TAMPA — Their weeklong odyssey started in Tampa Bay, spanned the gulf to the shores of Cuba and landed them in the Hillsborough County Jail. The couple accused of kidnapping their young sons will start a new journey today — one that could end with life in prison.
Joshua Hakken, 35, and Sharyn Hakken, 34, are scheduled to appear at 8:30 a.m. for their first appearance in court. The charges against them will be detailed, and a judge will decide if they are allowed bail.
Hillsborough County authorities said that early April 3, Joshua Hakken barged into his mother-in-law's home north of Tampa, bound her with zip ties and kidnapped his boys.
The day before, a court had notified Joshua and Sharyn Hakken that it had terminated their parental rights after a string of incidents in Louisiana.
Ignoring the 30-day window to appeal the ruling, authorities said, the Hakkens instead took the children from the grandparents' home and sailed on a 25-foot boat to Cuba.
Cuban officials spotted the Hakkens in Hemingway Harbor near Havana. They informed U.S. authorities, who flew the four back to Florida.
U.S. officials informed the Sheriff's Office that the Cuban government had seized an assault-style rifle and semiautomatic handgun from the boat.
Because weapons were involved, the Hakkens could be facing multiple charges carrying lifelong sentences. Kidnapping for the purpose of committing a felony and burglary with battery are both felonies punishable by life in prison, Tampa lawyer Rick Terrana said.
The couple faces charges including burglary with assault or battery, false imprisonment, grand theft of a vehicle, interference with custody, child neglect and kidnapping. They do not face federal charges, FBI spokesman Dave Couvertier said.
Joshua Hakken was being held in lieu of $154,000 bail, but authorities have placed a hold on him. Sharyn Hakken was being held without bail. The bails were set by separate judges and could be changed at today's hearing.
"The main consideration that a judge has on whether or not to set bail in any case is whether the defendant presents a flight risk," Terrana said. "And what greater flight risk is there than two people who have already grabbed the kids and fled to Cuba via water?"
The boys, Cole, 4, and Chase, 2, were medically checked out during the return flight. They were with their grandparents, Patricia and Robert Hauser, along with the family dog, Nati, authorities said. A deputy's car sat outside their home Wednesday. The Hausers are expected to hold a news conference at the house this morning.
Though the Hakkens currently face counts of interference with child custody, Tampa lawyer Anthony Marchese, who specializes in family and adoption law, suspects prosecutors could drop that charge, which applies when one parent takes a child away from another parent.
Because of the court ruling, neither of the Hakkens is a parent in the eyes of the law.
"They are literally legal strangers to the children, therefore it is straight-up kidnapping," Marchese said. "They will have a very difficult time in the criminal arena. You'll never be able to tell a biological parent, 'You are no longer the parent.' They don't understand that."
The Hakkens lost custody of their sons sometime after July, when authorities in Louisiana found them acting bizarrely in a hotel room. Joshua Hakken had marijuana, a gun, a knife and his sons with him, officials there said.
Police arrested him and put the children in foster care.
About two weeks later, authorities say, Hakken showed up at the foster home, waving a gun and demanding his boys back.
An incident report obtained by the Daily Star in Louisiana places both Hakkens at the scene. The newspaper reported that Sharyn Hakken knocked on the door. When a woman answered, Joshua Hakken jumped between them and demanded to see his sons.
When the woman asked him to leave, Joshua Hakken pulled a semiautomatic handgun, the report said. The woman locked herself in a bedroom upstairs and called police. The Hakkens then fled without the boys.
The Louisiana Department of Children & Family Services still has jurisdiction over the children, but the state of Florida is overseeing the case on its behalf, said Terri Durdaller, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Children and Families.
Durdaller declined to comment specifically on the Hakkens' situation but did say it is customary for another state to take over the management of a custody case if state lines are crossed when placing children with family members.
It is not clear whether the Hakkens were living in Louisiana during the July 2012 event. The couple own a home in South Tampa.
At this time, many questions about the episode are unresolved.
It is unknown what sort of conditions the children were in on the boat's journey to Cuba, what they were fed and how they were cared for, or what long-term effect the ordeal might have on them.
Upon their return to Florida early Wednesday, the children "were fine, happy and sleepy," the Sheriff's Office said.
Questions circulate surrounding what might have led the couple to take such rash action.
Both graduated from the University of South Florida with degrees in engineering.
Sharyn Hakken worked for Hanecki Engineering in Tampa for nearly 10 years and was a model employee, former employer Darrell Hanecki said.
"She was a very normal, laid-back kind of person," he said. "She was very stable and there didn't seem to be any issues with her, so it was a total shock."
She resigned in November 2011 to become a stay-at-home mom, Hanecki said.
"I just have no idea what happened to transform her family into what happened last week."
Times news researcher John Martin and staff writers Jessica Vander Velde, Elisabeth Parker and Brittany Alana Davis contributed to this report. Caitlin Johnston can be reached at email@example.com or 813-661-2443.