Wednesday, December 1, 2010

$3M bond set for dad of missing sons; boys disappeared in midst of "nasty custody battle" (Toledo, Ohio)

I wish the media would stop using such misleading language. The words "custody battle" implies a more-or-less equal tug-of war between two parents or parties. My rule of thumb: When a parent--in this case dad JOHN SKELTON--"disappears" (i.e. presumably murdered) the children in question, it's not a "battle." What we have is a protective parent trying to save the children from an abusive maniac who proved to be "allegedly" homicidal, or at minimum suicidal. This is not a "battle" so much as a one-sided custody "siege" that is being launched by a unsafe/criminal parent against a safe parent. Much different phenomenon.

And now we see that Daddy has a $3M bond. A little too late for the boys, isn't it? Why did a judge grant this presumably "depressed" and suicidal father visitation with three young children anyway? That would have been the time when the courts could have made a difference.

Last Updated: December 01. 2010 1:17PM
$3M bond set for father of missing Morenci boys
Francis X. Donnelly and Doug Guthrie / The Detroit News

Toledo— As investigators today headed into a fifth day of searching for three missing boys from Morenci, an Ohio judge set a $3 million bond for their father, who is accused of their kidnappings, after he fought extradition back to Michigan.

John Skelton, 39, of Morenci, sat in a wheelchair in Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Gary G. Cook's courtroom and refused to waive extradition, which would have sent him back to Lenawee County to face three counts of parental kidnapping. Skelton's left foot and ankle were in a cast today. Cook set his bond at $3 million and ordered the next hearing for Dec. 14.

Lucas County prosecutors asked for $1 million bond, which the judge granted on each charge, totaling the $3 million. Skelton immediately was taken back to Lucas County Jail across the street.

Skelton bowed his head and never made eye contact with Cook in court, answering with simple "yes" and "no" replies to the judge's questions.

His court-appointed lawyer, Merle Dech Jr. of Toledo, declined to comment after the brief court appearance.

Lucas County Assistant Prosecutor Jeff Lingo said possible extradition on Dec. 14 will depend on him proving Skelton is the man wanted in Michigan and whether Ohio recognizes the charges.

"Ohio has a similar custodial interference statute so extradition is likely," Lingo said.

He added if the children — Andrew, 9, Alexander, 7, and Tanner, 5 — are found in Ohio, Skelton would likely face more charges in the state. If they are found dead, Lingo warned: "We have the death penalty here."

Skelton has been held under suicide watch at the Lucas County Jail in Ohio.

Meanwhile, Morenci Police Chief Larry Weeks said today said the organized search for the missing children will be discontinued Friday night. After that, searches will be conducted in response to tips and the police investigation.

He asked local residents to search their properties. People with large properties could receive help from volunteers by contacting the police, he said.

"We appreciate their assistance," he said about the hundreds of volunteers who have been searching since Saturday.

He said police have received hundreds of tips, and will assess them over the weekend as they decide which places to search next.

The search has consumed the small community, with volunteers' cars filling downtown and City Hall closed for the week as police use it as a command center.

Skelton, an unemployed truck driver, was arrested by the FBI on suspicion of kidnapping after his release from a mental health facility in Lucas County, Ohio, on Tuesday. He had been hospitalized after he allegedly tried to hang himself Friday, causing the injury to his foot.

Weeks has said police shared the belief that the search may not end positively with the boys' mother, Tanya Skelton, 44, and described her reaction.

"Imagine your worst nightmare come true," he said Tuesday. "How would you respond?"

Weeks said he reached the conclusion on the likely outcome after four days of searching for the boys and speaking with John Skelton, and others. But Weeks wouldn't say what John Skelton and the others said to lead him to that conclusion.

Prosecution officials wouldn't allow The Detroit News to view charging documents in John Skelton's case on Tuesday. But, under Michigan law, a parent convicted of taking or concealing a child without permission of the other parent can face up to a year in prison on a felony.

Weeks' pessimism about finding the boys alive didn't come as a complete shock to the police, firefighters and volunteers who have been searching for the boys.

Police released a photo of Skelton on Tuesday and are looking for anyone who spotted his blue Dodge Caravan around the time of the boys' disappearance Thursday or Friday. The car has been seized by police.

At first, Skelton said he left his boys with an acquaintance named Joann Taylor because he didn't want them to be home while he committed suicide. But investigators later determined the woman didn't exist.

Today, volunteers gathering this morning for the search of the three missing boys endured a new element — plummeting temperatures.

Snow flurries fell as temperatures hovered at 27 degrees early on while searchers prepared to visit various spots surrounding this small community.

But volunteers were undaunted by the weather, and the declining chances that the brothers will be found alive.

"You have to keep looking," said Chad Wilson, 26, of Blissfield. "You have no choice."

Despite everything, residents tried to remain optimistic in Morenci, the small town of about 2,400 in Lenawee County along the Ohio border.

"It's not good," said Valerie Easton, 43, a homemaker who joined the search three days ago. "I'm trying to be hopeful."

More than 200 searchers have combed assorted spots around this tiny rural outpost. They have searched ditches, abandoned buildings, fields and woods on both sides of the Michigan-Ohio border.

A children's jacket was retrieved from a field north of town, but it wasn't immediately known whether it was connected to the boys.

Investigators also retrieved several more materials from John Skelton's home, but police wouldn't discuss the matter.

John Skelton had been embroiled in a nasty custody battle with his wife.

After his wife filed for divorce in September, he took his two eldest boys to Florida, where his mother lives. But he had to bring them back to Michigan after a Florida judge's ruling against him.

Tanya Skelton has remained out of the public eye after reporting the disappearance of their children Friday. She is believed to be staying with family near Morenci.

From The Detroit News:$3M-bond-set-for-father-of-missing-Morenci-boys#ixzz16szTxKML