Submitted On Briefs: April 9, 2019
Kristina Dougherty, Esq., Chester & Vestal, P.A.,
Portland, for appellant father
M. Frey, Attorney General, and Meghan Szylvian, Asst. Atty.
Gen., Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee
Department of Health and Human Services
SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and
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 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.
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).
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. 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).
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 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 ...