Two Kalispell women who admitted to regularly locking children in a basement earlier this year will be sentenced next week in Flathead County District Court.
The sentencing hearing for Amy Lynn Newman and Crystal Marie Mears began on Nov. 10 when the court heard from five of the women’s adoptive children who testified about abuse that went beyond being locked in a basement.
After hearing two hours of testimony, District Court Judge Robert Allison decided he wanted to study a dependent neglect case that has been filed against Newman before sentencing the two women.
According to court documents, Newman and Mears locked two boys, ages 9 and 11, in a basement every night with only a bucket to go to the bathroom. In March, after four children were removed from the home, the Kalispell Police Department searched the home and found numerous locks on the basement door, including padlocks and zip ties.
The women were arrested and charged with three counts of criminal endangerment, which they denied in June. Three months later, the two women pleaded guilty to two counts of felony criminal endangerment each. During the change of plea hearing, Newman, 46, testified that she locked the boys in the basement because they were a danger to the rest of the family. She said one of them had tried to choke his sister with cat litter and another tried to set the house on fire.
But on Nov. 10, prosecutor Alison Howard painted another picture in court as she asked five children to tell their version of events. The children told Judge Allison that some of Newman’s other adoptive children had told lies about them and tried to get them in trouble. They also said Newman and Mears treated them differently than the other kids in the house, only feeding them peanut butter sandwiches when the others got full meals.
The youngest boy, now 10 years old, got on the stand and told the judge about how he and his 11-year-old brother were locked in a basement room with just a mattress.
“I get scary nightmares all the time,” the boy said.
The boy’s 9-year-old sister testified that when she and the others misbehaved, Newman and Mears would allegedly hit the children’s fingers and toes with wooden rulers and wire hangers. Sometimes the children were also “spanked with a belt.”
An older sibling, a 16-year-old girl, testified that while she wasn’t in the home when the two boys were locked in the basement, she had personally been subjected to some of the woman’s alleged abuse in the past.
“My siblings were beat,” the girl said. “These two woman need to be sent to jail because they put my siblings in a jail.”
While the two women said at a previous hearing that they locked the children in the basement to protect others in the house, the children testified that the basement containment was punishment for taking extra food.
However, Mears’ mother Clara Mears testified that she was frequently in the home and never saw signs of abuse. She also said that all of the children always had plenty to eat. She accused the children of lying.
“All of these kids have lied to the judge,” Clara Mears said on the stand. “These kids have been coached.”
As Clara Mears testified, some of the children appeared visibly shaken and the prosecutor asked the judge to allow the kids to have a chance to respond. The 9-year-old girl took the stand for a second time.
“That was a big fat lie,” the girl said looking at Clara Mears.
After hearing about two hours of testimony, District Court Judge Allison told the defendants and prosecutors that he wanted to review the negligence case that has recently been filed against Newman. Attorneys for the defendants, Tim Wenz and Sean Hinchey, objected to the judge wanting to review the other case and reminded Allison that he could only sentence the two woman for the crime they plead guilty to: locking the kids in the basement.
“This sounds to me as if the court wants to sentence these two woman for uncharged conduct,” Hinchey said.
“I don’t know if you want me to be sentencing your clients right now,” the judge responded. “The testimony I heard this afternoon sounded like torture.”
The sentencing is expected to resume on Nov. 18. Both women could face up to 20 years in prison.
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