‘One child was near death’: Delaware woman sentenced to more than a century behind bars for abusing stepsons

The beatings and deprivation were captured on video cameras Mary and Charles Vinson put in the boys’ bedroom. Charles Vinson was sentenced to 49 years behind bars.

A closeup of a Delaware State Police vehicle

A Delaware State Police vehicle is seen in a file photo. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY News)

Content warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of violence.

A Delaware woman who pleaded guilty to abusing her two young stepsons — choking, punching and kicking the boys, starving them, and even making them eat their feces — will spend the rest of her life in prison.

Her husband, who admitted to police that he joined in some of the beatings but had “turned a blind eye” to his wife’s serial abuse, will be behind bars for the next half-century.

Attorney General Kathy Jennings told WHYY News the “truly horrific” violence Mary and Charles Vinson inflicted on the boys over a 20-month period was among the most brutal cases she’s seen during her three decades as a prosecutor.

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“This ranks as one of the worst I’ve seen, not only for the abuse, the deprivation these children suffered, but for the time period over which it occurred,” Jennings said. “One child was near death.”

Their crimes were captured on video cameras the couple installed in the boys’ bedroom at their rural Kent County home, according to court records that detail their crimes. The family lived in the tiny town of Houston, about 20 miles south of Dover.

“There were months and months of videos,” Jennings said.

The children, who were between the ages of 10 and 13 during the time they were violated but often forced to wear diapers, were hospitalized several times for malnutrition and other conditions. Beyond the beatings they endured, the boys were alternately force-fed or had food withheld.

Jennings said the couple “hospital shopped,” a comparison to the practice of opioid users who visit multiple doctors for prescriptions. To that end, Jennings said the Vinsons took the boys to at least three different hospitals to avoid having their abuse discovered.

State police questioned the couple in June 2021 after receiving a report, but both Vinsons denied hurting their sons and the police did not file criminal charges.

Mary Vinson told officers then that she loved the boys as her own. Her husband, who is nine years her junior, said his sons were sometimes locked in their rooms because of behavior problems, including inappropriate touching and harming their dogs.

Authorities finally intervened in October 2021. That occurred after a doctor at Nemours Hospital for Children alerted authorities that one boy had been at “imminent risk of death upon admission” from severe dehydration and said he suspected the child was a victim of “child torture,” court records said. The boy spent three days in intensive care before being stabilized.

At that point, the state Division of Family Services immediately took custody of the children. Police also learned about the video camera, but when they went to the Vinson’s home to seize the recordings, the camera was missing, court records said.

Charles Vinson later told them he had taken a DVR with the footage to a storage facility, where police located it and viewed what happened inside the bedroom.

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They were arrested in February 2022 and held in lieu of $600,000 cash bail. That October a Kent County grand jury indicted them on a staggering 646 felony and misdemeanor charges, including attempted strangulation and kidnapping.

The criminal charges were resolved with a plea bargain in October 2023, with the state dropping hundreds of the charges.

Mary Vinson, 46, pleaded guilty to 42 felonies, including first-degree child abuse, kidnapping and strangulation. She faced 30 to 444 years in prison, and prosecutors sought a 118-year sentence.

Charles Vinson, 37, admitted to 12 felonies, including first-degree child abuse and kidnapping, and faced 10 to 158 years. Prosecutors asked the court for a 37-year term.

At sentencing last week, Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Clark lowered the boom.

He sentenced Mary Vinson to 106 years in prison, and Charles Vinson to 49 years.

Jennings praised the unidentified doctor who blew the final whistle on the abuse in October 2021.

“It is important that medical professionals know the signs of child abuse, child torture, child neglect, and it was critically important in this case to the success of the investigation and frankly to the rescue of these children,” Jennings said.

The attorney general said the boys remain in the custody of the state, but face a long and difficult recovery.

“These children will deal with medical issues far into the future and undoubtedly suffer emotionally and mentally,” Jennings said.

“But they have a shot now, a really good shot. They’re safe and being well-cared for, which I think is what all of us would hope for. I think we all need to take a deep breath of relief that they were rescued.”


To report child abuse or neglect, contact the Child Abuse and Neglect Report Line for the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families by calling the 24-hour Child Abuse and Neglect hotline at 1-800-292-9582, or through the online reporting system.

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