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Published: Saturday, 1/29/2011

Skelton says he can't return 3 missing sons

ADRIAN -- For the second time since his three young sons went missing in November, John Skelton told a Lenawee County judge Friday that he could not say where the boys are.

"I would ask at this time, Mr. Skelton, if you are prepared to turn the children over to their mother?" Circuit Court Judge Margaret Noe asked.

"I can't," he said after leaning over to consult with his attorney.

Last month, Mr. Skelton, 39, of Morenci told Judge Noe during a similar proceeding that he had turned over Andrew, 9, Alexander, 7, and Tanner Skelton, 5, to an individual who came to his house on Thanksgiving night in a van.

He told her he didn't know the person's name, only that the individual belonged to an unnamed "organization."

The lack of information continues to frustrate family and friends desperate to know what has happened to the three brothers.

"It's just a shame that he can't see that he needs to tell, but obviously he feels that he's in control," Kathye Herrera, a family friend and spokesman, said after the hearing.

While silent about his sons, Mr. Skelton made a point of telling the court he did not want to pay his estranged wife, Tanya Skelton, alimony or attorney fees and that the two already had split up their property.

Those comments came after Judge Noe said she signed an order earlier this week granting Ms. Skelton "exclusive use of the marital home and all of the property contained therein until further division is recognized by the court."

Ms. Skelton sat quietly with her attorney, David McFarland, during the brief hearing, a civil proceeding held as part of the Skeltons' pending divorce case. Ms. Skelton, who was accompanied to court by her parents and Ms. Herrera, has said she believes her boys are still alive.

"There's good days and bad. What can you say?" Ms. Herrera said. "You always want to believe the best until you know the worst."

Morenci Police Chief Larry Weeks met with the family before Friday's hearing, but had little to tell them.

"He said we're investigating and we want to make sure that this is done in the proper procedures so somebody can't come back and say it was done wrong," Ms. Herrera said. "We don't want John to get away on a technicality. We know they're doing their job, and we're grateful for that."

Chief Weeks declined to comment after the hearing.

Andrew, Alexander, and Tanner were last seen in the backyard of Mr. Skelton's home on Thanksgiving Day.

Their mother reported them missing the next day when her estranged husband failed to bring them to her home. The same day, Mr. Skelton was hospitalized for an injury suffered in an apparent suicide attempt.

On Nov. 30, he was arrested after being discharged from a Toledo hospital and charged with three counts of parental kidnapping. He is being held in the Lenawee County jail in lieu of $30 million bond.

While Mr. Skelton had previously appeared in court in a wheelchair, he walked on his own Friday, although he was limping. Dressed in a red jail jumpsuit, he shook his head as he walked in and saw Ms. Skelton and a number of her family members and friends.

The Skeltons, who were in the process of divorcing when the boys went missing, had agreed in October that Mr. Skelton would have parenting time with the boys after school on Wednesdays until 7 p.m. and from 5 p.m. Friday to 7 p.m. Sunday every other weekend. Judge Noe signed that order Oct. 11 but revoked Mr. Skelton's visitation rights Nov. 29 and gave Ms. Skelton exclusive custody of the boys.

While Ms. Skelton had filed a motion to have Judge Noe declare Mr. Skelton in contempt of court for failing to abide by the visitation order and return the boys to her, the judge postponed acting on the motion Friday and set another pretrial hearing for 8:15 a.m. March 18.

When the judge asked the Skeltons' attorneys whether custody, parenting time, and property continue to be issues, Mr. Skelton's attorney, John Glaser, said he did not wish to represent Mr. Skelton in the divorce, only on the potential contempt charge.

The judge then directed the question to Mr. Skelton, who said he and his estranged wife had "already split up all the property" and he did not understand what issue remained.

Mr. McFarland told the judge personal property and real estate issues need to be settled, but those could wait.

Mr. Skelton later told the judge Ms. Skelton wanted alimony from him "and I'm not paying alimony."

Judge Noe replied that Ms. Skelton was not seeking spousal support but, at Mr. Skelton's insistence, posed that question to Mr. McFarland. He replied, "There are more important issues to discuss at this trial, so no."

The judge said Mr. Skelton would be acting as his own attorney at the March 18 hearing.

Friends and supporters of the Skelton family are planning a fund-raiser at 6 p.m. March 19 at Morenci High School. Numerous donated items will be auctioned at the event to raise money for a reward fund. Ms. Herrera said any unused money that is raised would be divided among the Morenci Elementary playground, the Wakefield Park playground, and the Morenci Education Foundation.

"The kids love the park and they love the school, and we felt that was the perfect place," she said, adding that the children's disappearance continues to weigh heavily on the town of Morenci.

"Very much so and it will be until there's a resolution. It's a small town and it's affected every person here," she said. "We still need lots of prayers."

Anyone who would like to donate an item for the auction may contact Ms. Herrera at 517-458-6615.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.



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