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A gift abandoned, Day 4: Judgment Day

The Trial: Judy Pemberton consults with her attorneys, Assistant Public Defenders Brian Donerly and Andrea Wilson.
The Trial: Judy Pemberton consults with her attorneys, Assistant Public Defenders Brian Donerly and Andrea Wilson. [ Times ]
Published Jun. 15
Updated Jun. 15

TEMPLE TERRACE — Judy Pemberton abandoned her baby in a box April 27, 1989, at her apartment complex. She said neither she nor the baby’s father, Russell Hayes, knew she was pregnant. Judy’s lawyers had hoped to use an insanity defense at her trial. But on Aug. 21, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Harry Lee Coe III ruled out that option. On Aug. 22, Judy appeared as the only witness in her defense. Aug. 23. Trial Day No. 3.

Assistant State Attorney Rolando Guerra tossed the videocassette recorder box on the floor in front of the jury. Thud.

“We know that on April 27, Judith Pemberton deserted her child,” he began in his closing arguments. “The only person you didn’t hear from was that baby in that box . . . dumped off with the night’s trash. You didn’t hear the anger, fear, the terror he felt when his own flesh and blood threw him away.”

Defense attorneys Brian Donerly and Andrea Wilson appealed to the jury’s sense of compassion. “The point of this case,” Donerly began, “is not that she did so, but why she did so.”

About 11:30 a.m., the six-member jury, four women and two men, filed out of the courtroom to decide whether Judy was guilty of wilfully and intentionally deserting her child.

Donerly and Wilson considered one hour the cutoff point. If the jury was out that long or longer, the defense had a chance for acquittal, however faint. But if the jury came back in 15 minutes . . .

Donerly was much more optimistic about an appeal than he was about the verdict. Judge Harry Lee Coe III had stripped Judy of her insanity defense and her witnesses. She was left to testify alone. These and other factors made for a strong appeal case, Donerly thought.

Judy simply assumed she was going out the back door. To prison. Her supporters had stopped telling her everything would be okay. The group waited in the hallway, making small talk as the jury deliberated.

Fifteen minutes.

Thirty minutes.


At one hour, Donerly came by. The jury still out after an hour was a good sign, he said. No one smiled.

As she waited with Judy, Marci Gilbert, Judy’s sister-in-law, realized any doubts she had about Judy’s story about the birth were gone. Marci had taken the same kind of tranquilizers Judy took the day she testified. She knew: You can’t lie under those. Your mind don’t work. She couldn’t have been lying. She was so doped, and her answers were there, over and over. Guerra would rephrase the question and her answers were always there. I wish Coe would have let me talk. I would have asked him, “Your honor, how can anybody lie drugged up?”

Marci still did not know why Judy abandoned her baby. But she considered Judy’s background. Marci had cared for Judy’s mother for 10 years before she died. The woman once told Marci how difficult it was having a sixth child at 37. As a child, Judy did things for attention. She held her breath until she passed out. Once, she cut up a bed sheet. Judy was 20 years younger than her oldest sister. Judy competed _ unsuccessfully, Marci thought _ with her sister’s children for her mother’s attention.

Marci’s observations seemed to give weight to psychiatrist Michael Maher’s speculation: Judy’s mother never really formed an emotional attachment to her last child. Maybe she went through the motions, but she was detached.

The way Judy seemed now.

One hour, 20 minutes. The bailiff motioned. Everyone filed back into the courtroom. The jury came in, and the verdict was read aloud: Judith Pemberton was guilty as charged.

There was little reaction in the quiet courtroom. Judy seemed only half-aware of the verdict. Sentencing was set for Sept. 22.

Coe allowed Judy to stay out of jail. She went home, facing another 30 days of uncertainty: Her fate was now in Judge Coe’s hands.

Sept. 22, 8:30 a.m. Judgment Day.

Judy meandered near Coe’s courtroom, waiting. Wearing red pants and a red and white striped blouse, she seemed resigned, almost cheerful, talking calmly to her friends.

