Maui jury deliberates
custody case

By Gary T. Kubota

WAILUKU >> A Maui Circuit Court jury is scheduled to resume deliberations today in the trial of a woman who claims her former husband sexually abused her two daughters, forcing her to violate a joint custody agreement and leave the country.

Mary Lou French, 56, charged with two counts of custodial interference, could face up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted.

French alleges her former husband, James French, abused her daughters, now 6 and 7 years old, after a divorce in 1997 awarded him joint custody and overnight visitations.

She fled with her daughters to Costa Rica in January 1999, and was arrested in Panama in April 2000, while trying to go to Bangkok.

The daughters are in the temporary custody of James French, who now lives in California.

In his closing argument yesterday, defense attorney David Bettencourt said the testimony of Haiku resident Joy Shahbazian and pediatrician Dr. Linda Strong supported his client's belief that the children had been abused.

Bettencourt said his client did not feel she could get justice from Family Court because her former husband, who was music director of the Maui Symphony Orchestra, was well-connected in the community.

He said her ex-husband followed her to Costa Rica but left because he did not want to be arrested for child abuse.

Deputy Prosecutor Carson Tani said Mary Lou French could have filed a motion in Family Court or with child protective services if she believed her former husband was abusing their daughters.

Tani said French came up with the sex-abuse allegations only after the divorce decree of joint custody in March 1998.

Tani said Strong was lying when she testified on behalf of Mary Lou French, and there was no indication of sex abuse in medical records when the children were examined in late 1998.

Tani said the allegations against her ex-husband were speculative and without evidence.

"In this case, there was no sex abuse by Jim French."

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