The Genocide of Battered Mothers and their Children

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FATHER Sentenced 10-15 years but will be charged with murder and face life without parole if his 3 sons are found (believed to be) dead

In domestic law on September 19, 2011 at 11:59 am

The father of three boys missing from their Morenci home since Thanksgiving was sentenced Thursday to a guideline-busting 10-15 years behind bars after pleading no contest to their unlawful imprisonment.

But authorities warned that John Skelton — who has insisted since his arrest nine months ago that he gave his 9-, 7- and 5-year-old sons to a secret child protection organization — will be charged with murder and face life without parole if his sons are found dead.

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“A lot can happen in the next 10 to 15 years,” Morenci Police Chief Larry Weeks said Thursday after Lenawee Circuit Judge Margaret Noe rejected a routine sentencing guideline recommendation calling for minimums of 31/2 to seven years.

Investigators said no credible trace of Andrew, Alexander and Tanner Skelton has been reported since they were seen playing in the backyard of their Morenci home Nov. 25. A prosecutor on Thursday said conflicting and chilling statements Skelton has given investigators are lies, and the secret organization doesn’t exist.

The judge noted Skelton remains in contempt of court for failing to reveal their location as she earlier ordered.

“It is my belief that justice may never be served in this case, that you should serve each and every day in prison that Andrew, Alexander and Tanner remain missing,” Noe told Skelton on Thursday.

Skelton told the court before sentencing that “I do love my boys. I look at their pictures all the time.”

But he admitted, “I would have done things differently if I felt that the system didn’t fail me.”

Skelton has claimed he took the boys to protect them from abuse by their mother, Tanya Zuvers, who is on the state sex offender registry for a 1998 relationship with a then-14-year-old neighbor boy. But investigators said Skelton researched neck breaking on his computer and told an FBI agent that he wrapped each boy in a blanket with a stuffed animal and placed them in his van before driving away from Morenci.

Skelton told of nightmares in which he saw the boys and their belongings in or behind a Dumpster. He made drawings and told about leaving them in a park and an abandoned schoolhouse. He said, “They will hibernate until they graduate.”

“The only question today is if Mr. Skelton is going to be man enough to tell the truth about what happened to his children or will he continue his cowardly ways,” said Lenawee County Assistant Prosecutor Douglas Hartung. He later issued a warning to Skelton: “Don’t get too comfortable in prison. These gentlemen are still investigating your case. … They will be back to get you later.”

Skelton’s court-appointed lawyer objected to many factors considered in the sentencing report, including what he said was a suggestion that the judge should give a longer sentence because, “the defendant has killed or turned his children over to strangers.”

“My client isn’t here to be sentenced for murder or an intention to injure. To use that possibility as a consideration is improper,” John Glaser said.

Skelton’s no-contest plea equated to acceptance of responsibility for illegally taking the boys with whom he had visitation during a bitter divorce, in exchange for dismissal of life felony kidnapping charges.

The judge said she considered his crime an extension of an incident in which Skelton took two of his sons to Florida and tried to get court-ordered custody of them there.

A Michigan judge ordered them returned.

“You have said you do not want their mother to have memories of her sons. You have failed,” Noe said, explaining Zuvers, the boy’s family, friends and the community all will remember his sons. “They will not remember you.”

Skelton was given 289 days’ credit toward his sentence for the time he’s already spent in the Lenawee County Jail in lieu of a $9 million bond.

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John Skelton’s no-contest plea equated to acceptance of responsibility for illegally taking his sons in exchange for dismissing kidnapping charges. (David Coates / The Detroit News)



Investigators: Father of missing Morenci boys looked up how to break a neck

In domestic law on July 29, 2011 at 1:19 pm
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The father of three missing Morenci children last seen around Thanksgiving pleaded no contest this morning to criminal charges of unlawful imprisonment, but not before the judge revealed his conflicting, chilling statements to investigators.

