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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. MAY E. STEWART (02/03/88)

submitted: February 3, 1988.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
MAY E. STEWART, APPELLANT



Appeal from Judgment of Sentence, March 13, 1987, Court of Common Pleas Division, Lycoming County, No. 85-11, 072

COUNSEL

Walter A. Steinbacher, Assistant Public Defender, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Brett O. Feese, District Attorney, Williamsport, for Com., appellee.

Cavanaugh, Olszewski and Popovich, JJ.

Author: Cavanaugh

[ 375 Pa. Super. Page 587]

This is an appeal from a judgment of sentence entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County, sentencing appellant to a three year term of probation on charges of interference with custody of children and criminal conspiracy. We affirm.

The facts as found by the court below are as follows. Appellant's son, James Stewart, is the father of two boys, John Charles (Bugsy) born on March 8, 1978, and Bradley James (BJ) born on November 9, 1980. The children's mother, Bonnie Lee Stewart, abandoned the marital home "[s]ometime in December of 1980 or January of 1981," taking the younger child with her while John Charles remained in his father's care.*fn1 When she returned to retrieve the child as well as some belongings later that same day, an argument ensued and police were summoned to the residence. The children's mother was thereafter advised "to

[ 375 Pa. Super. Page 588]

    pursue her right through the courts . . ." or, as she testified, "So I called, the officer took, and advised me to call a lawyer the next day." (N.T. March 17-March 21, 1986 at p. 35). Accordingly, she contacted Susquehanna Legal Services and a custody action was instituted. A hearing on the matter was scheduled for February 6, 1981, but James Stewart failed to attend. As a result of the father's absence, Bonnie Lee Stewart was awarded primary custody of John Charles.*fn2

What then transpired has been accurately summarized by the lower court as follows:

Testimony would indicate that sometime in January or February, before the February 6th hearing, James Stewart and Bugsy and the defendant in this case, Jack had made a fast move to the State of Maine where another daughter of the grandparents lived. The grandmother, May, remained in the Williamsport area until she terminated her employment in the summer. While the grandmother was still in the Williamsport area, an action was brought to compel her to appear in the judge's chambers to divulge information as to the whereabouts of her son and grandson. She testified under oath that she had been having difficulty with her husband (this defendant), and that her husband had left her and that she had no knowledge where he was. While the jury could certainly find that this testimony was untrue, at the very least it was clear that the grandmother had specific knowledge as of that day that the custody order had been entered awarding custody of Bugsy to the mother, Bonnie.

[ 375 Pa. Super. Page 589]

During the next several years a number of efforts were made by the mother to find her child and to regain custody of him.

In July of 1984, the mother learned that James and his parents were living in Dundee, New York. She arranged to go to their home in the company of a member of the Yates County Sheriff Department, Deputy Sheriff John Warner. Warner had a copy of a Lycoming County Court Order in his hand. He did not read that order to any of the Stewarts, but did summarize it to May Stewart who was the individual who answered the door. Bugsy was understandably hysterical at the prospect of being taken from the home by his mother with whom he had no contact and whose attitude toward his mother may have been poisoned by the Stewarts. The Stewarts stated that they were tired of running and were glad that it was all over. Mr. Warner advised Bonnie that he felt the Stewarts could be trusted and that they were sincere in their agreeing to abide by the order. In ...


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