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Judge: No visitation
Children are now thriving, DA says
wiegel hopper neglect
Jamie Lee Weigel and Dalton Allen Hopper

DARLINGTON — In Lafayette County Circuit Court on Monday, May 6, District Attorney Jenna Gill successfully petitioned the court to deny visitation rights in a child abuse case that a doctor told police is next to the worst she’s ever seen.

Jamie Lee Weigel, 26, and Dalton Allen Hopper, 25, both of Belmont, are charged with felony child neglect and felony child abuse of their infant daughters. Both defendants are out on $6,000 signature bonds. The initial bail conditions, set April 8, allowed for supervised visitation with their children.

The girls, now 5 months old and 15 months old, were removed from their parents’ care after an investigation in March found evidence of life-threatening neglect and starvation.

On Monday, Weigel made her adjourned initial appearance in court with her attorney, Peter Bartelt.

Gill asked the court during the 10-minute hearing to modify Weigel’s conditions of bond to prohibit even supervised contact with the children. An attorney for the children, Nathan Martin, joined Gill on her request.

Gill said medical reports recently submitted by a doctor confirmed evidence of neglect and starvation “in much more detail” and further supported the argument for no visitation.

She addressed in particular the issue of weight gain.

The younger baby weighed about 6 1/2 pounds at her birth in November, according to medical records filed with the criminal complaint. On March 23, when a family member threatened Weigel to take the girl to the hospital, her weight was only 5 lbs., 12 oz., so low she didn’t even register a percentile on the growth chart.

The older child weighed just over 6 pounds at her birth in January 2018 but in March weighed less than 15 pounds, which is in the 0.23 percentile for her age.

The babies have thrived since their removal from Hopper and Weigel’s home, Gill said.

“In approximately one month’s time each child has now, when being appropriately fed, gained approximately four pounds,” she said. “Certainly, I think that goes to show they were being severely neglected. All it took was feeding them correctly for them to begin to thrive. They’re doing very well now while not in their (parents’) care.”

In light of this, Gill added, visitation privileges would not be in the best interest of the children.

“We already know that the children have been subjected to emotional harm (and) psychological harm under the care of those parents,” Gill said. “Re-exposing that to them without knowing what the future holds may cause additional harm to those children.” 

Weigel’s attorney argued that Gill did not file her motion to modify bail conditions in time to be heard during the hearing, but he withdrew this argument after consulting state statutes. He also argued Gill was attempting to make unlawful a supervised visit scheduled for the following day.

“First and foremost it would be important for the court to have congruent orders in both cases,” Bartelt said, referring to conditions of bond for Weigel’s codefendant, Hopper. Court records show Hopper is currently allowed supervised contact with the children, but only if supervised by a court-approved person and under the supervision of Lafayette County Human Services.

Judge Duane Jorgenson granted Gill’s motion to strip Weigel of her visitation privileges under bond. He reasoned that it was warranted given the gravity of the charges and because the alleged victims are “essentially unable to speak for themselves.” He said he would reconsider after the preliminary hearing in the case.

Hopper and Weigel have preliminary hearings Thursday, May 16.

The investigation into the couple began with a doctor’s call in March to the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Office.

According to medical records and detective reports filed with the criminal complaints, the doctor reported seeing a “very thin and malnourished” 4-month-old who “should have received medical attention much sooner.” Her 14-month-old sister also showed signs of malnutrition and starvation, as well as significant developmental delays.

The younger girl could have died in as little as a week’s time from starvation had Hopper and Weigel not brought her to the hospital when they did, according to UW Health Physician Assistant Amanda Palm. The girl will also likely have permanent brain damage.

For months, the girls received human interaction once or twice a day, detectives found. A detective who visited Hopper’s and Weigel’s home noted a “strong ammonia scent” from urine in the baby room.

Weigel told police she and Hopper were overwhelmed with taking care of two babies so close in age. She also told detectives she had depression and anxiety and was distracted by a custody battle with her ex for her other two children.

She explained her neglect as “pure laziness” and said she didn’t seek medical help because she was afraid of being “judged.”

— Katjusa Cisar contributed reporting