Defense questions 'double standard'

By Anita Perkins
Eagle-Tribune Writer
Tuesday, May 21, 2002

When Susan B. Pane took her baby daughter from Haverhill to Florida on Oct. 1, 1999, Haverhill police did nothing about it, even though a restraining order gave temporary custody to the child's father.

But when the father -- Brian J. Meuse, 39, 115 Oxford Ave. -- fled Florida with the child, just over 1 year old, on Oct. 1, 2000, he became the object of a nationwide manhunt.

Yesterday Barbara C. Johnson, who is representing Meuse in a parental kidnapping trial in Haverhill District Court, questioned Haverhill police Det. Daniel R. Moynihan about the apparent double standard. Moynihan, the city's domestic violence officer, said he believed Pane had legal custody of her daughter, Marissa, but he acknowledged that he never confirmed that information.

When Johnson asked Moynihan why he failed to go after Pane despite a restraining order that gave Meuse temporary custody, Moynihan said he was unaware of the order. Johnson quickly pointed out that Pane appeared in a Massachusetts probate court later that same month and was not arrested.

"Why not arrest her now?" asked Johnson, noting that a violation of a 1999 restraining order would still fall within the statute of limitations.

But Moynihan disagreed with Johnson and said restraining orders do not carry any power once they have expired. Asked whether he ever went after a woman for violating a restraining order, Moynihan said he probably arrested 12 women and 100 men over the past five years, about the same as the national average for a community.

On average, Johnson said, about 10 times more men than women are arrested for violating restraining orders.

In the second day of Meuse's trial, Johnson said she was pleased with the information she was able to get across to the jury so far. On the first day of the trial Friday, Judge Allen G. Swan rejected Johnson's defense -- a plan that would show Meuse took his daughter, now 21/2, for medical treatment because he had no alternative. Meuse has maintained that Pane's alleged drug abuse led to neglect of the child's physical therapy and doctors' appointments.

Swan pointed out that the jury would not be able to consider testimony and other evidence supporting Meuse's reasons for taking the child. Yesterday, Swan went a step further and approved the prosecution's motion to withhold Marissa's medical records. The defense maintains that 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.

Johnson said she hopes the jury will realize that Meuse had Marissa's best interests in mind by listening to the answers gleaned through cross-examination of some of the witnesses about Marissa's health and Pane's alleged drug abuse.

During cross-examination, Johnson talked about Pane's use of prescription drugs -- about 80 prescriptions including pain killers and narcotics over a two-year period. Pane denied using many of the drugs listed on a profile from her health insurance carrier. Other prescriptions were legitimate uses for post-operative care and other medical problems, she said. Attempts by Meuse's mother, Janice M. Meuse, to get Moynihan to investigate Pane's alleged drug use had also proved unsuccessful. When Johnson criticized him for failing to check out the extensive list of prescriptions obtained from a string of pharmacies, Moynihan explained that everything on the list except for one large quantity of the pain-killer Ultram appeared to be legally obtained.

"When Brian took Marissa, I was ordered to stop investigating," he said, referring to the allegations of Pane's drug use.

Moynihan, a 19-year veteran of the department, said he was not regularly assigned to drug investigations. He was expected to continue cross-examination this morning.

A Haverhill day care provider, who took care of Marissa for three days in October 2000, testified that Marissa's development was slower than other children her age. Annie Kalip of Haverhill explained that Marissa was unable to sit up, crawl, walk or talk.

After six months on the lam with Marissa, Meuse was arrested in March 2001 after two women spotted the father and daughter in Oklahoma. The women identified Meuse after seeing a poster of him at a nearby Wal-Mart. He was brought back to Haverhill and released on bail. Marissa was returned to her mother until custody is determined in probate court.

Copyrightę 2002 Eagle-Tribune Publishing.