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New trial dates set in child abuse case
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New trial dates set in child abuse case

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New jury trial dates were set on Wednesday for two St. Francois County residents involved in a high-profile case of alleged child abuse filed in August 2018.

Laura Cheatham, 41, and Daryl Head, 40, both of Farmington, are charged with four counts of endangering the welfare of a child - creating substantial risk and four counts of second-degree kidnapping after allegedly locking and keeping four adopted children in small, windowless, plywood compartments.

A three-day jury trial was previously set to begin on Monday, but during a hearing on May 21, Attorney T.J. Hunsaker, who is representing both Cheatham and Head, made an oral motion for a continuance of the trial, which was sustained over objections from the prosecution. Circuit Court Judge Wendy Wexler Horn reset the case for a jury trial to begin on March 22, 2022.

The two accused defendants did not appear in court on Wednesday as the trial was rescheduled in the case.

Before the rescheduled jury trial dates, an announcement hearing is scheduled to be held on March 2, 2022, where the defendants will have the opportunity to enter a plea or proceed with the scheduled trial.

According to official statements and reports, on Aug. 7, 2018, a deputy with the St. Francois County Sheriff's Department was called to the 100 block of Meadowbrook Road to assist the Missouri Children's Division with a hotline call involving four children who were allegedly being held in what was described as "deplorable conditions" in a boarded-up room in the home.

When investigators arrived, Head walked from behind the home to meet with the deputy and the Children's Division worker. The deputy explained the allegations to Head and said that because of the circumstances, he would have to go inside the home. The deputy reported that after some hesitation, Head opened the door.

Cheatham was reportedly seen through the open door unscrewing plywood from small rooms and children coming out from behind the plywood. It was reported there were no windows or lights in the room and a vent on the floor had the odor of urine.

A press release stated investigators found the children were being confined in an area on the main floor of the home wherein two bedrooms had been modified into four smaller rooms that were described as being, "smaller than a jail cell," with no lighting, and no access to water or toilet facilities.

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Three juvenile girls and one boy were placed in the Children's Division custody while Head and Cheatham were placed under arrest. The children were interviewed extensively and were placed in the system.

The children were not biological children of the couple but were adopted by Cheatham and her estranged husband at one point. The children appeared to be in relatively good health, and investigators said it was unclear how long the children had been held in the room.

After the charges were filed, St. Francois County Sheriff Dan Bullock said Cheatham was employed by the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) and had since resigned. He added she had children's prison uniforms made that she ordered through Prison Industries Clothing Division.

It was reported that she signed off on work for them and told the inmate in charge of the clothing division they were for her kids. The orders were placed in January 2018. The child-sized uniforms and the patterns to make them have been collected as evidence in the pending case.

The DOC contacted the sheriff's department after they saw the news the evening of Aug. 7, 2018, and they shared that information with them.

"Why would you order prison uniforms?" Bullock said at the time. "Her boyfriend, Head, had worked at the BJC Behavioral Health as a counselor at some point. From what I understand, he was a counselor to those kids and then they ended up together."

During a press conference on Aug. 7, 2018, Bullock said he had seen some pretty nasty things in all his time, but nothing this deplorable here in St. Francois County.

"Myself and the prosecutor have talked about this, and we have seen a lot of different things over the years, but this is the kind of thing that happens somewhere else, not here," Bullock said.

Bond was initially set at $500,000 for both defendants but was lowered to $250,000 cash or surety on Sept. 4, 2018. Both Cheatham and Head have since posted bonds and were released in September 2018.

The two defendants were also ordered to have no contact with children while released on bond, but after a motion to amend bond conditions was sustained on Aug. 7, 2019, the court ordered the defendants may have contact with children as permitted by the Juvenile Court.

Bobby Radford is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at bradford@dailyjournalonline.com

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