Alzheimer's-type dementia and has since died - when they lived out of state. That's a violation of Florida law.

And it has led to questions about how easy it is to dissolve a marriage, whether the husband was competent to sign off on the divorce, and why the state attorney is concerned with what appears to be a family dispute.

FLORIDA RESIDENTS?

The late Bob Thurston owned property in Ponte Vedra Beach, court documents show. Divorce paperwork lists a Sawgrass condo on Tifton Way as the residence he shared with his second wife, Sherrill, to whom he'd been married since 1985.

But Tracie Thurston Carrico, Bob's daughter, said her father and stepmother didn't live in Florida but in Wilmington, N.C.

That appears to be the basis of the state attorney's case.

Prosecutors say Thurston lied about where she lived when she filed for divorce, according to Shannon Peters, a spokeswoman for the State Attorney's Office. State law requires at least one spouse to live in Florida for six months before being able to file.

St. Johns County issued a warrant for Thurston's arrest on a felony count of perjury, and she spent Sept. 8-12 behind bars, according to the New Hanover County (N.C.) sheriff's office. Thurston, 68, was released after posting $2,000 bond.

Thurston was booked again and released on $5,000 bond from the St. Johns County jail on Friday, records show.

Phone calls from the Times-Union to numbers listed at Thurston's residence and a hair salon she owns went unreturned.

HEALTH CONCERNS

Bob Thurston was 64 and staying in a nursing home in Kentucky when he died in December. Carrico said dementia made him a shell of the healthy man he was.

Dealing with his health was more difficult, Carrico said, because he had little money following the divorce: Sherrill Thurston took most of it and left her former husband with almost $250,000 in IRS and credit card debt.

His family could have paid for his medical expenses had they had access to his money, Carrico said. Instead, Medicaid covered most costs.

"The taxpayers were screwed over as well," said Carrico, of Lexington, Ky. "They should not have had to foot that bill."

Her father's weakened state of mind also contributed to what Carrico considers a messy divorce. She contends he didn't understand the agreement - pointing to his illegible scribble below divorce paper signature lines on the Nov. …