Mother turns fugitive to keep her child safe

March 26, 1992|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

For Mary, the issue is clear. Her ex-husband has already been sentenced for sexually abusing one of her daughters, now 16. Without proper supervision, she doesn't want him near the couple's 5-year-old daughter.

And she is willing to remain an outlaw in Kentucky, if that's what it takes to avoid a court order allowing her husband unsupervised visits with the girl.

"I just want to keep my child safe," she said by telephone from an undisclosed location. "I only want Department of Social Services-supervised visits. That's all I'm asking for."

Mary's last name and that of her ex-husband have been withheld to protect the identity of the abused daughter.

In 1987, Mary's ex-husband, Dan, was placed on probation for fondling the vagina of his stepdaughter, who was then 11, court documents show.

A civil suit Mary has since filed against her former husband also accuses him of beating the girl with a fraternity paddle so badly that she suffered bruises and blood blisters.

Last August, Harford Circuit Judge Cypert O. Whitfill -- the judge who sentenced the man for the sexual abuse -- granted him unsupervised overnight visits with the 5- year-old girl.

And Mary fears that her former husband will try to gain custody of the 5-year-old when his probation expires next year.

Today, mother and child are living somewhere in Kentucky, ignoring an arrest warrant and a Jan. 8 court order from Judge Whitfill that Mary turn the child over to the custody of the Harford County Department of Social Services.

The judge has ruled that Mary no longer has legal custody of the child. Mary believes the change-of-custody order issued by Judge Whitfill is a precursor to giving total custody of the child to her ex-husband, who has moved to Virginia.

The Harford County Department of Social Services has filed TC missing persons report with Maryland State Police, seeking the child's return.

John C. Love, a Bel Air lawyer representing the ex-husband, refused to comment on the case. "I have no comment and neither does [the father], because we're trying to obey a court order which sealed the file," Mr. Love said.

Judge Whitfill refuses to discuss the case, too, saying he does not discuss sealed cases or current cases.

Mary said she turned to the news paper, hoping that disclosure of the case would bring closer public scrutiny of the judge's decisions and because of her frustration with the legal system.

Her flight has ruined her finances, she said. Keeping her whereabouts a secret to avoid arrest, she communicates with family, friends and lawyers by phone. She won't leave a telephone number for people to reach her.

And she faces arrest if found in Maryland again. The warrant was issued in December when the judge found Mary in contempt of court for leaving the area without permission.

But Mary contends that the judge apparently had no objection when she moved from Bel Air to Stewartstown, Pa., in January 1990. And she said she checked off with lawyers last August before moving to Lexington, Ky., where her ex-husband has friends and relatives.

"I had been thinking about moving for a while," said Mary, a mental health therapist with a master's degree in educational psychology and counseling. "I needed to find a job that would pay me enough to survive."

In a telephone interview from an undisclosed location in Kentucky, Mary recalled the day her world and her marriage fell apart.

It was in August 1986, and her daughter from her first marriage handed Mary a note just as she was headed on an out-of-town business trip. "I decided to read it on the plane. I thought it was probably a note that said, 'I love you and I'll miss you.' "

Instead, the note contained these words: "He molested me."

"That was all it said. I almost died," Mary said. "As soon as the plane landed, I called the house and I demanded to speak to [my daughter]. I asked her who had molested her, and she said Dan had."

That was the beginning of a legal tangle encompassing three separate cases: the criminal prosecution of the stepfather; divorce and custody proceedings; and the civil suit Mary filed against her ex-husband on the abused daughter's behalf.

Mary filed for divorce in October 1986 to end her three-year marriage to Dan. She was six months pregnant with the couple's only child, now 5.

The divorce was finalized in August 1990, but Judge Whitfill sealed the case in March 1991 as the battle over visitation with the daughter escalated. An appeal of the latest overnight visitation order is pending before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

In 1987, the former husband was prosecuted in a separate criminal case on charges of child abuse, a second-degree sex offense, a third-degree sex offense, and assault and battery -- charges stemming from the stepdaughter's initial allegations.

Judge Whitfill, who heard the criminal and divorce cases, found him guilty of one count of child abuse.

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