Whether the plea deal with Lenawee County Prosecutor Jonathan Poer will lead to an explanation of what happened to Andrew, Alexander and Tanner Skelton, then ages 9, 7 and 5, is unclear.

John Skelton, who has been jailed on a multimillion dollar bond since his arrest shortly after Thanksgiving at an Ohio hospital where he was receiving treatment for an alleged suicide attempt, entered pleas today before Lenawee County Circuit Judge Margaret Noe.

He pleaded no contest, meaning he accepts criminal responsibility for three counts of unlawful imprisonment. Other charges, including the felony crime of kidnapping, will be dropped by the prosecutor when Skelton is sentenced. Sentencing is set for the morning of Sept. 15. The crime carries a maximum sentence of up to 15 years. Kidnapping can result in up to a life sentence.

Morenci Police could issue a statement later today. Poer’s staff has said he will make no public statement on the case.

The judge read into the court’s record today from several investigative reports, saying Skelton’s story about his sons’ disappearance had changed several times. Noe said he once told investigators he had planned to commit suicide and took the boys away so they weren’t there when he did.

“That story changed, however,” Noe said in court.

She also said he told others he wrapped each boy in a blanket, gave each a stuffed animal and placed them in his van. And, Noe said he had told yet others, “They will hibernate until they graduate,” according to a WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) video recording of the judge’s comments in court today.

Noe said Skelton told others about dreams or nightmares in which he saw the boys and their belongings in or behind a Dumpster. She said he made drawings and told about leaving the boys in a park and an abandoned schoolhouse.

Noe also said investigators found that a week before the boys’ disappearance, Skelton had searched online for how to break a neck.

As Noe read the charges, the boys’ mother, Tanya Zuvers, quietly sobbed, according to videotape of the court proceeding.

Regarding the charges to which Skelton pleaded guilty, Noe said, “He forcibly restricted their movement, forcibly confined each of his children so as to interfere with their liberty without their consent or without lawful authority.”

Skelton has steadfastly claimed the boys are alive and in the hands of an organization — the United Foster Outreach and Underground Sanctuary — that he claimed keeps children safe. Investigators have said the organization doesn’t exist.

Skelton has told authorities he took his sons in the midst of a messy divorce from their mother to protect them from sexual abuse. Zuvers has served prison time and is on the Michigan Sex Offender Registry because of a sexual relationship in 1998 with a 14-year-old neighbor boy. She has denied abusing her children. She took her maiden name this summer after being granted a divorce from Skelton.

Morenci Police Chief Larry Weeks has said he believes John Skelton killed the boys, and three months after a search of expansive farm fields surrounding the Michigan and Ohio border town turned up no clues, Weeks declared the missing person investigation was switched to a murder investigation.



FATHER Skelton’s plea deal leaves door open for murder charge in his SONS disappearance

In domestic law on July 29, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Why doesnt main stream media crucify this FATHER?

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A Morenci man is headed to prison in the disappearance of his three young sons after entering into a surprise plea deal Thursday.

John Skelton pleaded no contest to charges of unlawful imprisonment, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Under a plea deal, charges of kidnapping — punishable by up to life in prison — were dismissed.

Some legal experts say prosecutors’ decision to strike a deal is a prudent one, especially if murder charges could be on the horizon. If the case had gone to trial and Skelton — whose young sons Andrew, Alexander and Tanner have been missing since late November — had been acquitted of some or all of the charges, it could have been detrimental to any future case if the boys are found, dead or alive, experts say.

In a joint statement Thursday, the Lenawee County prosecutor and Morenci police chief said the plea deal doesn’t interfere with the ongoing investigation.

“We believe the plea agreement in this case represents what a jury would likely have concluded based upon the facts and evidence as currently developed,” the statement said.

Experts: Plea deal gives officials more time to build a case against Skelton

Prosecutors struck a plea deal with a Morenci father Thursday in the disappearance of his three young sons, but that agreement doesn’t preclude murder charges.

