Bench trial set for one of four charged in Stone County child abuse investigation

Crime

Mug shots of: Katherine Kost, Dessa A. Barton, William McLendon, and Richard Hilliker

STONE COUNTY, Mo.- A bench trial has been set for Katherine Kost, one of four people charged after a young boy was found unresponsive and in critical condition due to various injuries and extreme malnutrition in 2020.

Court documents say Kost’s bench trial will start in March 2022.

Kost, 53, Dessa A. Barton, William McLendon, and Richard Hilliker are charged with two counts of first-degree endangering the welfare of a child and abuse or neglect of a child.

Court documents say Barton will have a pretrial conference in December and a jury trial on January 4, 2022; McLendon will have a jury trial on May 9, 2022. Hilliker pleaded guilty in March of 2021 to the two counts of first-degree endangering the welfare of a child, his child abuse charge was dropped. Hilliker will spend five years in prison for the child endangerment charges.

According to a press release, Stone County dispatch received a call in November 2020 about a four-year-old boy found unresponsive. Medical crews went to a home in Billings to pick up the boy and take him to Cox South in Springfield. The boy was then air-lifted to Kansas City in critical condition. Sheriff Rader tells Ozarks First that the boy is in stable condition in Kansas City as of Friday morning.

Sheriff Rader said the medical staff told the Sheriff’s Office that the boy suffered various injuries consistent with physical abuse. The primary concern, however, was extreme malnutrition.

Stone County detectives went back to the home on November 25 and found a wooden crate made of pallets. Sheriff Rader says detectives believe the crate was used to cage the boy for extended periods.

Probable Cause statements say those responsible for the boy were Dessa Barton and her boyfriend, William McLendon. In an interview with a Stone County detective, Barton said the boy had been self-harming by clawing at his arms and nose and banging his head into things, causing injuries.

The detective asked Barton if she had taken the boy to get medical attention. She said no. Barton told the detective she had been trying to get on Medicaid so she could take him, but things got delayed due to COVID-19.

Court documents say another detective went to Cox South in Springfield to talk with medical staff about the injuries. A forensic nurse told the detective that the injuries the boy had were consistent with physical abuse. The detective was advised that some of the injuries were found on parts of the boy’s body that would not be possible for self-harming.

The boy had been in the care of Barton since January 2020. Barton and McLendon lived in the home in Billings with McLendon’s mother, Katherine Kost.

Court documents say on November 11, the detective was reviewing messages between Kost and her boyfriend, Richard Hilliker, and noticed several text messages indicating Hilliker had been living or spending a lot of time at the home since September 2020. Detectives say some of the messages indicate Hilliker had direct contact with the boy from September through November, including the day the boy was taken to the hospital.

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