A jury hearing testimony in a multi-count child neglect case was dismissed for the weekend around noon Friday because of weather that threatened heavy storms and possible tornados.
Robert Simons III, 55, and Mary Ella Tittle, 39, of Jonesborough, are charged with a total of eight counts of aggravated child neglect, five that involve a child age 8 or younger and three involving a child under 18 years old.
Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp recessed the case for lunch around 12:15 p.m., but called attorneys back to the courtroom within a few minutes. He decided to follow the lead of the Washington County school system, which had announced students would be released due to the weather.
Prior to the break, jurors heard testimony from the foster dad of the Simons’ five children. Junior Jordan testified taking on the kids was a challenge and the children had many things to learn.
When the kids first arrived, Jordan said they smelled of urine, an odor that took about two weeks worth of baths to get rid of. The kids new their first names, but still didn’t know their last name.
Apparently along the way, someone pronounced Simons as Simmons, so that’s how the children learned to say their last name.
Baths were difficult at first because none of the kids wanted any part of it.
“None of them wanted their head washed . . . they started screaming,” Jordan said.
Using the bathroom was also a challenge for the boys, he said. He had to sit them down and talk about how to properly go to the bathroom so they actually urinated in the toilet.
One day, Jordan testified, he almost stepped in a pile of human waste in the yard, so that required another lesson on bathroom etiquette.
Eating utensils and tooth brushes were also new to the kids, he said, and they had to learn how to use them.
Fast forward two years, and Jordan said the kids have improve dramatically.
“These kids are so nice and polite now,” Jordan said.
They follow a routine that includes making their beds, putting their shoes and clothes away and eating their meals within a certain amount of time. At first, the kids just wanted to play at mealtime, Jordan said. A timer on the table helped with the kids learning that meals were only on the table for a certain amount of time.
On one occasion, one of the boys had a bicycle wreck but hid from Jordan and his wife. Jordan said he had to pull the boy out from under his bed to check for injuries.
“He was afraid I was going to do something to him,” Jordan said.
The Simons children went to live with the Jordans in Hamblen County in April 2010 after being removed from their parents home. Simons and Tittle were arrested after authorities went to their home to investigate a complaint about unsupervised children not attending school.
DCS and a sheriff’s investigator found filthy living conditions and determined the children were not receiving an education. There were also medical concerns for the couple’s daughter who suffered from a life-threatening kidney disease.
The girl has since had a kidney transplant that doctors testified earlier this week saved her life.
Simons and Tittle remain jailed on a $50,000 bond each. The trial is scheduled to resume Monday morning.