Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Maximum term sought
for mom’s custody violation

By Gary T. Kubota

WAILUKU >> Maui County Deputy Prosecutor Carson Tani said he will probably seek the maximum penalty of five years in prison for a woman who fled with her two adopted daughters to Costa Rica and violated a joint custody agreement with her ex-husband James French.

Tani said the evidence showed Mary Lou French was lying when she claimed her ex-husband had sexually abused the children.

"We feel that (a five-year sentence) would be an appropriate sentence, given her conduct and the allegation she made against Jim French," Tani said.

A Maui Circuit Court jury found Mary Lou French guilty yesterday of two felony counts of custodial interference. Her sentencing before Maui Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza is scheduled for June 13.

She remains free on her own recognizance and has been able to visit her daughters, ages 6 and 7, who are living in California with James French.

Jury forewoman Sharon Elf said the jury "just felt the prosecutor proved the case and the defense didn't."

James French, former director of the Maui Symphony Orchestra, said it is up to the courts to determine his former wife's sentence.

"I don't think I know," said French, who has remarried. "There's no vengeance coming from here."

He said while he has sole custody of the two girls and the California courts will be determining the future of custody, he does not believe it is good for one parent to bar another parent from seeing the children.

He said the children are doing well and have been catching up in their education.

"They're blooming well," he said.

Defense attorney David Bettencourt said he did not think Mary Lou French deserved the maximum sentence and that Tani was willing to go much lower, offering 44 days incarceration, when he was bargaining to have her enter a plea agreement.

Mary Lou French said she hoped she would not receive a sentence that would take her away from her daughters for too long.

"I'm devastated to say the least," she said.

She said if she had to do it over again, she wouldn't do it the same way and would try to seek changes through the courts, even though she's had little success in the past.

"I'd do anything to protect my children," she said. "My children have lost their mother."

The case has drawn the attention of groups claiming to be advocates for children but whose members have taken different sides on the issue.

They range from a group that searches for missing children to those providing assistance to women fleeing the country to avoid spouses who have allegedly abused their children.

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