Manassas Journal Messenger | Baby-beating case gets attention

As far as international media events go, Peggy Sue Hilt’s hearing was kind of a bust.

The Winston Salem, N.C., woman was scheduled to be in a Prince William County courtroom Tuesday morning for a hearing on charges that she beat her 2-year-old adopted Russian daughter to death.

Outside the courthouse, television cameras were set up, with broadcast trucks pointing satellites at the sky.

In the hall outside the courtroom, reporters — including some from major Russian television networks — waited for the hearing to start.

A few minutes later, Roman Tokman stood in front of a television camera, explaining what happened.

“The entire proceeding took less than a minute,” Tokman said into his microphone.

“No wait, let’s do that again,” he told the camerawoman.

After a quick reset, the Russian television news correspondent described the brief courtroom exchange that had just taken place.

Just before she was scheduled to appear in court, Hilt waived her right to a preliminary hearing.

As a result, Hilt’s Domestic and Juvenile court appearance was cancelled, and her case will go directly to a grand jury in early November, a prosecutor said afterwards.

So there was no hearing Tuesday morning, and Hilt never showed up at the courthouse — her lawyer filed the waiver.

But every update on the Hilt case is important, said Tokman, a correspondent for Russia Today, an international news channel he characterized as being “sort of like the Russian CNN.”

“This is a big story because it was a Russian child, and there are questions about the Russian adoption agency she came from,” Tokman said.

For the Russian media, Hilt is part of a larger story getting prominent national attention in their country, reporters on hand for the Hilt hearing said.

Since 1991, 43,000 Russian children have been adopted by parents in the U.S., according to the National Council for Adoption. In recent years, 13 of those children have been killed, according to Russian media reports.

Thirteen out of the approximately 43,000 Russian kids isn’t exactly an epidemic, Tokman said, but “13 kids dying is still very important.”

“There’s a large debate in the Russian parliament about whether to ban adoptions in the U.S.,” said Aleksander Panov, a reporter for Russian television station Channel 1.

Panov was referring to remarks made by Yekaterina Lakhova, chairwoman of the Russian parliamentary committee for women’s issues, family and youth.

In August, Lakhova called for a moratorium on American adoption of Russian children, according to Russian news service RIA Rovosti.

As justification, the Russian politician pointed in part to the Hilt case.

Hilt was charged with murder after her 2-year-old daughter, Nina Victoria Hilt, was pronounced dead in a Prince William County Hospital this summer.

The girl died on July 2 from blows to the chest and abdomen, wounds that authorities considered suspicious.

During questioning, Hilt initially said her daughter had an accident at their North Carolina home, police said in July.

According to a police report, Hilt later admitted that she’d been angry at the girl, and that “she shook her, dropped her on the floor, kicked her stomach, picked her up, put her in bed and continued to strike her with a closed right fist on her back and stomach.”

The day after the alleged beating, Hilt and her husband drove from North Carolina to Manassas to visit relatives. The next morning, Nina lost consciousness and died.

If the November grand jury indicts Hilt, the case goes to Circuit Court and a trial date will be set. Hilt is charged with second-degree murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 40 years.

Staff writer Rob Seal can be reached at (703) 369-5718.

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