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9904: Mom takes deportation risk, refuses plea deal (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Mom takes deportation risk, refuses plea deal
By Peter Franceschina
Posted December 8 2001
Elsie Charles, the Boynton Beach woman charged with aggravated child abuse
for tossing her misbehaving son in a car trunk for a ride home from school,
believes so strongly she did nothing wrong that she is willing to risk
The Haitian mother of five turned down a deal Friday that would have had her
plead guilty to a misdemeanor, an offer the judge strongly recommended she
take. Because she is not a citizen of the United States, she now faces
possible deportation if convicted at her January trial of aggravated child
abuse, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Sitting in the courtroom wearing a light blue business suit and with her
hands folded in her lap, Charles said she believed in disciplining her
children to ensure they don't grow up to commit crimes or kill someone.
"I was only trying to raise my child the only way I know how," she said
through a Creole interpreter.
Charles, 37, decided to stand on her principles, despite the urgings of her
defense attorney and the judge to take the plea agreement.
A guilty plea to the misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to two months in
jail, would have guaranteed she remained in the United States on her green
card, said her frustrated defense attorney Peter Grable.
Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Kenneth Marra heard Charles' first trial in
September, which ended with a deadlocked jury. Four of the jurors wanted to
acquit Charles, but two of them thought she was guilty of a lesser felony of
If convicted of that charge, immigration officials could use their
discretion in deciding whether Charles should be deported, Grable said, but
a conviction on the more serious aggravated child abuse would mean certain
Marra spent several minutes addressing Charles on Friday morning to make
sure she understood the gravity of her choice. "I think you are making a big
mistake in rejecting this offer," he said. "I think you're taking a big risk
and possibly making a very big mistake."
Charles was unmoved. "I'd rather go to trial," she insisted.
She is charged with placing her 7-year-old son in the trunk after school
officials called her in May 2000 to pick up the first-grader, yet again, for
misbehaving. A school custodian said the boy was crying as his mother
dragged him to the car and put him inside.
"I put him there to teach him a lesson," Charles testified at her trial.
She said she only placed him in the trunk for a short time and let him out
to walk the rest of the way home from Forest Park Elementary School, which
is about five blocks from their home. Prosecutors say police later found the
boy crying several blocks away from his home because he ran away when he was
let out of the trunk.
Charles has met all the requirements of a parenting program set by Florida
Department of Children & Families, Grable said. The judge was mystified that
she wanted to take the case before a jury a second time.
"I still don't understand your client's decision," he told Grable.
"Judge, I've run into some clients who want their day in court," Grable
Peter Franceschina can be reached at email@example.com or
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