Legal experts say it was a prudent decision — by allowing John Skelton to plead no contest to unlawful imprisonment charges, he’ll be sent to prison as law enforcement officials continue to build a murder case against him.

The Lenawee County prosecutor and Morenci police chief said in a statement Thursday that the agreement reflected what they believe a jury would have ultimately concluded. Under the plea deal, kidnapping and parental kidnapping charges were dropped.

The plea deal in this case comes in the wake of the national headline-grabbing case against Casey Anthony, the Florida woman acquitted of murder charges in the death of her 2-year-old daughter.

One expert said the Skelton case may have been even more difficult to prosecute than the Anthony case because the girl’s body was found. Andrew, Alexander and Tanner Skelton — ages 9, 7 and 5, respectively — disappeared while in the custody of their father over Thanksgiving. They haven’t been seen since.

Wayne State University Law professor Peter Henning said it’s difficult to say how an acquittal or conviction, particularly on the kidnapping charges, would have impacted any future charges against Skelton. Now, he said, the prosecutor won’t have to worry about that as the homicide investigation continues.

“You live to fight another day,” Henning said. “That’s not a bad approach here.”

During the hearing Thursday, Lenawee County Circuit Judge Margaret M.S. Noe read aloud from police reports.

Some of the details were familiar.

Skelton has told the news media, including the Free Press, that he gave his sons to members of an underground sanctuary group and doesn’t know where they are. Skelton has said his children wouldn’t be returned as long as he’s in jail and as long as his ex-wife, Tanya Zuvers, has custody.

Skelton, who has said he does not want his sons in the custody of their mother, has said that he couldn’t get the boys back from the people harboring them until he is released from jail. New details also emerged Thursday.

Noe said Skelton told investigators at one point that he wrapped each son in a blanket, gave each a stuffed animal, placed them in his van and drove them away.

Noe said Skelton reportedly took his sons’ winter coats and toothbrushes to his aunt’s home and told her he didn’t need them anymore. Noe said Internet records show Skelton searched for information on how to break a neck about one week before the children went missing.

Noe said Skelton reportedly told investigators: “The children will hibernate until they graduate.”

A jury, one expert said, may have found it difficult to convict Skelton on certain charges based on the circumstantial evidence.

“I wonder about the decision to plead him guilty here, rather than roll the dice on the part of the defense,” said criminal defense attorney David Griem, a former state and federal prosecutor.

Skelton’s attorney, John Glaser, declined to comment Thursday about his decision to take the plea agreement.

On the unlawful imprisonment charges, Skelton could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. He is to be sentenced Sept. 15.

If he had been convicted of kidnapping, Skelton could have faced life in prison.

But he also could have been acquitted.

Asked why the deal was made, Lenawee County Prosecutor Jonathan Poer said: “We had full conversations with the law enforcement and the family.”

John Freeman, a defense attorney and former federal prosecutor based in Troy, said the prosecutor has now left the door open to charges that could lead to a mandatory life sentence.

He speculates that if prosecutors thought they could prove murder, they would not be satisfied with a 15-year-sentence — so they may have concluded that the strongest evidence they have is on the charge he pleaded to.

“They simply don’t want to run the risk of letting somebody, who they believe may be responsible for the death of three young children, they just don’t want to see him walk,” Freeman said.

Poer’s office and Morenci Police Chief Larry Weeks released a joint statement, saying the plea agreement does not interfere with the ongoing investigation.

“We consider this just one more step toward everyone’s goal of fully resolving this case,” it reads.

A spokeswoman for the family of the boys’ mother released a statement saying the family supports the decisions made by law enforcement.

“There is a sense of discouragement that John will not receive the sentence we believe he deserves,” it reads. “However, our focus is still on Andrew, Alexander and Tanner, and this will not be over until the boys are home. We are grateful for the support of everyone and ask for your continued prayers.”