She joked that her breakfast that day might have been her last good meal. “Have you ever seen that crap they serve in jail?” she asked one of her friends. When a television cameraman showed up, she said, “Great. Here comes my public.” When Guerra walked by, she said, “He deserves an Academy Award for his performance.”

Russell Hayes was not doing as well. He sat on a bench down the hallway, his head in his hands. Judy went to him. He leaned against her, and she gently rubbed his back.

“He’s falling apart,” she said to Mary Duncan, Russell’s aunt, a few moments later. As Mrs. Duncan started toward him, Judy stopped her. “He wants to be alone, he really does. He’s been so strong for so long. I said, “Well, fall apart.’ I’ve done enough falling apart. It’s his turn.”

Judy knew a pre-sentencing investigation recommended 18 months in prison. There was little hope that Coe would impose a lighter sentence. She did not want to go to prison, she said. She wanted to be with Rusty, now 5 months old. “The baby needs his mother. And I need him.”

By now, Mary and Raymond Duncan were so sure they would get temporary custody of Rusty, Mrs. Duncan had furnished the second bedroom in their Tampa apartment with a baby bed, clothes and toys. Judy and Russell bought things for the baby, too. Russell showed off pictures of his son. One showed Rusty asleep on Judy’s shoulder.

It was time, Mrs. Duncan thought, for him to come home.

Moments before Judy’s case was called, she and Russell stood together in the middle of the busy hallway. They embraced and spoke in low tones to one another.

The bailiff gestured. Judy stiffened. Crowd around me, she told her friends, leaning forward slightly. They circled around her and moved into the courtroom. She hated those television cameras.

Judy had one last, faint hope for leniency. Witnesses not allowed to testify at trials often are allowed to testify at sentencing hearings. Tampa psychiatrist Michael Maher, who had evaluated Judy and other women who had abandoned their babies, was permitted to present to Coe his theories about unacknowledged pregnancy and about Judy. The first day of the trial, Coe had disallowed an insanity defense built on Maher’s testimony.

As Maher spoke in clear, declarative tones, occasionally gesturing neatly with his hands, the courtroom grew exceptionally quiet.

Maher explained how some women, under very special and unusual circumstances, could continue through their pregnancies without a “conscious awareness of her pregnancy.”

Coe was skeptical but intrigued.

A partial account of the exchange between the psychiatrist and the judge revealed two opposing views of the crime:

“Do you think that is a reasonable possibility in a 7-pound, 7-ounce child, with a thin defendant?” Coe said. “She would not know that she was pregnant?”

“Yes, I do,” Maher said. “It’s my opinion that she had no awareness until after the actual delivery.” Other women who experienced unacknowledged pregnancies often had at least some vaginal bleeding, some semblance of menstrual periods, during their pregnancies. Judy Pemberton did not _ but, at 42, she thought she was in menopause.

Judy’s lack of awareness of her pregnancy, Maher continued, “sets the stage for a traumatic delivery. . . . She identified her menstrual cramping and thought, “Well, maybe I am going to have my period again.’ She gave me no indication whatsoever that it even occurred to her that she might be going into labor at that point.

“At approximately 4 o’clock in the afternoon, I would estimate, she went into the end stages of labor and delivered this infant after going to the bathroom, expecting to relieve herself.

“Given that she had no conscious awareness of this pregnancy until that time, that put her in a state of psychic shock that I would characterize technically as a severe dissociative reaction _ somewhat similar to psychosis but not exactly the same, the sort of reaction people describe in a near-death situation, where they feel they are out of their body looking at what is happening as an observer.”

“What do you call this lack of memory?” Coe asked.

“Dissociative reaction.”

“When she says she doesn’t remember, is that the dissociative reaction?”

“Yes, basically.”

“Can a dissociative reaction be selective? Can you remember one thing and not remember another?”

“Yes. A dissociative reaction includes an element of amnesia . . . but even more prominent, a confusion about the events.”

