Judge rules in favor of Liberty woman convicted of injuring child
Over the objections of Children's Protective Services, visiting state District Judge David Dunn has again ordered the return of six young children to their Liberty County mother, who was convicted of injury to a child.
The last time authorities tried to take the children from their foster homes and return them to their mother, Catherine Kegg, she was gone. She had been arrested a day earlier in June on parole violations stemming from her conviction.
Dunn's decision came after a jury recently decided that terminating the parental rights of Kegg and her husband was not in the best interest of the children, even though the jurors also found all the children had been endangered.
The case has drawn attention to the issue of reuniting families after parents have been convicted of child abuse. It is a tale that has taken the mother, her six children and four foster parents who cared for them on a confusing ride that eventually became the topic of debate on the national talk show circuit.
Dunn triggered the debate in June when he first ordered the six children, all under age 7, reunited with their mother after she had served eight months of a two-year sentence for injuring a child. Her seventh child, 14-year-old Tyler, who is now living with a relative in Arizona, was recorded screaming on a 911 tape as he was struck 60 times with a board in December 2001.
A key sticking point to the return of the six other children was a stipulation in Kegg's parole that barred her from unsupervised contact with children under age 17. To comply with this requirement, Kegg, 32, who was working as a receptionist in a tattoo parlor, arranged for an 18-year-old high school graduate to be her supervisor.
However, the mother was jailed again for parole violations before her children could be returned. Authorities said she had failed to attend an anger management class, issued a $15 hot check for the class and left the state without permission.
She is now scheduled to be paroled again on Jan. 16 and the children will be returned to her over the next six months after she finds a home and a job. She will also be required to find someone age 18 or over to act as supervisor until her parole ends in April.
In Dunn's latest ruling, he granted the mother's request for "joint managing conservatorship" to oversee the children with the state, rather than giving the state "permanent managing conservatorship" over the children.
The father, Kendall Kegg, who is serving a jail sentence for his part in the beating of Tyler, will have visitation rights only and will not be permitted to stay overnight, the court said.
Under the joint managing conservatorship, the mother has full parental rights and the state is not required to do any monitoring, said Robert Conlon, the attorney for Children's Protective Services. The state would have made all the decisions for the children until they turned 18 if the court had granted protective services a "permanent managing conservatorship," he said.
"This is new territory," said Conlon. "I have only seen a court grant joint managing conservatorships in divorce cases but never in child abuse cases."
Before the ruling, he argued that the court would be violating state law, which stipulates families shall not be reunited if "a pattern ... of child neglect or physical or sexual abuse" by a parent has been proven.
But the mother's attorney, Ed Lieck, disagreed: "Family law offers wide latitude to handle different situations. Judges have a lot of discretion."
Recognizing that removing the young children from the foster homes where they have lived the past two years could be traumatic, Lieck has requested the children be returned one at a time over several months.
He blames the state and foster parents, whom he has called "biased busybodies working as obstructionists," for creating the custody problem. Lieck contends authorities have conspired to keep the children away from their mother by arresting her on flimsy issues.
"But now a jury has clearly spoken and said these children should be returned to their mother," Lieck said.
While the Keggs legally remain the parents, the judge had to rule where to place the children and what role Children's Protective Services should play.
Last month, Children's Protective Services asked a jury to clear the way for the state to place the children up for adoption. After a week-long trial, the jury found the Keggs had indeed endangered all their children by exposing them to injury, but declined to end their parental rights. The jurors, in an 11-1 decision, found termination was not in the children's best interest.
Initially, the jury was split 6-6 on termination, said one juror, who did not want her name used. In the end, she said, "most of us thought it would not be right for the children never to see their mom again or grow up without their brothers and sisters."
"Most jurors didn't think the trial showed the mother would abuse the other children. She overdid it with Tyler, but I don't think she would do it to the others," the juror said.
However, all the jurors thought Children's Protective Services would be monitoring the children after their return, although Conlon said there is no provision for it.
Lieck had argued the state used Tyler as the "sacrificial lamb" to prove the other children would be abused, but Conlon contended the Keggs had used Tyler as a "scapegoat." Tyler was expected to clean the house and care for the children, then he was punished for whatever went wrong, protective services said. The agency fears the mother will now expect one or more of the other children to assume these duties.
Conlon also disagreed with the contention that the other children were not harmed. He said a doctor and other witnesses testified about speech and developmental delays involving the other children as well as unsanitary conditions in the home.
In addition, Conlon objected to testimony from a foster parent of other alleged abuse that was withheld from the jury. The judge ruled the testimony was too prejudicial and had insufficient information to support it.
"This was just a ridiculous assertion by a zealous foster mother," said Lieck.
Meanwhile, Amy Dinn, the attorney representing the children's foster parents, said she is appealing an earlier ruling by the judge that stopped the foster parents from intervening to support the state in seeking termination of the Keggs' parental rights.
"The family code says foster parents can have a role if they have kept the children for over a year, and we met that standard. But the judge turned us down," Dinn said.
The judge said including the foster parents would "multiply" or increase the issues under review because the foster parents had expressed an interest in adopting the six youngsters.
Conlon said protective services is also "strongly considering" an appeal of the judge's final order to establish the "joint managing conservatorship."
But Lieck feels the judge acted correctly. "The judge has only followed the overwhelming decision of the jury to send the children back," he said.
Dunn has declined to comment on the case.
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