‘Shocked and horrified’: Missouri Circle of Hope owners out on bond after COVID claim

·6 min read

Jailed since March on felony child abuse charges, the owners of Circle of Hope Girls Ranch are now free and on home confinement after one of them reportedly has COVID-19.

A southwest Missouri judge on Friday unexpectedly set a $10,000 bond for Boyd and Stephanie Householder. The couple were released from the Cedar County Jail on Friday evening and are out on bond pending trial.

“I’m shocked and horrified,” said Maggie Drew, who attended Circle of Hope from October 2007 to January 2013. “I thought they would be in custody until the trial. … I’m worried that they are going to run or start targeting girls.”

When Drew found out about the bond and that the Householders would be released, “I immediately felt like I was going to throw up and started shaking.”

The Householders’ attorney argued that they should be released on bond because Boyd has COVID-19 and Stephanie has a serious blood clot, court records said. David R. Munton, presiding judge for the 28th Judicial Circuit, issued the ruling after quickly holding a hearing.

It was the fourth bond hearing for Stephanie Householder, 56, and the third for her husband, 72. Their other requests have all been denied.

“Defendant (Boyd Householder) has been diagnosed with COVID and the county jails are not equipped to handle this particular defendant of such ill health,” the couple’s attorney, Adam Woody, wrote in a motion. No evidence of the diagnosis was provided in the document.

Friday’s hearing was granted “due to exigent circumstances that the sheriff cannot medically handle the care for the defendant,” according to the judge’s docket entry on the state’s online court information system. “The court is apologetic for the short notice but the circumstances require quick action.”

The Attorney General’s Office argued that it needed more time to prepare for the hearing and to notify the Householders’ 16 alleged victims about the couple’s request.

But the judge’s decision was entered on the court docket of each Householder late Friday afternoon.

“At 3:45 the sheriff cannot find any place to house the defendant,” the entries said. “Court sets bond at $10,000 with GPS monitoring with written conditions.”

The Householders will be under house arrest, and the bond company must notify the court and an assistant attorney general handling the case if they violate the order.

Amanda Householder, the couple’s estranged daughter who led the effort to shut down Circle of Hope, said the news “makes me sick to my stomach.”

“They know how to play the system well,” she said. “I feel like this was somehow their strategic plan.

“It makes me angry that they can get out because of health issues when they literally abused children and kept them from seeing doctors. It’s a spit in the victims’ faces.”

The Householders opened Circle of Hope near Humansville in 2006 after Boyd Householder worked several years at Agape Boarding School in Stockton. That school is currently under investigation by the attorney general for allegations of abuse.

The couple closed Circle of Hope after about two dozen girls were removed during an investigation last summer.

Boyd Householder faces 78 felony charges, including six counts of second-degree statutory rape; nine counts of second-degree statutory sodomy; six counts of sexual contact with a student; 55 counts of abuse or neglect of a child; and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. He also is charged with one count of second-degree child molestation, a misdemeanor.

Stephanie Householder is charged with 21 felonies, including 11 counts of abuse or neglect of a child and 10 counts of endangering the welfare of a child.

The couple’s next court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 9 in Cedar County.

The Attorney General’s Office declined to comment Friday but plans to respond as early as this coming week, said spokesman Chris Nuelle.

In Friday’s response to the Householders’ motion for a bond hearing, the Attorney General’s Office questioned whether Boyd Householder had truly tested positive for COVID-19.

“There is no medical documentation to substantiate this, and no evidence to show that he is in need of medical care beyond that available in the jail,” the response said. “Furthermore, if Defendant Boyd Householder does in fact have covid, and if he requires hospitalization, the jail can certainly make arrangements to transport Defendant to a hospital, as they would with any inmate needing such medical care.”

Contacted late Friday afternoon, the Cedar County Jail and sheriff’s office said top officials had already left for the day.

The previous week, the couple were moved from the Vernon County Jail to the Webster County Jail so Stephanie Householder could be closer to a medical facility that could treat her blood clot. But on Thursday afternoon, Woody requested new bond hearings for both Householders, saying the jails didn’t want to house them because Boyd had contracted COVID and Stephanie needed better medical care.

In court filings, Woody said that Stephanie Householder was suffering from a blood clotting disorder that had caused a clot to form in her right foot. He said she was told by medical staff that she might lose her foot if it wasn’t properly treated and that the jail did not have the facilities or medical care system necessary to do that.

Woody said she was willing to wear an ankle monitor if released.

But prosecutors with the Missouri Attorney General’s Office argued that they had seen no doctor’s diagnosis or other medical documentation regarding her condition.

“Mr. Woody asserts that Defendant Stephanie Householder has a swollen foot,” their response said. “There is no medical documentation or evidence to show that she is in need of medical care beyond that available in the jail. If there is any ‘new’ evidence or medical documentation that supports Defendant’s motion, the State has a right to review that evidence in advance and be heard on it.”

Prosecutors have strongly objected to releasing both Householders, saying they are a flight risk and a danger to the community and their alleged victims.

Woody has argued, however, that Stephanie Householder’s condition “eliminates any flight risk that she may be” and “significantly reduces any danger she may be.”

“She’s not going anywhere,” he said, adding that her right foot was so swollen that it “is probably twice the size of her left foot.”

Shortly after the previous week’s hearing, the Attorney General’s Office filed a response saying Woody told prosecutors that he would provide medical documentation to support the request to release Stephanie Householder. Woody then emailed 10 pages of documents dated March 26 through June 21, prosecutors said.

“None of this documentation indicates that Defendant is in any imminent medical danger, nor does it support a necessity to release Defendant,” the prosecutors’ motion said. “To the contrary, the most recent documents show that Defendant’s condition of deep vein thrombosis is improving.”

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