State prosecutors will be able to show a jury portions of video interviews of five children whose parents are accused of keeping them from school and living in substandard conditions.
Washington County Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp made that ruling Friday after hearing arguments earlier this week.
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.
After Washington County sheriff’s investigators arrested the couple last year, their children — ages 13, 11-year-old twins, 10 and 8 — were interviewed at the Children’s Advocacy Center to determine if they had been sexually abused.
While those interviews showed no evidence of sexual abuse, prosecutors said they show the extent of the childrens’ educational deficits.
The kids told investigators they had never attended school, and Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brooks told Cupp the children didn’t know their ages, how to count, colors or the alphabet.
Cupp’s ruling only applies to portions of the interviews that demonstrate those deficits. Brooks cannot present any part of the recording in which the children mention their parents in any context because that would be testimonial evidence that the defense would not have an opportunity to cross examine.
Brooks has not said if he will put any of the children on the witness stand when their parents go to trial next year, but Cupp said during court Friday that testifying would likely be “embarrassing” for the kids.
Attorney Teri Reach, who was appointed in Juvenile Court as the Guardian ad Litem for the kids, has a pending motion to prevent the children from being interviewed any further or testifying.
Cupp has not ruled on that motion. After he announced his decision regarding the video interviews, attorney Jim Lonon said his client, Tittle, had asked him to request the judge release her on bond monitoring.
Cupp said he would give Tittle a hearing on the matter, but would not release her at this time. Tittle told Cupp she would live with family members and needed out of jail to attend to some legal matters relating to her mother’s death and Tittle’s inheritance of her mother’s property.
Simons’ and Tittle’s children are in protective state custody. They were removed from their parents after law enforcement went to where the family lived at 147 Miller Drive in April 2010.
Washington County sheriff’s officers went there to investigate the educational neglect of the siblings. But once investigators arrived, they reportedly discovered the children living in a bus and in a camper in the front yard. Neither had running water or bathrooms and were sparse living arrangements for the children, investigators said. The yard was strewn with trash and the children were using it as a bathroom, according to investigators.
A friend of Simons and Tittle, Leona Patricia Bentler, 41, also was living at that address and faced charges as well. She pleaded guilty last year to six counts of child neglect and one count of contributing to the unruliness of a minor.
Prosecutors said those charges were because Bentler did not report the parents. She received two 11-month, 29-day sentences and was granted probation.
Simons and Tittle are each jailed on $50,000 bond.