Jury to decide: Kidnapper or concerned dad?

By Anita Perkins
Eagle-Tribune Writer
Thursday, May 16, 2002

HAVERHILL -- A trial to determine whether a 39-year-old city man is a kidnapper or a concerned father begins tomorrow in Haverhill District Court.

Investigators say Brian J. Meuse, 115 Oxford Ave., kidnapped his 17-month-old daughter, Marissa Meuse, from Florida where she was living with her mother, Susan B. Pane. After six months on the run with the toddler, he was arrested in Oklahoma in April 2001 after two women identified him from a wanted poster in a Wal-Mart.

The case attracted national attention because of the missing child campaign run by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Meuse, a machinist, also drew support from the fathers' rights movement. Members picketed in front of a Lawrence courthouse to send the message that courts are biased against men in custody fights. At one point during his six-month odyssey, Meuse appeared on national TV saying he had enough money to sustain his fugitive existence.

Meuse insists he broke no law and had his daughter's best interests in mind by taking her out of the state for medical attention. He said Pane neglected the little girl because of a drug problem. Frustrated over Marissa's apparent decline in development, Meuse said he did the only thing he could.

Pane, who was given temporary custody of Marissa during the custody hearings in probate court, has consistently denied Meuse's claims about a drug problem. She also rejects Meuse's charge that she discontinued their daughter's therapy visits.

A six-person jury will be empaneled tomorrow before both sides make opening arguments in the case, which is expected to run into next week. The defense is ready to call about 40 witnesses from Haverhill, Oklahoma and Florida, if necessary.

But Meuse's mother, Janice M. Meuse, said they continue to hope that the case will be thrown out before it gets under way. She said the Supreme Judicial Court, where several appeals of the charges have been heard, could force the case to be dismissed. She said one of the main arguments focuses on whether police had the right to arrest Meuse on a Haverhill warrant since the charges did not occur in Haverhill.

"They never came up with a federal warrant," she said referring to a warrant for unlawful flight, one of three outstanding warrants supposedly issued against her son.

Janice Meuse, who has supported her son's fight to regain custody of his daughter, said they heard the child may be present during the trial. Meuse last saw his now 21/2-year-old daughter at the time of his arrest more than a year ago.

"We don't even have access to her medical records," said Janice Meuse.

Witnesses will include Pane, who formerly lived with Brian Meuse in Haverhill, as well as family, friends and medical experts.

Meuse's lawyer, Barbara C. Johnson of Andover, said there will be no plea agreement between her client and the prosecution.

"That was never a consideration," she said yesterday.

The custody battle over Marissa started when Meuse and Pane split up in 1999. Pane, who moved to Florida in October 1999, apparently left Massachusetts in violation of a court order, Meuse says. During a scheduled visit to see Marissa in Florida, Meuse made the decision to take his daughter for medical treatment in Boston. Frustrated over repeated attempts to get other agencies involved to help Marissa, he fled the state and continued to keep up her exercises and other therapies, he said.

The case has been delayed by a number of motions, including requests to dismiss charges. Brian Meuse has insisted that Pane had no right to custody because of a restraining order issued by Haverhill District Court giving temporary custody to Meuse. But Judge Allen G. Swan ruled that Meuse had no lawful authority for taking his daughter from Pane. He explained that custody should have been decided in probate and family court, not district court. It is also unclear whether that restraining order was issued three days after Pane took the child to Florida on Oct. 1, 1999.

Copyrightę 2002 Eagle-Tribune Publishing.