Three of the four defendants behind bars in connection with the death of Missouri child, Jessica Mast, appeared in court Tuesday morning.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, Ethan Mast, 35, and Kourtney Aumen, 21, are charged with second-degree murder and related charges in connection with the death of 4-year-old Jessica. Authorities said the suspects, who were neighbors of the child, beat and tortured her, then dunked her in a freezing pond.
Benton County police officers were dispatched to a Benton County home on December 20, after Jessica’s father, James Mast, called 911 just before 1 a.m. James Mast said that the neighbors severely beat Jessica’s mother and their 2-year-old son. He added that his badly-beaten 4-year-old daughter was unresponsive inside a bedroom in the home.
Police said Ethan Mast is not related to the family.
Police arrived and found Jessica wrapped in a blanket, deceased. Ethan Mast and Augmen have been in jail since their arrest last month. Both have pleaded not guilty.
James Mast and his wife, Mary Mast, were arrested in late December on child endangerment and assault charges. They also pleaded not guilty.
Augmen, along with James and Mary Mast, appeared in court Tuesday. Ethan Mast was not present because he doesn’t yet have an attorney, according to ABC 17.
The suspects’ lawyers, Joseph Passanise, told the court that he’s preparing for a later court date to request a bond.
Members of the community expressed shock when Mary Mast smiled and laughed as she left the courtroom Tuesday.
”Seeing them was actually very hard,” Mel Pleasent and Tiffani Hill, of the Child Advocacy Against Pedophilia, told KY3.
“The mom especially. She laughed. She laughed when she left the courtroom. And I find nothing funny, not one thing funny about this case, about her daughter’s death And, as soon as she turned around from her attorney, there was the biggest smile on her face and she laughed all the way walking out. That’s disturbing.”
The court scheduled the next hearing for James Mast and Aumen on January 19, while Mary Mast is scheduled for a February 2 court date.
The child advocacy group said a peaceful protest in honor of Jessica is planned for January 16, in front of the courthouse.
“There’s some people that don’t think it’s a big deal,” Pleasent said. “She’s already dead. She’s gone. But it is. At the last minute, they stripped that little girl from her pride and that’s why we stand here today.”
Disturbing Details in Probable Cause Statement
According to court documents, James Mast told investigators that Augmen and Ethan Mast went to the same church as his family. He indicated that the suspects arrived unannounced at their home and declared that Mary Mast and Jessica had demons in them and needed to be “disciplined.”
Over the course of several weeks, the neighbors allegedly beat two of the Mast children and forced the parents to comply, warning them that they would get hurt if they interfered. James Mast said the suspects would leave the home periodically but would watch the family through security footage on their cellphone.
When the neighbors returned to the Mast home, they allegedly unplugged the security camera before the beatings.
On December 19, the suspects arrived back at the home at 8 a.m. and began beating the 2-year-old, while forcing the parents to watch, according to police. They left the victims’ home at some point that day, then returned later and began beating Jessica with a belt. She cried for help, but no one attempted to stop the beating, police said.
According to a probable cause statement from Sgt. Chris Wilson, both suspects are also accused of sexual abuse.
*Editor’s Note*: There have been conflicting reports surrounding who the sexual abuse victim was. Names of the victims were heavily redacted in the probable cause statement.
The suspects eventually beat Mary Mast. Authorities found her inside a bedroom with her two sons, the 2-year-old and an infant. She had “severe bruising” all over her back, ABC 13 reports. The 2-year-old had severe bruising and blisters. They were both sent to an area hospital for treatment.
The infant boy appeared unharmed, and James Mast, who said he was beaten with a wooden spoon for showing compassion to his family, didn’t require hospitalization.
James Mast said the suspects told him “Satan would come” if he showed compassion.
When police arrived at the home on December 20, James Mast led them to an upstairs bedroom, where Jessica was on the floor near bunk beds, deceased. She had open wounds that appeared to be ruptured blisters and bruises that resembled belt marks, according to the probable cause statement.
Mast said the suspects took the girl to a pond and “dunked” her numerous times before leaving her on the bank to freeze. Afterward, they returned the child to her home, where she was wrapped in a blanket and left in the bedroom. It’s unclear exactly when the child died.
Sgt. Wilson asked James Mast, “how he could let people do this to his family and he stated they were told (his wife) had a ‘demon’ inside her and her children would end up just like her if it was not taken care of,” per the probable cause statement.
“Based on what I know, I think this could be some kind of honest-to-goodness religious-type episode,” Benton County Sheriff Eric Knox told KTLA 5.
With community outcry concerning a possible cult that could have caused the killing, Benton County authorities responded. In a Facebook post, Knox said the evidence so far is not indicative of a cult.
“I have received many letters, calls and emails of concern regarding this child’s death and the surrounding circumstances to be the actions of a cult. During interviews with investigators and the media, there have been some references to God and demons. Additional interviews have been held with family members, both local and out of state, as well as others who know the parties involved. None of the actions contained in this case are condoned by the church they attended. The investigation done so far indicates that this is an isolated incident and NOT the actions of a cult.
When a crime of this magnitude occurs, it affects everyone in its aftermath from first responders to next of kin, community, church and beyond. This will continue to be an ongoing investigation as we wait for the medical examiner’s report and any further information we may be able to develop in time. Further charges may be sought by Benton County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Rod Richardson as all the evidence is considered.”
The surviving Mast children have been placed in protective custody.
Check back for updates.
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[Featured Photo: Jessica Mast/ Kidwell-Garber Funeral Homes]