A judge ruled Friday a jury can see a video of five children in a neglect and abuse case when the children’s parents go on trial next week.
Robert H. Simons III, 55, and his common-law wife, Mary Ella Tittle, 39, are charged with multiple counts of child abuse and neglect and aggravated child endangerment in regard to their five children after authorities found the family living in squalid conditions at their home on Miller Drive in Jonesborough.
According to investigators, a bus on the property was being used as living space for the kids. The property was strewn with trash and human waste. The bus had no running water or bathrooms, and sparse living arrangements, investigators said.
Prosecutors say the children — now ages 13, 11-year-old twins, 10 and 8 — had never attended school and were far behind other kids their age. Since the parents were arrested and the kids placed in foster care, prosecutors say the children have thrived and are learning fast.
Prosecutors documented the improvement in the kids on a video recording that defense attorneys tried to keep out of the trial. But Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp ruled Friday the video is admissible.
Cupp also heard arguments in several other motions, including the state’s desire to introduce printouts from Tittle’s MySpace page.
Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brooks told Cupp it’s important to admit the documents to show Tittle was “computer savvy” enough to post digital photos of herself and her children and “blog” about the kids, including her daughter’s severe kidney disease.
Regardless of her ability to understand her children’s developmental needs, according to Brooks, Tittle did not adequately care for the kids.
Another issue prosecutors presented Friday was the theory that Simons and Tittle were exploiting their children to get money from churches, often giving false information to obtain help.
And a third issue prosecutors argued was a statement Simons gave to a loss-prevention officer after being charged with fraudulently returning a scooter to the store.
Simons reportedly told the officer he couldn’t attend court on a certain day because his daughter was having a kidney transplant.
Defense attorneys argued that any evidence of prior criminal activity cannot be admitted unless a defendant testifies. Simons’ attorney, Matt Bolton, told Cupp there is no way to introduce the comment without revealing his client was charged with a crime.
Prosecutors want to show Simons was aware of his daughter’s life-threatening condition, but he didn’t take the appropriate medical steps to help her.
Once the children were in state custody after Simons and Tittle were arrested, their daughter received the kidney transplant that saved her life, Brooks said.
Aside from the video, Cupp deferred ruling on the additional motions until next week.
The trial is likely to take the entire week with numerous witnesses — reportedly 40 for the state alone — taking the stand on various issues regarding the children’s condition.
Simons and Tittle remain in the Washington County Detention Center on $50,000 bond each.