“Well, I’m trying to understand,” Coe said patiently. “She cannot remember having a child and not remember leaving it at the dumpster, but yet remember going to the store . . . and a week later does remember the child. Does that all make sense to you?”

“Yes, and I think I can explain in the context of circumstances that were forcing her to accept that this was not a dream, this was reality, and that her internal awareness was developing. . . . As that process continued, she was developing an acceptance of the infant.”

Coe frowned. “When did this happen? When?”

“Probably a couple of days prior to when she was arrested, but really when she was arrested, when the police came to her home (and) confronted her with the evidence.”

“How can you then explain this?” Coe asked. “It looks selective to me. There is no consistency there. . . . She does something that is very logical but then something that is very unlogical. . . . She ties off the cord but yet dumps the baby. She dumps the baby but yet goes back to check. You know . . . her reactions seem to say she can have it both ways.”

“It fits the pattern of these situations,” Maher said. “The person suffering will often wander around the area, will return to the area out of some feeling that that is necessary.”

“But still did nothing to correct the situation?”


Maher explained that Judy was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the result of an “out of the ordinary experience, not simply losing a job or something like that. It’s also associated with thoughts and memories and confusion and anxiety about the traumatic event, disturbing dreams about it, that sort of thing.

“She has a mild form of this disorder, and she is recovering from it quite well. . . . She has to accept the ultimate responsibility for this. In my opinion she is doing that.”

“Well,” Coe said, raising his arms, “given all that you say is true, why wouldn’t she come in here and say, “I did it and I am sorry?’ Why is she trying to alibi out of it? Why wouldn’t she say, “There is no excuse for it and I am sorry,’ if that is the truth?”

“Because _ " Maher began.

“Why didn’t she take the stand and say, “This happened and I am sorry that it happened and it’s terrible and I will suffer the consequences?’ Why wouldn’t she do that if she is such a fine person?”

“I don’t know, but I can tell you a very important part of that, which is _ "

" _ “Let me tell you why I did it,’ " Coe interrupted. " “I did it because of the disassociative reaction, I was not in my right mind, I shouldn’t have done it that way. I am sorry I did it that way, and I am ready to suffer the consequences?’ "

“Because she doesn’t know it and understand it that clearly yet. . . . When I have talked to her about this in my office, she blames herself and feels guilty and denigrates herself because of this. It’s clear to me she feels responsible . . . but because of her confused memory, lack of awareness, because of her lack of conscience _ "

“Well, I am not quite sure. Here we are having it both ways. Does she remember this or not today?”

“Not in the way you and I would remember an event in our past. She remembers it still with this veil of dreamlike confusion. . . . "

“How can she then say to the police, first, “I know nothing about it, it wasn’t my child,’ and then, “Yes it’s my child?’ "

“Because her memory of it changed during that period of time.”

“It seems to change for the best.”

Donerly saw that Coe seemed to be losing patience. Donerly interjected, “Judy, in terms of showing regret, I think she has.”

“When? When? When?” Coe asked, leaning forward. “Point it out to me.”

“In my office, crying, collapsed on a couch. . . . In her sessions with Dr. Maher and in multiple conversations with me and Mrs. Wilson over the last months,” Donerly said.

Judy stood, leaning weakly against Russell or Marci. “I’m going to faint,” she whispered to Marci. “I’m going to prison.”

Later, Wilson, attempting to show the extent of Maher’s belief in Judy, asked Maher whether he would recommend that Judy have her child “now, sometime or never.”

“Sometime,” Maher responded, “probably after appropriate evaluation.”

“How can you say that?” Coe shouted, leaning forward again. “How in the world? That escapes me. Somebody can do something like that, even assuming there is a justification for it, and you can say, “Let them have another shot at it?’ "

The courtroom rang with laughter.

“Yes.” Maher held his ground.

“Is there any possible way to say she wants that child? . . . Why doesn’t she react by loving the child?”

“She had very, very strong, opposite feelings.”

