Mother who took baby from ICU convicted of kidnapping

Sunday, August 1, 2004

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A woman who took took her premature daughter from an intensive care unit of a hospital almost four years ago has been found guilty of kidnapping.

A Greene County jury on Friday also found Machelle Slavens guilty of interfering with custody and endangering the welfare of a child. She was acquitted of a felonious restraint charge and jurors chose not to convict on lesser kidnapping and child endangerment charges.

Sentencing was set for Oct. 1.

Machelle Slavens, 27, took her baby, Taylor Kelley Martin, from Cox South hospital on Nov. 9, 2000. The 4-pound baby, who was six weeks premature, was on a feeding tube to keep her from being dehydrated.

A security video showed her leaving the hospital with the baby tucked inside her jacket. The child's father, John Martin, and Slavens' mother, Pam Slavens, were with her at the time. The three were arrested about eight hours later at a Big Cabin, Okla., truck stop.

Slavens was charged with kidnapping because Division of Family Services had notified her the day before the abduction that it was taking custody of the baby, prosecutors said.

Taylor was the seventh child in less than seven years to be taken away from Slavens, state officials said without explanation.

"Certainly we respect and appreciate the jury's verdict," said Bruce Galloway, one of Slavens' defense attorneys. "However, we look forward to pursuing the legal issues both in our motion for a new trial and appeal, if an appeal is necessary."

In closing arguments, assistant prosecutor Tyson Martin showed jurors a slide show that included the hospital security photos. He said Slavens "knew that Taylor was no longer in her custody" and taking the child put her at risk.

The defense argued that, because of "badly crafted instructions," a guilty verdict would mean any parent could be convicted of kidnapping if he or she took their children while moving to avoid government action, such as taxes.

Gaither also argued that Slavens didn't have official notification of the state's decision to take custody of Taylor. He characterized Slavens' taking of Taylor as a mother's natural impulse "to be with her child."

But he conceded that removing Taylor from an intensive-care nursery put the baby at serious risk.

"This was a stupid thing to do," Gaither said. "Find her guilty of what she's guilty of. A parent can't kidnap her own child."

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