Tanner Skelton
Alexander Skelton
Andrew Skelton

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Father of 3 boys says sons safe But police say they believe he is guilty of murder.

In domestic law on July 7, 2011 at 12:46 pm

The boys are gone.

He doesn’t want their mother to have custody.

And he can’t get his sons back from the people harboring them until he’s out of jail. That is John Skelton’s account.

But police say they believe he is guilty of murder.

“She can take those divorce papers and she can go to the park and push them around; she can push them on a swing,” he said, later admitting he regretted the statement. “That’s as close as I ever want her to get to these kids again.”

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John Skelton of Morenci appears at a divorce hearing June 7 in a court in Adrian. He is awaiting trial on kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment charges.
Chris Loomis and other Cambridge Fire Department firefighters search for the boys through heavy brush in Montpelier, Ohio, in December.
Andrew Skelton
Alexander Skelton
Tanner Skelton

it was back.”

He also insists he didn’t give his sons, ages 9, 7 and 5, to the organization — members of the group intervened and took them.

A call to work together

Skelton’s accounts to the Free Press are variations of a story authorities have heard, Morenci Police Chief Larry Weeks said. If Skelton wants his sons returned safely, he needs to work with police, Weeks said.

“If he has a desire to talk, we’re certainly here,” Weeks said. “We want to find those boys desperately.”

Hundreds of people searched for the boys after they disappeared.

On Saturday, a volunteer search and rescue group from Shiawassee County will lead another effort to look for them as part of a training exercise, Weeks said. They will be joined by other volunteer search and rescue groups and public safety officials, but no civilian volunteers.

Skelton said he does not know where his boys are and will not know until he is released. He is facing up to life in prison if convicted of kidnapping.

So what if he never gets out?

“Then,” Skelton said, “nobody will see them again.”

Fond memories

While he’s sitting in his jail cell, Skelton thinks about his boys, he said.

He said he was in truck-driving school when Andrew was born, but made it to the hospital in time to cut his umbilical cord and give him his first bath.

“Actually, it was almost like a dream in itself,” Skelton said. “It was wonderful.”

He said he nearly missed Tanner’s birth when he took a smoke break.

The boys, Skelton remembers, always wanted him to tickle them, especially Alexander.

“I think I’ve been an excellent father,” he said. “I was an excellent husband.”

Troubled times

By the time of the boys’ disappearance in November, financial troubles plagued John and Tanya Skelton, and their relationship had soured.

They were losing their home and John Skelton wasn’t working.

About two months earlier, he had taken two of their sons to Florida without permission, and his wife, Tanya, filed for divorce. It became official last month. Her pastor, Donna Galloway, said Tanya changed her name back to Zuvers after the divorce.

Skelton said he became depressed when she moved to end the marriage — just as he had been after the marriage to his first wife failed.

In interviews, Skelton has accused his ex-wife of abusing their children and said he went to Morenci police to report her in September.

But police said no such report was ever made, and Zuvers has not been accused by authorities of any wrongdoing in this case.

Weeks said he had a conversation with Skelton about his ex-wife, but not about any alleged assaults. He declined to elaborate.

Zuvers did not want to comment for this article, but said in an earlier interview that Skelton wanted her to stop the divorce.

“I told him that at this point, I couldn’t do that,” she said. “There was something broken.”

Disturbing words

Skelton left a cryptic message on his Facebook page before anyone knew the boys had vanished:

“I love my wife very much,” it read. “May God and Tanya forgive me.”

Jack Levin, a professor and co-director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University in Boston, said there are several catastrophic blows in cases where a father kills his family: loss of a job, a failed marriage, a custody battle for his children.

A father, Levin said, may decide to commit suicide and believe he needs to protect his children by taking them, too.

“If a husband, father feels the need to control,” he said, “if he sees himself as the breadwinner and as the alpha parent, then he may decide to take matters into his own hands and determine the fate of his own children.”

