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In re I.J.L.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Second Division

October 3, 2017

IN RE: I.J.L.; B.D.L.;
J.I., Appellant. JUVENILE OFFICER, Respondents,

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri The Honorable David Michael Byrn, Judge

          Before Edward R. Ardini, Jr., Presiding Judge, Karen King Mitchell, Judge, Anthony Rex Gabbert, Judge.


         Appellant appeals the trial court's decision to terminate his parental rights. He raises three points on appeal. Point I asserts the trial court erred in finding IJL's adoption did not require Appellant's consent; Point II asserts error in finding Appellant had abused or neglected IJL; Point III asserts error in finding Appellant failed to rectify the conditions leading to the assumption of jurisdiction. We affirm.


         IJL was born on December 3, 2014. Her biological father is Appellant and her biological mother is EDL. Both parents were incarcerated for conspiracy with intent to distribute methamphetamines. Due to the parents' incarceration, the Juvenile Court assumed jurisdiction of IJL, placing her in the custody of the Children's Division in case numbered 1416-JU001516. Both parents remained incarcerated throughout the Juvenile Court proceedings.

         On February 19, 2016, IJL's maternal uncle ("Petitioner") filed a Petition for Transfer of Custody and Adoption. On April 13, 2016, the court entered an Order of Temporary Custody and placed IJL in Petitioner's custody. EDL filed her Consent to Termination of Parental Rights and Adoption with the court on May 22, 2016. Petitioner filed a First Amended Petition for Transfer of Custody, Termination of Parental Rights, and Adoption on August 23, 2016.

         The trial took place on December 9, 2016. Upon agreement by the parties, the court bifurcated the matter, considering only evidence related to the termination of parental rights and whether the parents' needed to give their consent to the adoption. Because the parents were unable to appear in person, they testified via telephone and polycom.

         EDL testified Appellant physically abused her on a regular basis during their six to seven month relationship. The abuse included strangling EDL daily and kicking her in the stomach when Appellant knew she was pregnant, because Appellant did not believe the baby was his. He also knocked out four of her teeth. Some of the incidents, EDL added, occurred in the presence of another of her children. EDL believed that termination of her and Appellant's parental rights would be in IJL's best interest.

         Crystal Epley testified on behalf of the Missouri Children's Division. She stated that the agency was never able to recommend that IJL be reunited with Appellant and could not reasonably foresee a time soon when reunification would be possible. Appellant has never held IJL, did not request services from the agency, and was only having supervised telephone contact with IJL. He sent a total of fourteen letters to her throughout the pendency of the underlying Juvenile Court matter. While IJL was under agency care, Appellant failed to provide the child with any child support, necessities, or gifts.

         Appellant testified that, contrary to EDL's testimony, he had only learned of EDL's pregnancy immediately before being incarcerated. He stated he was excited about the pregnancy because the couple had been trying to have children. He testified that, despite being informed that he had no child support obligation, he had been paying support for a couple of months. Though Appellant claimed he made financial contributions for IJL, he was unable to determine how much he had contributed. He stated he was willing to provide support for IJL and claims to have bought her clothes and a car seat while she was under agency care.

         Appellant denied all EDL's allegations of domestic violence, including those he had previously agreed to as a condition of his guilty plea. He testified that his mandatory sentence would be a minimum of ten years. He also acknowledged selling methamphetamine after IJL was conceived, though he claims not to have known of the pregnancy. He did, however, acknowledge regular unsupervised visits to another one of his children while he was still selling methamphetamine. While incarcerated, Appellant completed a 12-Step program for his drug addiction and has not used drugs since his incarceration. As a part of his plea agreement, Appellant acknowledged that "he possessed some Semtex explosives and wanted to blow up [Detective] Bobbie Hawkin's residence" and "put him down so he couldn't get up again."

         The Missouri Children's Division and the Guardian ad Litem recommended that termination of parental rights would be in the child's best interest. Judgment terminating parental rights was entered on January 9, 2017.

         POIN ...

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