The Mount Jewett couple charged with starving their three adopted children will stand trial together next month in McKean County Court.
Mark Hooper, 43, and Susan Hooper, 40, are both charged with three counts each of endangering the welfare of children. There are two separate criminal cases against each defendant; all have been consolidated into one case for trial.
According to the motion for consolidation, filed by McKean County District Attorney Ray Learn, both Hoopers are charged with victimizing the same three children; “each participated in the same series of actions ... constituting the offenses; soncolidation of these matters is in the best interest of judicial economy” and “the facts of each case are not convoluted and are not likely to confuse the jury.”
Mark Hooper’s attorney, Joseph Charlton, and Susan Hooper’s attorney, Alexander Lindsay, did not oppose the motion. It was granted by Senior Judge John Cleland Dec. 13. The judge also ruled that all “motions in limine” should be filed before Dec. 30, and should any matters require a hearing to resolve, that hearing will be held at 1 p.m. Jan. 3.
A motion in limine, according to The Free Dictionary, is a motion made at the start of a trial requesting the judge rule certain evidence may not be introduced at trial. As of Monday, no such motions had been filed in the Hoopers’ cases.
The trial in the matter is set to begin Jan. 6, with one week allotted.
On Feb. 11, a 9-year-old girl ran away from the Hoopers’ house to a neighbor’s residence. Police and McKean County Children and Youth Services responded. Upon further investigation, police learned the girl and her two biological siblings, ages 11 and 10, were adopted by the Hoopers in 2007, and were all home-schooled by Susan Hooper.
The children were all found to be malnourished and suffering from growth disorders because of it, according to court records.
During a preliminary hearing in the cases, in April, the children told of a life of fear with the Hoopers, describing harsh punishments involving missed meals or spankings with a paddle or belt. Meals were withheld because the girls didn’t brush their hair correctly, or because the children didn’t complete their school assignments on time, the children testified.
The two younger children described punishments where Susan Hooper would lace oatmeal with red pepper flakes and make them eat it, without anything to drink. All three testified about sneaking food to each other when food was being withheld from one; and about begging food from a neighbor.
None of the three children ever saw a doctor when they were in the Hoopers’ care, they testified.
Both Hoopers remain free on bail while awaiting trial.