ACCOMACK COUNTY, Va. – A 38-year-old mother pleaded guilty in court on Thursday after being arrested last year for allegedly caging her young children.
Malista Ness-Hopkins was charged with five counts of child neglect in July 2017 for allegedly keeping two of her five children in makeshift crib cages and filthy conditions. All five had flea bites and lice and were living in terrible conditions, according to evidence presented in court.
Ness-Hopkins’ attorney told the judge that she was “overwhelmed” caring for her five little boys, who ranged in age from 1 to 6 years old.
Accomack County Child Protective Services worker Kate Bonniwell testified last year that she visited the home after the agency received a complaint in July.
Bonniwell said she found two of the children caged inside cribs. Rails had been taken from other cribs and screwed on top to confine the children inside.
She said a 2-year-old child trapped in one of the cribs hissed at her and made noises she described as “animal sounds,” and once she had removed the top of the crib cage, the child made no attempt to get out.
Bonniwell said the children were all dirty and suffering from multiple bug bites and lice.
All five children were removed from the home on July 28, the day the social workers visited.
Ness-Hopkins’ attorney told the judge there was no evidence the conditions in the home “were directly harmful to the children.”
Since the children were taken from the home, the Commonwealth's Attorney said one had been placed with a grandmother and the other four are with foster families. The children have been seen by doctors and therapists since the case was opened.
Prosecutors said one child has been diagnosed with PTSD and another has a separation disorder. The court heard evidence related to the trauma the children lived through.
Ness-Hopkins was incarcerated at the Accomack County Jail and denied bond, but has since been released on a $10,000 unsecured bond. In court her attorney said she is living with a friend in Accomack and is complying with all court requests. She is seeing a doctor, and her attorney told the judge Ness-Hopkins suffers from depression and mental illness from her own traumatic experiences as a child.
The judge allowed Ness-Hopkins to remain out of jail on bond, but she will be back in court December 3 to learn her sentence.
If given the maximum sentence, Ness-Hopkins faces 25 years behind bars and a $12,000 fine.