WARSAW, Mo. – One of four people accused in the murder of a 4-year-old girl pleaded guilty on Tuesday (2/22/22), according to the Benton County Circuit Clerk’s office.
Ethan Mast, a neighbor of the girl’s family, entered guilty pleas to second-degree murder and first-degree assault in the death of Jessica Mast. The child is not related to Ethan Mast.
The pleas were entered as part of a plea agreement. The date for his sentencing date has not been set.
Ethan Mast’s housemate Kourtney Aumen and the child’s parents, James and Mary Mast, remain charged with second-degree murder, armed criminal action and assault.
Online court documents state that Aumen has a hearing on April 6. The child’s parents are set for preliminary hearings in July.
A probable cause statement shows on December 20, 2020, the child was found dead, and Mary Mast and another child were severely injured at their home.
Court documents say an investigator with the Benton County Sheriff’s Office arrived at the scene and found the father of the four-year-old girl to ask him what happened. The father showed the investigator his daughter.
The investigator saw the four-year-old girl wrapped up in a pink blanket on the floor. Court records say she had several purple bruises from her neck to her feet. The investigator found that the bruising appeared to be belt marks.
The investigator then asked the man where the rest of his family was in the house. Court documents say the mother and their two-year-old son had severe bruising. The family has another infant, and he had no injuries.
The deputy asked the father how these injuries happened. He told the deputy that people who lived across the road, Mast and Aumen, caused the injuries. According to the PC statement, the two went to the family’s house that morning around 8 a.m. and beat the two-year-old.
The father told authorities that the beatings have been happening for about two weeks. He also told police that he was beaten with a wooden spoon two days earlier.
“I asked how he could let people do this to his family, and he stated that they were told (the mother) had a “demon” inside her, and her children would end up just like her if it was not taken care of,” court documents say.
The father said that Mast and Aumen threatened him and said if he did not comply, someone would get shot. The father also told police that if he or his wife provided aid or comfort to the children or themselves, it would be a sin, and satan would come.
Mast and Aumen told investigators during interviews after being arrested that they did beat the children and their mother. They also said they forced the mother and daughter to a pond where more assaults occurred.
Ethan and Aumen also told investigators they instructed the parents not to provide aid or comfort to the children or themselves when the neighbors would beat them.
James told police he is not related to Ethan Mast despite having the same last name.
Mast and Aumen told the family they were beating the “demons” out of the family. The 4-year-old girl died, the mother and her two-year-old son were taken to a hospital with severe bruising.
Ethan and Kortney watched the family through cameras set up in the home. James and Mary said they were beat as well as their two children, they were threatened by their neighbors if they tried to help one another.
Benton County Sheriff Eric Knox told Ozarks First in 2020 that he can only speculate that this was due to manipulation and “skewed religious ideals.”
“Law enforcement is based on facts, and the facts are that we have are that the little girl died at the hands of Ethan and Kourtney and mom and dad stood by and watched it happened, as well as mom actually participated in some of it and she’s charged according to Missouri state statutes,” said Knox.