Mom believes jury was misled in kidnap case

By Anita Perkins
Eagle-Tribune Writer
Wednesday, June 12, 2002

HAVERHILL -- The all-male jury who acquitted a city man on kidnapping charges was misled by courtroom theatrics, says the mother of the abducted child.

Susan B. Pane, 35, said jurors repeatedly ignored the judge's orders throughout the five-day trial of Brian J. Meuse, 39, of Haverhill, which ended last month.

Although she was shocked and upset over the unexpected verdict, Pane, now of Port Orange, Fla., said she doesn't blame the jury. She said the six male jurors were influenced by the defense's tactics that included instructions to hear a bell go off in their heads each time they heard the judge sustain the prosecutor's objections. Pane also blames Andover lawyer Barbara C. Johnson -- who represented Meuse, the child's father -- for badgering her with questions about Pane's alleged drug abuse and child neglect even though she was never charged with any crime.

"I think they did what they had to do," Pane said this week from the Florida home she shares with 2-year-old daughter, Marissa -- the child who is at the center of a custody battle. "They decided (on the not guilty finding) because of lingering thoughts in their heads. They did not come up with this verdict by acting on the facts and the laws as the judge told them to do."

Pane, who lived with Meuse until shortly after Marissa's birth in 1999, said she worries about the message the verdict sends to other parents thinking of abducting a child involved in a custody battle.

"It's just not a good message we're sending out to other parents: Kidnap your own child and you can get away with it," she said.

Pane took Marissa from the Haverhill home she shared with Meuse in October 1999 after concerns about Meuse's threatening behavior. Four days later, Meuse took out a restraining order giving him temporary custody. But Pane said a Haverhill District Court judge would not have granted the order had he known that she had already left the state.

Pane said she is not surprised at the behavior of Meuse's lawyer. Having seen Johnson conduct herself in similar fashion during custody hearings, Pane filed a complaint with the state Board of Bar Overseers two years ago. She said others have filed similar complaints with the regulatory state agency. The Web site for the overseers shows no violations lodged against Johnson, who passed the bar in 1987. But Pane said she was told the review could take as long as three years.

"She is completely unprofessional and a disgrace to her profession," said Pane, who has consistently denied abusing prescription drugs or neglecting her daughter. "She's disgraced my good name and good character."

Meuse was found innocent of kidnapping his year-old daughter after the jury deliberated for about an hour May 24. He took Marissa from out of Florida during a visit in October 2000. He was arrested in March 2001 after two women spotted him from a wanted poster.

Jurors interviewed following the verdict said they believed Meuse had nothing but his daughter's best interest at heart. All of the male jurors seemed sympathetic to Meuse's plight and believed he had tried to do everything to get help from the courts, police and social service agencies.

"Jurors had to believe I was the culprit and a bad person," Pane said. "I wasn't supposed to be on trial. My daughter was the victim."

Pane contends Meuse enjoyed his celebrity as a father unable to get the system to protect his baby daughter. She said notoriety, not love, is what motivated her former live-in boyfriend. From the time of his arrest after being out on bail, Pane said, he never inquired about Marissa, sent her a card or placed a call in more than a year.

"It's all a game for him. He likes being in the spotlight," she said. "It's not out of love for her. It's out of hatred for me. It's payback and revenge."

The high-profile kidnapping case may be over, but Pane said Marissa, who will turn 3 in August, still suffers from after-effects of the kidnapping. Pane said the tot gets upset whenever she sees a police officer or handcuffs or hears a siren.

"She would creep down and say, 'Oh, no. I won't let them see me,'" said Pane, explaining that she thinks Marissa remembers instructions about hiding from the law while on the run with Meuse for six months. "Even a year later, certain things come up."

Pane also disputes claims that Marissa suffered from significant developmental delays. Meuse had reports from doctors and educational experts confirming the child's problems that were exacerbated when Pane missed the child's therapy visits. But Pane called most of it fabrication. Although she admits that some physical therapy was needed for about a year, she said Marissa is now a healthy little girl who is active in gymnastics.

"She never crawled. A lot (of babies) don't. It was completely blown out of proportion," said Pane, referring to Meuse's allegations that he stole the child in order to get her needed medical attention. "We had a letter saying she only missed two (doctors) appointments."

Since Marissa was returned to her, Pane has stayed involved in the missing children campaign sponsored by Wal-Mart credited with finding her daughter. She works as a cashier for Wal-Mart near her Florida home and continues to help with the missing children's poster program. Shortly after Marissa was spotted, mother and daughter appeared at a rally in Washington, D.C., where they met the two women who identified Marissa and Meuse in Oklahoma in March 2001. Pane also will be featured in a public service TV commercial sponsored by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

"I study the posters a lot more," said Pane, referring to the missing children posters displayed in stores and public ways. "I'm forever in debt to these ladies."

Copyrightę 2002 Eagle-Tribune Publishing.