SMETHPORT (AP) — Attorneys for a northwestern Pennsylvania pastor and his wife want a judge to throw out child endangerment charges filed against them for allegedly withholding food from their three adopted children as punishment.
State police charged Mark Hooper, 43, and Susan Hooper, 40, of Mount Jewett, in March, a month after their 9-year-old daughter ran away and told authorities she wasn’t allowed to eat until she correctly finished her math homework while being home-schooled.
A district judge in April agreed there was enough evidence for the couple to stand trial after the children — including another girl, age 11, and her 10-year-old brother — testified about begging for food from neighbors and being fed oatmeal that they said their parents had laced with red pepper flakes. The children said they were hit with paddles and belts and had meals withheld as punishment.
But defense attorneys have filed documents arguing there wasn’t enough evidence presented at the hearing to justify sending the charges to court and, more specifically, that much of the evidence at the hearing implicated Susan Hooper, but not Mark Hooper, the Bradford Era reported Friday.
Mark Hooper pastors the family’s church, Cobb Street Baptist, in nearby Johnsonburg.
Mark Hooper’s defense attorneys, Joseph Charlton and Shane Sarver, argued that McKean County prosecutors have “failed to present evidence that the defendant knowingly engaged in a course of conduct that endangered the welfare of his children.” The filings also contested allegations that Hooper failed to seek medical treatment “for the children due to their small stature and alleged failure to thrive.”
State police investigators said the 9-year-old girl who ran away weighed only 31 pounds, well below normal for her age, and has the bone structure of a 5-year-old. The children have been removed by county child welfare workers and placed in alternative care.
A judge hasn’t scheduled a hearing on the defense motions.