Judge restricts defense in kidnap case

By Anita Perkins
Eagle-Tribune Writer
Saturday, May 18, 2002

HAVERHILL -- Before the kidnapping trial of a city man began yesterday, the judge threw out his main defense -- that he had no choice but to take his daughter to get her proper medical attention.

Judge Allen G. Swan said he reached his decision because there was some debate about whether the daughter's health was in "imminent danger." In Haverhill District Court, he warned Brian J. Meuse's defense lawyer, Barbara C. Johnson, that if she raises any issues about the child's health and her mother's alleged negligence and drug use, he would sustain any of the prosecution's objections and tell the jury to ignore the information.

The judge explained that the state had to prove that Meuse, of Haverhill, took the little girl, now 21/2, for an extended period of time without permission. Meuse has never denied taking the child out of state. Frustrated with repeated attempts to get courts and child protection agencies involved, he said he had no other choice but to take her away from her mother.

The girl is physically developing at a pace that is slower than normal, and Meuse has said she required more medical attention than her mother was providing.

"You've wiped out this man's defense," Johnson, of Andover, said yesterday in court, promising that she intends to ignore the judge's ruling and proceed with the same witnesses she had planned on. "We'll see if you report me to the bar. I don't care."

After more than a year of building a case based on the medical needs of Meuse's daughter and her mother's negligence in getting medical treatment for the girl, Meuse, 39, 115 Oxford Ave., is saying for the first time he could be sent to jail. He said the judge should have left such a decision about his daughter Marissa's condition up to the professionals slated to be called as witnesses.

"I've already been imprisoned by this injustice," he said during a break in the trial, referring to the last 15 months without seeing his only child.

In the midst of a custody battle, Meuse took Marissa back to Boston in October 2000 after visiting her in Florida. He said he brought her for a medical evaluation and continued to provide her physical therapy and other exercises. Their six-month odyssey across the country -- eluding police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation -- ended about a year ago when police arrested him in Oklahoma.

In her brief opening remarks yesterday, Johnson told the jury that the judge ordered her to withhold the facts in the case. She said they would not have a "crystal ball" with all of the evidence to make an appropriate decision. She also counseled them to think of each of the prosecutor's objections as a "little bell" going off in their heads.

"Reasonable doubt, reasonable doubt, reasonable doubt," she said. "We're just going to have to see how this plays out."

Marissa's mother, Susan B. Pane, painted a picture of the decline of her relationship with Meuse. The two met in Florida while Meuse was on vacation in 1997. Tired of a long-distance relationship, they eventually moved in together at Meuse's home in the Ward Hill section of Haverhill. Marissa was born Aug. 4, 1999. Pane said the "fairy tale" relationship eroded in the second year because of Meuse's mood swings.

Pane said she left Haverhill because of Meuse's verbal threats. She took Marissa to live with her mother in Port Orange, Fla., after telling Meuse she was going shopping.

"The relationship had gone beyond repair. I felt threatened," she said, adding that it did not involve physical attacks other than "pushing and shoving."

Johnson later pointed out that Pane's alleged drug use was the reason for the troubled relationship.

Assistant District Attorney John V. Apruzzese peppered Johnson's questions to Pane with a string of objections. True to his word, the judge sustained most of them. But the one area that he allowed was questioning about Pane's alleged use of prescription drugs.

For most of the afternoon, Johnson challenged Pane's memory of taking 70 to 80 medications that included pain-killers and narcotics such as OxyContin -- a drug that is the frequent target of drug store thieves. Johnson presented a five-page list of prescriptions that Pane had allegedly taken over a two-year period. Some of the doctors' names and numbers listed on the "drug profile" were slightly different. There were also several pharmacies listed, including Merck-Metco where Pane worked and allegedly bought some of the medication. The list also included two Haverhill addresses for Pane.

But Pane argued that the list may have been falsified by someone who wanted to cause problems for her. She acknowledged that she sometimes used pain killers after complications involving two surgeries and child birth. She pointed out some inconsistencies in the list of doctors' names provided by her former employer, the mail order drug distributor Merck-Metco. She worked as a pharmacy technician, who filled prescriptions, for about two years. She consistently denied that she bought all of the drugs. She also said there were two Susan Panes at the time living in Haverhill.

In response to the judge's challenge of relevancy, Johnson explained that she was attempting to show Pane's lack of credibility. But Swan cautioned Johnson that she had better show where she was heading with this information when the trial continues Monday morning.

"I gave you a great deal of latitude," the judge said, referring to the drug line of questioning. "Unless I see a difference, I'll start excluding this line of questioning."

Copyrightę 2002 Eagle-Tribune Publishing.