Two defense attorneys are trying to keep video interviews of their client’s children away from a jury while state prosecutors say the recordings will show educational deficiencies of the kids at the hands of their parents.
Robert H. Simons III, 55, and his wife, Mary Ella Tittle, 39, are charged with five counts each of aggravated child neglect and aggravated child endangerment.
The couple had a court hearing Tuesday on the issue to exclude their children’s interviews, but Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp delayed rendering a decision until Friday.
Washington County sheriff’s investigators arrested Simons and Tittle after finding their children living in what they called squalid conditions in a bus.
The children, ages 13, 11-year-old twins, 10 and 8, had never attended school, according to what they told a forensic interviewer at the Children’s Advocacy Center.
That interview was to determine if the children had also suffered sexual abuse, but there were no findings of that.
But Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brooks still wants jurors to see the videos when the case goes to trial because he said they will show the children’s vocabulary, speech and comprehension deficiencies as well as their limited knowledge for their ages.
Brooks said none of the children knew their ages, their birthdays, the alphabet or how to count. Only one child knew her colors, he said.
The only girl, one of the twins, couldn’t tell the CAC interviewer how many brothers she had, but could rattle the four names off quickly.
“What the state finds important is how the jury can use those (recordings) to evaluate the children’s educational development,” Brooks said. “They had virtually no educational development at all.”
Four of the children are still in speech therapy, he said, but the foster mother told him they’ve learned their ABCs, they can count and are beginning to learn simple math.
Defense attorneys Jim Lonon, Tittle’s lawyer, and Matt Bolton, who represents Simons, want Cupp to exclude the video interviews because they are “cumulative and duplicative of the children’s testimony,” they said in separate motions.
Additionally, Lonon told Cupp Tuesday the interviewer was not an educational expert and the interview was not designed to elicit the children’s’ educational levels.
Another attorney in the case, Teri Reach, who was appointed Guardian ad Litem for the children, has also asked Cupp for a protective order to prevent any of the attorneys from interviewing, questioning or calling the children to testify at trial.
In a motion filed in May, Reach said the children have been “traumatized,” by the circumstances that led to them being removed from their parents and placed in state custody. Reach also said in the motion that the children “more than likely would not qualify to testify due to their mental delay.”
According to a handwritten letter in the court file that Tittle sent to Cupp, she was also a victim of Simons’ manipulative and controlling actions.
Tittle said in the letter, filed in June, that Simons kept her away from her family and even though she tried to “keep them safe,” her children were victimized, too.
The family apparently moved from place to place to allegedly avoid detection, according to the investigation.
“I do pray for my babies. I know now that there (sic) safe but I miss them dearly my Babies are my life and my world and without them I’m nothing,” Tittle wrote.
The couple will return to court Friday for Cupp’s ruling.