BENTON COUNTY, Mo. (KOLR) – The parents of a 4-year-old Missouri girl who was allegedly killed by neighbors who were trying to exorcise a “demon” last week were arraigned in court Monday morning.
According to court records, James and Mary Mast pleaded not guilty during an arraignment hearing Monday and will have a bond hearing on January 5.
James and his wife Mary are charged with first-degree endangering the welfare of a child resulting in death, among other charges.
The two were arrested Christmas Eve at a home in Morgan County.
The parents said they were instructed by their neighbors, Ethan Mast and Kourtney Aumen, not to provide aid or comfort to the family’s children or themselves when the neighbors would beat them, according to authorities.
Mast and Aumen, who face multiple charges including murder, told the family they were beating the “demons” out of the girl, investigators said.
The 4-year-old girl was found dead at the family home on Dec. 20. Benton County Sheriff Eric Knox says she had been severely beaten and dunked in an icy pond as part of what appeared to be a “religious-type episode.”
“None of the actions contained in this case are condoned by the church they attended,” Sheriff Knox said in a statement. “The investigation done so far indicates that this is an isolated incident and NOT the actions of a cult.”
James Mast did tell investigators that even though he and Ethan have the same last name, they are not related.
The Masts’ 2-year-old and infant sons have been placed in protective custody.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.