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In re Children of Anthony L.

Supreme Court of Maine

April 30, 2019

IN RE CHILDREN OF ANTHONY L.

          Submitted On Briefs: April 9, 2019

          Kristina Dougherty, Esq., Chester & Vestal, P.A., Portland, for appellant father

          Aaron M. Frey, Attorney General, and Meghan Szylvian, Asst. Atty. Gen., Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee Department of Health and Human Services

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          PER CURIAM.

         [¶1] Anthony L. appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Portland, Woodman, J.) terminating his parental rights to his children. The father argues that the court erred by finding that he is unfit as a parent and abused its discretion by determining that termination of his parental rights is in the best interests of the children. We affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The court found the following facts, which are supported by competent evidence in the record. In January 2018, the father shot and killed the mother in the kitchen of their family home. The children, ages sixteen and eleven, witnessed their mother's body and their father standing in the room with a gun on the floor. The children fled the house and the oldest child called 9-1-1. The next day, the Department of Health and Human Services filed a child protection petition and a request for a preliminary protection order. See 22 M.R.S. §§ 4032, 4034 (2018). The court [Eggert, J.) granted the preliminary protection order, placing the children in the Department's custody. The father was later arrested and remains incarcerated while awaiting trial on a charge of murdering the mother.

         [¶3] A contested jeopardy hearing was held in May 2018, following which the court issued an order finding jeopardy as to the father. See 22 M.R.S. § 4035 (2018). The jeopardy order included findings that "the father killed the mother" and that "[t]he evidence presented show[ed] the horrific psychological impact on the [children], .. . constituting] a heinous and abhorrent action by their father, an aggravating factor." See 22 M.R.S. § 4002(l-B)(A)(1) (2018). Because the court found the existence of an aggravating factor, the court relieved the Department of its responsibility to provide reunification and rehabilitation services to the father. See 22 M.R.S. § 4036(1)(G-2) (2018).

         [¶4] The Department petitioned to terminate the father's parental rights in June 2018. See 22 M.R.S. § 4052 (2018). The court (Woodman, J.) held a single-day hearing in September 2018, during which it took judicial notice of all prior court orders in the case and, by stipulation of the parties, took "judicial notice" of two reports of the guardian ad litem.[1] Following the hearing, the court issued a judgment terminating the father's parental rights to the children. See 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(B)(2)(a), (b)(T), (1-A)(A) (2018).

         [¶5] The court's ultimate decision to terminate the father's parental rights was based on the following findings of fact, which the court found by clear and convincing evidence and which are supported by the record:

[The father] is unable to protect the ... children from jeopardy and these circumstances are unlikely to change within a time that is reasonably calculated to meet the children's needs. Specifically, the father is in jail awaiting trial on charges of murder of the mother of the minor children. The facts as described by Judge Eggert in the [jeopardy] [o]rder issued on May 24, 2018 are grotesque. On January 7, 2018, the children heard a noise in the home and ran to the kitchen. They saw their mother on the floor, dead, covered in blood. They also saw a gun on the floor, with only the father standing there. [The older child] escaped the home with [the younger child] without any shoes or jackets even though this happened in the middle of winter. They ran to a neighbor's home and were able to call 9-1-1. Father had previously made threats to kill mother which the [children] heard.... [T]he court found by a preponderance of the evidence that father killed mother. The [c]ourt concluded that the act had a horrific psychological impact on the boys, and constitutes a heinous and abhorrent action by their father which is an aggravating factor. Based on this finding, the Department . . . was relieved from the requirement to make reasonable efforts to reunify the children with the father.
Father has not seen the children since the day of the murder. They had initially been placed with paternal grandfather. However, due to the grandfather's continual attempts to undermine mother's family and unduly influence the children with regard to what occurred on the night their mother died, the children were removed and have been placed with maternal uncle ... and family. The children are doing well there and wish to remain there
Father is in jail facing murder charges. If he is convicted he will likely spend decades in prison. The children have not seen him in nearly nine months and have no desire to see ...

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