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‘Overwhelmed’ Va. mom pleads guilty after bug-infested kids found caged in home

ACCOMACK COUNTY, Va. -- Malista Ness-Hopkins, 38, faces up to 25 years in prison after she pleaded guilty Thursday to child neglect, WTKR reported.

The Accomack County woman was arrested in 2017 after Child Protective Services visited her home to investigate a complaint.

Ness-Hopkins, it was discovered, kept two of her five children in makeshift crib cages. All five of her children had flea bites and lice, according to evidence presented in court.

Her attorney told the judge that Ness-Hopkins was “overwhelmed” caring for her five little boys, who ranged in age from one to six years old.

Accomack County Child Protective Services worker Kate Bonniwell testified she found two children caged inside cribs. The rails, she said, had been taken from other cribs and screwed on top to confine the children inside.

A two-year-old child, trapped in one of the cribs, hissed at her, Bonniwell said, and made noises she described as “animal sounds.” Once she removed the top of the crib cage, the child made no attempt to get out, she added.

Bonniwell said the children were all dirty and suffering from multiple bug bites and lice.

All five children were removed from the home on July 28, the day the social workers visited.

Ness-Hopkins’ attorney told the judge there was no evidence the conditions in the home “were directly harmful to the children.”

Since the children were taken from the home, the Commonwealth's Attorney said one had been placed with a grandmother and the other four are with foster families. The children have been seen by doctors and therapists since the case was opened.

Prosecutors said one child has been diagnosed with PTSD and another has a separation disorder. The court heard evidence related to the trauma the children lived through.

Ness-Hopkins was incarcerated at the Accomack County Jail and denied bond, but has since been released on a $10,000 unsecured bond. In court her attorney said she was living with a friend and has complied with all court requests. She was seeing a doctor. Her attorney told the judge Ness-Hopkins suffered from depression and mental illness from her own traumatic experiences as a child.

The judge allowed Ness-Hopkins to remain out of jail on bond, but she will be back in court December 3 to learn her sentence.

If given the maximum sentence, Ness-Hopkins faced 25 years behind bars and a $12,000 fine.