1. Archive

Testimony ends in custody battle

Published Oct. 16, 2005

A judge has given both sides 10 days to make recommendations concerning custody of a 4-year-old after her mother hid the child and spent a month in jail rather than allow her ex-husband to have unsupervised visits with their daughter. Evelyn Hays did not take the stand in her own behalf Sunday as testimony ended in the child custody battle. Ms. Hays has accused Steven Hays of sexually abusing their daughter, a charge he denies.

"The abusive schedule made it impossible for Ms. Hays to give testimony at this time," her attorney Alan Rosenfeld said. "We were going to put on a week's testimony."

Rosenfeld moved for a mistrial because of limited time and scheduling, but Marion County Circuit Judge Victor Musleh denied the motion.

After reviewing additional documents and videotapes in the upcoming weeks, Musleh is expected to give one parent custody of the girl.

Earlier in the day, a clinical psychologist hired by Ms. Hays, William Samek of Miami, attacked the credibility of interviews with the girl by court-appointed psychologist Phillip Esplin, who issued a report in October saying it was "highly unlikely" Hays sexually abused the girl. Instead, the report said the girl was sexually abused while in hiding by a friend of the girl's maternal grandmother. The report also said Hays should be given custody of the girl.

Samek also said he agrees with the child's allegations that she was abused by both her father and her grandmother's friend.

"My opinion is Evelyn Hays would be the better custodial parent between the two of them," said Samek, who received $1,000 from Ms. Hays' attorneys for testifying. "All the reports indicate that basically (the girl) is developing well. Basically, she's done well under Evelyn's custody.

"I think (Evelyn's) a very good, caring mother," he said.

Hays' attorney, Tommy Bond, challenged Samek's assessments, saying Samek had not reviewed all the documents.

Bond said Samek was unaware of a doctor's findings that the girl had not been sexually abused as of August 1988, three months after her last unsupervised visit with her father. The doctor did report finding a scar of unknown origin in the girl's rectal area.

Foster parents have cared for the girl since deputies found her in early September with the grandmother, Evelyn Kaye, outside an apartment in St. Augustine. Ms. Kaye was later arrested for having custody of the girl in defiance of a court order.

Ms. Kaye has been accused by another daughter of being a practitioner of the occult, satanism and voodoo, charges she strongly denies.

Samek has issued a report recommending Ms. Hays not live with her mother, limit her mother's visits with the girl to four hours every two weeks and participate in group counseling and effective parenting courses.

Hays should have supervised visits with the girl for four hours every week, the report said.