Conflicting information

Skelton said he began talking to members of a group called United Foster Outreach, part of an organization named Underground Sanctuaries, weeks before his boys were taken.

He mentioned a couple named Sue and Elijah from either Hillsdale or Jackson. Skelton said he doesn’t know their last name.

“Just for the reasons of security,” he said.

In one interview, he said he met them at a truck stop. In another, he said a woman introduced them. Skelton said her name is Judy — a woman he acknowledged he originally referred to as Joann Taylor. Police have said Joann Taylor does not exist.

He said Sue and Elijah spoke to him and his boys, but he was still exploring his options and hadn’t made a decision.

Skelton said those people intervened and took his sons before he could make up his mind.

“I believe that they implemented their program because I wasn’t doing my job,” he said. “I was letting them go back to Tanya.”

Skelton’s account doesn’t sit right with Faye Yager, who, for years, was involved in an underground network that hid abused children. She said she’s been involved in thousands of cases, but is now running an inn in North Carolina and has become less involved on the front end.

She told the Free Press that if the children are with a group, there would likely be a contact person, and networks wouldn’t take children without a guardian’s involvement. Any such group, Yager said, would also likely require medical records or court documents to support an abuse claim.

“I’m telling you that no network that I worked with or know of would do such a thing,” she said. “There’s something wrong there. … I’d be very worried about the children.”

Some supporters

Skelton said he’s a Christian — born again as a teen — and has faith that his children are safe.

He isn’t the only one. Skelton’s parents and sister have stood by him, saying they, too, believe the boys are safe.

But Skelton vows to stay in prison until he dies rather than let his sons go back to his ex-wife. In a meeting after the couple’s final divorce hearing, Skelton expressed contempt for his ex, but denied harboring anger toward her.

“She can take those divorce papers and she can go to the park and push them around; she can push them on a swing,” he said, later admitting he regretted the statement. “That’s as close as I ever want her to get to these kids again.”

Skelton said he prays every day and wishes people wouldn’t believe he harmed his sons.

“I know I’m going to heaven,” he said. “Let’s just put it that way.”

A noose reported to be found in Skelton’s home was for an apparatus he was building, he said.

Police searched for the boys in Williams County, Ohio, because information from Skelton’s cell phone led them there, they said. Police have said they cannot account for his whereabouts between the afternoon of Nov. 25 and 1:30 p.m. Nov. 26 — around the time the boys disappeared.

Skelton said he wasn’t in Ohio.

“I just want to say I wasn’t there, my phone was,” he said. “That morning when I woke up

Police say they believe Skelton killed his sons and are treating the case as a homicide investigation, but Skelton has not been charged with murder. He is awaiting trial on kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment charges.

In a series of interviews from the Lenawee County Jail, Skelton told his story to the Free Press.

He disputed details of the case, some released by authorities.

Police said he attempted suicide after the boys went missing. He said he didn’t.

he details of his story may change, but the theme remains constant: Andrew, Alexander and Tanner are safe.

John Skelton insists that he wouldn’t hurt his sons, who disappeared in late November.

But the father says he doesn’t know where the boys are and only has the first names of the people who took them.

Skelton, who has said he does not want the boys in the custody of their mother, maintains that his sons are being harbored by members of an organization.

Skelton of Morenci sits in the Lenawee County Jail, awaiting trial on charges of kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment in the disappearance of his three sons.

In a series of interviews with the Free Press at the jail, Skelton maintained that the boys, missing since late November, are in the custody of members of an underground sanctuary group.

Skelton said they intervened and took Andrew, 9; Alexander, 7, and Tanner, 5, before he could make that decision. He said he feels guilty “that I let these people come into my life.”

Still, Skelton insists he does not know where his boys are and won’t until he is released. But

he faces up to life in prison if convicted of kidnapping.

Police say Skelton is just telling a variation of a tale authorities have already heard.

Many questions in the case linger.

One rises to the top: Where are they?

Father of 3 missing Morenci boys tells his story



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