Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, Second Division
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF CHRISTIAN COUNTY Honorable Larry G.
Luna, Circuit Judge
WILLIAM W. FRANCIS, JR., J.
("Father") appeals from a judgment entered by the
Juvenile Division of the Circuit Court of Christian County
("trial court") on January 28, 2016, concluding
Father abandoned Child, and granting a petition for adoption
of his daughter, I.M.W. ("Child"), by V.L.R.
("Stepfather). In one point on appeal, Father claims the
trial court erred in terminating his parental rights on the
basis of abandonment and a mental condition. Finding no merit
to Father's claims, we affirm the judgment of the trial
Factual and Procedural Background
September 2, 1997, Father pled guilty, under Chapter 720 of
the Illinois Revised Statute 5/12-14.l(a)(1), to two counts
of committing a sexual act with a child under the age of 13.
In addition, at the same hearing, Father was found to be a
sexually dangerous person ("SDP") under
Illinois' Sexually Dangerous Persons Act
("SDPA"),  after Father
stipulated to the findings of two psychiatrists who found him
to be a SDP. Following the hearing, the Illinois court
appointed the Illinois Department of Corrections
("DOC") as Father's guardian and committed
Father to the custody of the ("DOC").
August 2, 2002, the Illinois court, finding that Father was
no longer sexually dangerous within the institutional
confines of the DOC, entered an order conditionally releasing
him. The order placed numerous
conditions on Father's release. Father was to live in a
residential center until a determination was made that he
could live independently; Father was to obey parole rules and
regulations, and all laws; and Father could not be alone with
children or young adolescents without the consent and/or
supervision of treatment personnel.
on conditional release, Father married Mother in October
2004, in Romeoville, Illinois, where they resided. Child was
born to Mother and Father in April 2007. Because of
Father's SDP status, he had to remove himself from the
marital home until the Department of Children's and
Family Services ("DCFS") could investigate whether
it was suitable for him to live in the home with Child. After
DCFS's investigation, which included evaluations by two
psychiatrists, Father was permitted to return to the home in
June 2007, under a protection plan. The protection plan
provided in part that Father could not be alone with Child.
October 2007, the state of Illinois filed a petition to
revoke Father's conditional release asserting that: (1)
Father failed to attend a mandatory counseling session on
October 17, 2007; (2)on the same day, Father removed his
tracking device and could not be located at his home; and
(3)in July 2007, Father sexually assaulted or abused a
16-year-old girl while working at the girl's home. After
a hearing, the Illinois court revoked Father's
conditional release and he was remanded back to the custody
of the DOC.
moved with Child to Missouri in August 2008, to live with
family. Between October 1997 and August 2008, Mother took
Child to visit Father on at least three occasions. When
Mother decided to move to Missouri, she notified Father and
provided him the address and phone number of where she and
Child would be living. After arriving in Missouri, Mother
accepted approximately two collect calls from Father, and
Father sent a few cards and letters. Thereafter, Father
was not working at the time Father was arrested in October
2007. Mother sold Father's construction equipment to
raise money for living expenses for her and Child. She
eventually filed for bankruptcy, and was left with a vehicle,
some furniture, and a small joint checking account with an
approximate balance of $1, 000. She received no financial
assistance from Father. After Father knew Mother was
returning to Missouri with Child, he withdrew $500 from the
joint checking account without notifying Mother. Mother was
using the funds from that bank account to pay the marital
bills and also to help pay for the move to Missouri.
Father's removal of the $500 from the checking account
caused several checks written by Mother to be returned
insufficient funds, and the vehicle Mother depended on for
transportation was almost lost due to nonpayment. Child
depended upon Mother's income at the time, and very
nearly became homeless.
divorced Father on January 7, 2009. Under the judgment of
dissolution, Father was not required to pay any child support
for Child. Father remained incarcerated, but received
$200-$400 per month from relatives. Father spent the money on
food, tennis shoes, boots, clothing and a television for
himself. Father sent no money to Mother for Child, but only
sent Child a Toys R Us gift card in a nominal amount.
has had a relationship with Stepfather since August 2008.
Mother and Stepfather began dating in October 2008, and were
married in February 2011. Stepfather provided financial
support to Mother and Child up to and continuing after their
26, 2013, Mother and Stepfather filed a "Petition for
Step-Parent Adoption" claiming that Father had willfully
abandoned Child in failing to provide the necessary care and
protection for a period of at least six months prior to the
filing of the petition, and Father suffered from a mental
condition that rendered him unable to provide Child with the
necessary care and protection.
December 2, 2013, Father filed a petition for visitation so
as to allow contact between him and Child. However, Father
failed to prosecute the cause resulting in the court's
dismissal of the petition.
was held on the Petition for Step-Parent Adoption on November
19, 2015. Mother, Father, and Stepfather all testified.
Father specifically testified that he believed the mental
condition that caused him to be incarcerated was
"reversible[, ]" but did not think the
"criminal propensit[y] to sexually assault
children" would ever go away.
testifying was Sherry Gott ("Gott"), a
15-year-licensed clinical social worker employed by SOS
Forensic Social Services and Counseling. Gott testified
consistent with her report of July 1, 2015, and her addendum
to that report of November 18, 2015. She performed a home
study or post-placement assessment for adoption purposes at
the request of the trial court.
found Child to have no relationship with Father, and that
Father had not participated in Child's life as a father
figure in any manner. Gott's investigation revealed that
Father was a SDP, and that he had a lengthy criminal history
of perpetrating sexual offenses against young females going
back to 1997. It was her opinion that a person who admitted
to a mental defect, confirmed by two psychiatrists, and a
finding of mental illness with a criminal propensity to
molesting children, had a significant risk of re-offending.
She found the age of Father's first victim to be relevant
because it further solidified that Father suffered from a
significant risk of re-offending. Gott testified that
Father's re-offense in 2007 when he ...