Father's criminal abduction convictions voided

March 28, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A state appeals court overturned the criminal kidnapping convictions yesterday of an Iranian charged with taking his two children to live with him in Iran in violation of a court order granting custody to his former wife.

But the Court of Special Appeals let stand the parental abduction convictions against Hossein Nasri Ghajari, 53.

Mr. Ghajari, 53, was given a 10-year suspended sentence March 15, 1995, by Carroll County Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. He was convicted of two criminal counts of kidnapping and two of parental kidnapping for taking his children with him to Iran, where they had lived from 1990 to 1993.

The criminal kidnapping statute generally applies to nonfamily abductions and carries a 20-year maximum sentence, prosecutors say.

Parental kidnapping is governed by the state's family law and applies to parents taking their noncustodial children, under age 16, against court orders. It carries a one-year maximum sentence.

Judge Burns sentenced Mr. Ghajari to 10 years for the criminal kidnapping convictions and a concurrent one-year term under the family law statute. Both sentences were suspended.

But the Court of Special Appeals ruled yesterday that Mr. Ghajari should have been charged only under the family law statute.

The appeals court said Maryland's family law codes were amended in 1984 specifically to cover parental abductions because legislators believed parents could not be charged with kidnapping their children under existing criminal codes.

"The legislature enacted this [family law] provision under the correct impression that Maryland law lacked criminal sanctions against noncustodial parents who snatch their children from the children's custodial parents," Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr. wrote in a nine-page published opinion.

Prosecutors said the harsher criminal kidnapping law is seldom used to prosecute parents for taking their children in violation of court-ordered custody arrangements.

Assistant State's Attorney Tracy M. Gilmore said Mr. Ghajari was the first parent she knew of prosecuted under the criminal statute.

But she said it was warranted given the nature of the case. "It was just such an extreme case," she said.

Mr. Ghajari took his 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son after picking them up at their home in the 300 block of Bishop St. in Westminster on March 16, 1990, for a court-approved weekend visit, according to court records.

He failed to return them three days later. When his former wife, Homayou Tajalibakhsh, tracked the children down in May 1993, they were living in Tehran with Mr. Ghajari's mother.

Ms. Gilmore said that Mr. Ghajari would not allow his former wife to talk with the children and that she had risked her freedom by traveling to Iran, where the divorce would not have been recognized.

Mr. Ghajari, a former college instructor and author of religious plays, has retained his Iranian citizenship. But he remains in the United States as a legal alien, said Brian Green, Carroll County assistant public defender.

Pub Date: 3/28/96

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