Jury saw Meuse as a caring father

By Anita Perkins
Eagle-Tribune Writer
Wednesday, May 29, 2002

HAVERHILL -- The six men sitting in judgment of Brian J. Meuse saw the 39-year-old as a caring father who put himself on the line for his baby daughter.

The lone female juror chosen as an alternate -- Matthia Keyes, 50, of Gloucester -- said she might have gone along with the innocent verdict, but she would have asked a lot more questions. She said she thought taking the child away from her mother for as long as Meuse did without any contact was the wrong thing to do.

Brian J. Meuse has not seen his daughter for the 14 months that have passed since he was arrested for kidnapping her. Here, he shows a photo of her in his Haverhill home.
"I wouldn't have wanted to see him in jail," Keyes said yesterday. "But I felt like standing up and telling him he shouldn't have done that and kept the child's mother in limbo for six months."

After hearing testimony for five days, jurors acquitted Meuse Thursday following an hour of deliberation. The jurors -- all men -- ranged in age from 18 to 53 and included a letter carrier, two businessmen, a diesel repairman, a bus driver and two college students.

Although Meuse, a Haverhill resident, readily admits taking his daughter Marissa in October 2000, he said he saw no other way to get the child medical attention for developmental problems. Marissa had been living with her mother, Susan B. Pane, 35, in Florida at the time of the abduction. Meuse was arrested in Ada, Okla., in March 2001 after two women identified him from a wanted poster.

One of the male jurors who supported the not-guilty verdict said he wouldn't have resorted to abducting the child if he had been in Meuse's shoes.

"Meuse tried everything, but I wouldn't have taken off," said the 40-year-old juror, who is a Bradford resident and a letter carrier in Haverhill. He asked to remain anonymous.

Meuse, an unemployed machinist, said he is grateful that the jury saw things his way. When told that at least two jurors still question the wisdom of taking the child away for six months with no contact with the mother, Meuse stands by his decision.

"Sometime in the future Marissa will see the paper trail and say, 'My daddy loved me enough to put his whole entire life on the line,' " said Meuse -- who lives at 115 Oxford Ave. in the Ward Hill section of Haverhill -- of his daughter, who is almost 3 years old.

Keyes, the alternate juror and her husband, Edward, have four children ages 9 to 29. One child had developmental problems similar to Marissa. As the alternate, Matthia Keyes expressed frustration and disappointment at having to sit outside the jury room during deliberations. She said she was shocked that the prosecutor failed to push for additional women on the panel.

"At least four other women should have been there," said Keyes, a cashier at an Ames department store. "There should have been four mothers."

Meuse's lawyer, Barbara C. Johnson of Andover, said she didn't try to select only men for the jury. But in the end, seven men and one woman made up the group.

"It was just a matter of the draw ... It was totally fate," said Johnson, following the verdict.

Johnson said one woman, who believed taking the child was wrong, removed herself from the jury pool. She said she was disappointed that Assistant District Attorney John V. Apruzzese eliminated a pharmacist during the selection process. Johnson said she thought a pharmacist would have been good for the defense because of testimony about alleged use of prescription drugs by the child's mother.

One of the male jurors told The Eagle-Tribune that the jury found Meuse innocent of kidnapping charges because of his concern for his daughter and lack of concern for his own welfare.

"He had every intention of coming back, but he got caught," said the Haverhill letter carrier. "What it came down to is this man didn't harm her. He only helped her along.''

The letter carrier said two older jurors wanted to clear Meuse right away, but they decided to go through all of the evidence before taking a vote. He noted that testimony from the child's baby-sitter and early intervention teachers about Marissa's developmental delays helped confirm Meuse's assertion that he had no other choice but to take his daughter for medical treatment.

"He's paying his dues now. We took him at his word," he said, referring to Meuse not having contact with his daughter since his arrest.

Jurors also were sympathetic to Meuse's unsuccessful efforts to get help from courts, police and social service agencies. The defense stated throughout the trial that Pane's alleged drug abuse problems led to neglect of Marissa. During the trial, Johnson raised questions about Pane's alleged drug abuse by showing jurors a five-page list of 70 to 80 prescriptions. Johnson told the jury that the lengthy list showed a pattern of abuse or over-use. Many were from numerous doctors and purchased from a string of drug stores. The defense alleged that Haverhill Police failed to investigate Pane and later ignored a restraining order taken out against her. The restraining order, filed about the same time Pane took Marissa out of Massachusetts in October 2000, gave Meuse temporary custody.

The Haverhill juror said most of the jurors believed that Pane could have had a problem with drugs. But most believed the allegations had little to do with reaching a verdict. More convincing was a medical report noting that Pane acknowledged almost dropping the baby because of her depression, the juror said.

Some of the legal loopholes over who had custody of the child and whether a crime occurred in Massachusetts didn't matter as much to jurors as Meuse's efforts to get his daughter help. But Keyes said the legal arguments would have been enough for her to find him innocent.

"That's a very big loophole," she said, referring to the custody question. "It was hard to keep track of in the end."

Jurors said they found both Meuse and Pane credible witnesses on the stand. But Keyes, the alternate juror, said Meuse came across as "cocky" by shaking his head to comments when he was not on the stand.

"I wanted him to just sit still and listen. It irritated me," said Keyes.

The jurors said they had mixed feelings about Meuse's lawyer, who tried the case -- as well as their patience. They said that Johnson's rhetoric and long-winded discourses left them exasperated at times. Yet, they admit that some of her tactics including a display of a bell and "scales of justice" provided comedic relief.

"She tried our patience, but she came across," said the Haverhill juror.

Both jurors credited Judge Allen B. Swan for being very patient with Johnson, who plans to run for governor. At times during the trial, Johnson appeared to ignore Swan's efforts to sustain the prosecution's objections. When Johnson continued with her line of questions, Swan would instruct the witness not to answer. At other times, Johnson would tell the judge to "hold on" while she searched for documents scattered on the table.

Copyrightę 2002 Eagle-Tribune Publishing.