McKean County couple sentenced to county jail for withholding food from kids

Date: 2014-04-09

By Ruth Bogdan

SMETHPORT, Pa. — Mark and Susan Hooper, a Mount Jewett couple convicted of endangering their three adopted children, were sentenced to jail Tuesday morning in McKean County Court.

Senior Judge John Cleland sentenced Susan Hooper, 41, to nine to 18 months in McKean County Jail and 24 months of probation. Mark Hooper, 43, pastor of Cobb Street Baptist Church in Johnsonburg, will serve three to six months in the jail and 24 months of probation. Both have credit for two days of time served.

Their jail sentences are to commence at 9 a.m. Monday.

The couple will also pay restitution to McKean County Children and Youth Services (CYS) for $57,113.96 and receive mental health evaluations. They are to have no contact with their adopted children except as authorized by the judge who is hearing their dependency cases. Mark Hooper has also been granted work release during his incarceration.

The Hoopers pleaded no contest in December to allegations that between May 1, 2011, and Feb. 13, 2013, both punished their three adopted children by withholding food, which caused medical problems, including psychosocial dwarfism and enlargement of their livers.

The children were 9, 10 and 11 when the Hoopers were charged. Court records indicated the couple’s actions were brought to the attention of authorities when their adopted 9-year-old daughter ran away to a neighbor’s house. She weighed 31 pounds at the time.

This description, however, only tells part of what is a much more complicated story, according to Judge Cleland.

The Hoopers took in the children when they were about 3, 4 and 5 years old, and even by that time the youths had already experienced “family trauma” which gave them special needs, Judge Cleland.

“You took on a hard problem,” he stated to the Hoopers. “You made things worse.”

Judge Cleland said his sentence considers the impact of the defendants’ acts on the victims, which he indicated may have long-term psychological consequences.

Excluding court officials and attorneys, about 20 residents attended Monday’s sentencing. Also, Judge Cleland indicated he received letters from many members of the community asking him to consider their statements when he sentenced the Hoopers. None of them spoke at the sentencing hearing.

The Hoopers were also silent during the hearing, both opting not to make statements on their own behalf to Judge Cleland prior to sentencing. This was a change of heart for Susan Hooper, whose lawyer indicated on her plea date that she wanted to explain at her sentencing how and why the acts occurred.

McKean County District Attorney Ray Learn asked that the pair serve prison time due to the physical, emotional and psychological damage to the three children.

“They have a long road to recovery,” Mr. Learn said, noting it’s “questionable” whether they will ever recover emotionally or psychologically.

Susan Hooper’s attorney, Alexander Lindsay Jr. of Butler, said the reason she entered a plea “was to avoid any confrontation with these children.” He said Susan Hooper “loved these children” and “felt is was God’s will she should do this.”

Mr. Lindsay explained the adopted three children were already suffering psychological issues when they came to the Hoopers’ home as young children.

“She wasn’t equipped to deal with (the issues),” Mr. Lindsay said. “She loved these children. She really did. She did the best for these children with the tools she has been given. It wasn’t enough.”

Mark Hooper’s attorney, Joseph Charlton of Sarver, asked that his client be given a probationary sentence, explaining that his client has no criminal record and has custody of his 15-year-old son. He added that Mark Hooper entered a plea in the case rather than going to trial so the children would not have to testify.

The children did testify at a preliminary hearing April 24, 2013.

The couple entered no-contest pleas to reduced charges Dec. 30. Susan Hooper pleaded to three counts of endangering the welfare of children, first-degree misdemeanors; Mark Hooper pleaded to one count of endangering the welfare of children, a first-degree misdemeanor.

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