Trial date set in Eastern Shore caged child abuse case

The children were all removed from the home July 28, the day social workers visited. Video courtesy Delmarva Now

MEARS, Va. (Delmarva Now) -- An April trial is scheduled in the case of an Accomack County woman charged with five counts of child abuse.

Malista Ness-Hopkins, 39, of Mears, was indicted in October 2017 after social workers said they found her children in makeshift cages when they visited the home.

A jury trial is set for April 25 in Accomack County Circuit Court.

The social workers found two toddlers were being kept in makeshift cages — cribs with lids screwed onto the top from which they could not escape — according to court records and testimony during a probable cause hearing.

All five children at the home were found living in unwholesome and unsafe surroundings covered with filth, dirty diapers, lice and insect bites, according to the social workers and an investigator who testified in Accomack County court. The children were removed from the home July 28, the day social workers visited.

PHOTOS:  Mom kept toddlers in makeshift cages, police say

At a preliminary hearing Sept. 8, Accomack County Social Services worker Kate Bonniwell testified she visited the woman’s home after a complaint was made to her agency.

Bonniwell said she found the 2- and 3-year-old children in separate cribs with tops that were affixed with multiple screws. Another crib containing a 1-year-old child did not have a top on it.

It took the social worker 23 minutes with an electric screwdriver to remove one of the lids, she testified.

As she was working on it, she said the 2-year-old child inside was hissing at her and making noises she described as “animal sounds.”

All three children wore filthy diapers, she testified.

In another bedroom, Bonniwell said she found the 5- and 6-year-old children on mattresses on the floor. They were filthy, with no sheet and no pillow, just a bare mattress, she testified.

BACKGROUND: Mom kept toddlers in makeshift cages, police say

The entire house was littered with debris, broken glass and rotting food, Bonniwell said in court.

An investigator with the Accomack County Sheriff's Office who also testified at the hearing said the department obtained a search warrant and went into the house.

When she went into the toddlers' bedroom, she saw bite and claw marks on the inside of the cribs, the officer said.

After her arrest in July, Ness-Hopkins was released on bond on the condition that she seek a mental health evaluation and pursue recommended treatment.


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