Jury selected in child neglect trial

Becky Campbell • Feb 27, 2012 at 10:18 PM

Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp led a marathon day of jury selection in a multi-count child neglect case Monday, and the day ended with success.

An eight-woman, six-man jury panel will begin hearing evidence this morning in the state’s case against Robert Simons III and Mary Ella Tittle. Both are charged in a 10-count indictment — although the state will dismiss two of those counts — because investigators say the two neglected their children in such a way to constitute child abuse.

The couple’s five children — now ages 13, 11-year-twins, 10 and 8 — were taken from them in April 2010 after investigators responded to a welfare check on the children. Investigators said the children were living in a bus on the couple’s property that had no running water, no bathroom and sparse living arrangements.

Investigators also said the children had never been to school and were far behind other kids their age. One child, the only girl, was suffering from a severe kidney disease and needed a transplant. She received that transplant last year. Prosecutors said Simons and Tittle were well aware of their daughter’s situation, but failed to get proper medical care.

Monday’s lengthy jury selection was due to individual questioning on three issues — pretrial publicity, the abuse and neglect issue, and feelings about mentally challenged people.

Defense attorneys indicated during questioning that their clients have “substantial” intellectual disabilities. Prosecutors also plan to present such evidence, but pertaining to the children. Cupp has already ruled the jury will be able to see videos of the kids, one that shows their deficits and another that shows how far they have developed since being taken from their parents.

On the three issues jurors were questioned individually about, few jurors had enough issues to be excused. There were seven excused for several reasons — one with medical issues, three with scheduling problems, two who felt so strongly about abuse and neglect they said they couldn’t serve and one for having already formed an opinion.

Another 13 jurors were taken off the jury by attorneys using their challenges, leaving a panel of 14 to hear the case. Opening statements are expected to begin at 9 a.m. today. If convicted, Simons and Tittle face 15 to 25 years in prison on each count.

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