Mary and James Mast, whose 4-year-old daughter was allegedly beaten and killed by neighbors trying to remove a “demon,” have pleaded not guilty on Monday, December 28, after they were charged and arrested in connection to the murder on December 24 in Stover, Mo.
“Mary is being charged with Endangering the Welfare of a Child in the First Degree Resulting in Death (Felony A) and Domestic Assault in the First Degree (Felony A),” a press release states. “James is being charged with Endangering the Welfare of a child in the First Degree Resulting in Death (Felony A) and Endangering the Welfare of a Child in the First Degree Resulting in Serious Physical Injury (Felony B).”
Mary, 29, and James, 28, are both being held without bond. During their arraignments, Associate Judge Mark Brandon Pilley denied the duo’s request to attend their daughter’s funeral, and a bond hearing is set for January 5.
The couple’s other children — an infant and a 2-year-old son — “have been placed in protective custody,” Benton County Sheriff Eric Knox said in a press release.
On December 20, the girl was found dead at the family home. Knox said she was severely beaten and dunked in an icy pond in what appeared to be a “religious-type episode.”
Kourtney Aumen, 21, Ethan Mast, 35 — who are neighbors with the Mast family, but not related to James and Mary — were charged last week with second-degree murder and other offenses. Both are in jail without bond following the incident with the 4-year-old.
Both families belong to the same church, but Knox said “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," the press release stated. "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."
According to a probable cause statement from Benton County Sgt. Chris Wilson, he said the little girl was dead when he was called to the home and she had "severe purple bruising" over her body. The girl's parents were also beaten in addition to the 2-year-old (according to the statement, though no concrete details as to why they also endured abuse), but their infant was not harmed.
James told investigators he and his wife watched his daughter get beat up by Aumen and Ethan, but if they tried to stop them, they would be beaten or shot.
Per the probable cause statement, Wilson asked James “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."
Ethan reportedly admitted to investigators that he used a leather belt to beat the 4-year-old before he "dunked" her in the pond on a 40 degree day.