Caught in the middle

October 27, 2006

Jose Shields has experienced things no 10-year-old should ever have to. He watched as his father was gunned down in a Baltimore parking lot. He was left behind when his mother fled for weeks with the man who was charged in his dad's murder. He had to testify about his father's killing. And he has been kept from his paternal grandparents who very much want him in their lives.

That isn't right. But it was the decision of Jose's mother, Stephanie Madariaga, whose judgment anyone would question. She was arrested with the accused killer, Jason Beau Moody, and charged as an accessory after the fact in her ex-husband Kevin's death. Ms. Madariaga was sitting in a car with Mr. Moody when Mr. Shields dropped off her son. The two men argued, leaving one dead. Ms. Madariaga pleaded guilty and testified against Mr. Moody in exchange for no prison.

But a criminal conviction doesn't necessarily result in the loss of parental rights, and now Ms. Madariaga has custody of Jose. Ms. Madariaga's lawyer says her client stopped her son's visits with grandparents Claudette and Robert Shields for a reason - their questions about the murder of the boy's father and comments about his mother upset him. But Ms. Madariaga may not be the most reliable judge of the situation.

Social service officials should intervene to ensure that Jose's best interests are being served. After losing his father in such a brutal way, Jose shouldn't have his relationship with his paternal grandparents severed. He spent enough time in their care and company that his toys remain in their Pimlico home. The boy also shouldn't be forced to choose between his mother and the Shieldses.

Ms. Madariaga's choices of men have ended badly. She has a chance to do better by her son. The Shieldses have lost their only son; their pain shouldn't be compounded by the loss of their only grandchild.

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