Melista Ann Ness-Hopkins appeared in Accomack County Circuit Court Thursday and pled guilty to five counts of willfully acting to abuse and neglect her children. Ness-Hopkins was arrested in July of 2017 after Kate Bonniwell of the Accomack County Department of Social Services visited her home in Mears and discovered five children under the age of 5 living in deplorable conditions.
Ness-Hopkins could serve as many as 25 years and be fined up to $12,500 plus court costs. Sentencing is scheduled for December 1, 2018.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Elizabeth Wolfe presented photographic evidence taken by Bonniwell that represented the conditions at the house in Mears when she arrived. She presented photos of a crib that was rigged like a make-shift cage in which two of the children were found. She also presented photographs of the children showing insect bites and lice infestation. Photos of the condition of the home were also introduced.
Also an affidavit by an older sibling of the children stated that Ness-Hopkins had locked children in their rooms sometimes for hours for punishment.
Also introduced was evidence obtained from doctors that stated the children had symptoms of trauma and distress disorders.
Defense Attorney Tucker Watson then told the court that Ms. Ness-Hopkins had taken full responsibility for the conditions at the home as demonstrated by her guilty pleas.
Watson said that Ness-Hopkins found herself completely overwhelmed. He said that her boyfriend, who owned the home had died in May of 2016 leaving her with five children under 5 years old in a dilapidated home with no income or other resources.
Watson said that she was attempting to find another place to live but had not been successful.
Watson said Ness-Hopkins suffered from depression and grief following her boyfriend’s death enhanced by the overwhelming responsibility of raising the children alone.
He also said that Ness-Hopkins suffered from PTSB from her childhood and the fact that she had no resources to improve conditions at the home.
Watson stated that the make shift cage was because both of the children tended to climb out of the crib and that Ness-Hopkins only closed them in when she was asleep and could not watch them. He said that in this situation, Ness-Hopkins was not trying to entrap the children but protect them but she lacked the resources to purchase one of the products available that keep children from climbing out of cribs.
He said there was no evidence that Ness-Hopkins deliberately abused the children. He said that while she loved and misses her children she is also happy that they all have been placed in better situations.
Watson requested that Ness Hopkins be placed in the C-Cap recovery program and that Ness-Hopkins be allowed to remain on bond.
Judge Revell Lewis accepted the guilty plea and due to the fact that Ness-Hopkins had been out on bond for a year, lived in Accomac with friends, was cooperative with law enforcement and court officials and attended all therapy sessions, granted the request that she remain on bond until sentencing.