WARSAW, Mo. (KMIZ)
Three of the four people facing criminal charges for the death of 4-year-old Benton County girl Jessica Mast appeared in court Tuesday morning.
Attorneys for Kourtney Aumen and the girl's parents, James and Mary Mast, requested a later date to ask Judge Mark Pilley to set a bond for them to get out of jail. James Mast and Kourtney Aumen are scheduled to be back in court on Jan. 19, while Mary Mast is set to return on Feb. 2. Ethan Mast, a fourth suspect not related to James and Mary Mast, did not appear in court because he does not yet have an attorney, according to Benton County court personnel.
The Benton County Sheriff's Office arrested the four suspects on suspicion of having some part in the death of Jessica Mast last month. Deputies found Jessica Mast dead in her home on Buckskin Lane near Lincoln after her father, James, called for help. James and Mary Mast told investigators that their neighbors, Ethan Mast and Aumen, put them through weeks of abuse to rid the family of a "demon," according to documents. Jessica was found with bruises that deputies suspect came from a belt.
Aumen's attorney, Springfield-based Joseph Passanise, said the legal team would file motions with the court soon regarding bond. Aumen's family came to the Tuesday hearing from her native Pennsylvania, and that they looked forward to telling her side of things in court.
"Kourtney comes from a good family in Pennsylvania," Passanise said. "She's got no prior criminal history. She's very devout in her beliefs and her religion."
Scott Pierson and Brandon Twibell of Springfield will represent Mary Mast. Twibell asked Pilley for a month to gather more information for their bond request. Matthew Kallial said he will represent James Mast in the case, and asked that his bond request be heard on Jan. 19.
Ethan Mast and Aumen face charges of second-degree murder, three counts of first-degree assault and sexual abuse. James Mast faces two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. Mary Mast faces a similar endangering charge as well as a first-degree domestic assault charge.
A probable cause statement from the sheriff's office claims James and Mary Mast watched as the others abused the children. The couple claimed this happened because they were not disciplining their children correctly, and that Aumen and Ethan Mast threatened that Satan would get them if they intervened in the abuse. The statement said Mary Mast was also sexually abused during this time.
Benton County Sheriff Eric Knox said in December that James and Mary's two other children were placed in protective custody following their parents' arrest on Christmas Eve. Knox said in a Dec. 24 Facebook post that "[n]one of the actions contained in this case are condoned by the church they attended."
Anti-child abuse advocates also attended Tuesday's hearing. Tiffani Hill, president of Child Advocacy Against Pedophilia, said the case caught her attention due to the closeness of Jessica's age to that of her own daughter - born just seven days after Jessica.
"I imagined Jessica as my own daughter at that point," Hill said. "What would I be doing at that point?"
Hill and C.A.A.P. vice president Mel Pleasant said they hoped to advocate for Jessica's interests due to her parents being incarcerated in connection with her death. Both said they were opposed to any of the four people charged receiving a chance to post bond.
"Some people don't think it's a big deal, you know, she's already dead, she's gone," Pleasant said. "But it is. They took everything from her, and at the last minute, stripped that little 4-year-old of her pride."