“Why? Why? Why? It’s very simple. She didn’t want the child because it was very disruptive of her life. She had enough reason to reason that out.”

“Well,” Maher said, “I would say that she had an irrational fear that the child would mean that she would be abandoned.”

Could Maher predict, yes or no, whether the baby was emotionally harmed by having spent the first hour or two of his life by a dumpster, abandoned by his mother?

No, Maher replied, he could not predict.

“So,” Coe said, “it wouldn’t bother you if we took every child out of Tampa General Hospital and put them by the dumpster for two weeks. You don’t think they would be harmed at all?”

“Sir, I would certainly not agree with that.”

“Of course not.”

Maher testified for about 20 minutes. Then everyone else was heard. Guerra argued for Coe to exceed the recommended sentence based on the vulnerability of the victim _ a newborn infant left “with no food, to the elements, animals. . . . "

The defense and the baby’s court-appointed guardian pleaded for a more workable situation. Judy would be devastated by prison; it would serve no purpose to put her behind bars. Or if she did go to prison, she probably would not serve more than a year. Then she would probably reunite with Russell. Russell could gain custody of his child right now. So Judy, in effect, would have her child with no controls, no guidance from HRS, no court-ordered counseling.

After everyone had made their recommendations, there was a moment of silence. Judy stared at the ground. Coe began to speak.

Maher’s presentation was excellent, he said. But “I don’t believe for a minute that she (didn’t know she was) pregnant, and I do not believe for a minute that she did not know what she was doing.”

Russell bowed his head and leaned forward on one arm.

“She most certainly knew what she was doing. It was a cold, calculated act,” Coe continued. “Only when confronted with overwhelming evidence did she admit the child was hers. There are circumstances and factors that justify me going outside the guidelines _ the nature of the crime, the emotional trauma at a young age, the breach of trust. . . . All of this dictates that she receives the maximum possible sentence. I find myself hard pressed to find any compassion for somebody that thinks more of their cat than they do of their own child.

“I sentence her to five years in the Florida State Prison.”

Russell turned and ran out of the courtroom.

Donerly and Wilson quickly asked that Judy be allowed to report to jail the next Tuesday, so that she could attend Rusty’s custody hearing on Monday. Coe asked for Russell. Russell composed himself and came back into the courtroom. Coe established that Russell was a Tampa native and resident and would help assure Judy would not leave town.

“Well, I certainly commend you, sir,” Coe said. “You have stuck by her and your child, and I commend you. Nothing that has been said or done here reflects on you.”

Coe agreed to let Judy stay out of jail.

Court was dismissed.

People flooded the courtroom. Russell fell into the arms of a friend, sobbing. Judy collapsed on a bench, buried her head in her arms and said, “I’m not gonna go to any prison, because I’ll be dead by this weekend, you can guarantee it.”

There was no trace of the calm, rational Judy of an hour before. She didn’t listen to anyone who tried to comfort her. She refused to get up for 10 minutes. Then Russell guided her out of the courtroom. When she got into the hallway, she stopped dead in her tracks. Russell tried to coax her forward. She yelled at him. She pulled away from him, he pulled her back. She wouldn’t move her feet, so they slid along the floor, her body slanted away from Russell. A television cameraman filmed it all.

Other cameras waited outside. Judy wouldn’t leave the building. She threatened to kill herself. She shouted at Russell, who finally surrounded her against a wall between his arms.

“You’re acting like a child!” he yelled. “I’ve been here all along, haven’t I? And I’m gonna be here for you!”

Judy escaped and ducked into the elevator. She retreated to Wilson’s fifth-floor office, then returned several minutes later. She finally walked toward the door. In her little-girl voice, she stared ahead, and said, “Judge Coe said I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t.”

Nov. 9, 1989, 5 p.m. Three small bowls lie scattered on the concrete floor outside her apartment door. They are for her cats and any other cats that come by, for she cannot turn away a stray animal. On that, even her critics agree. Right now, the bowls are empty. There are no cats in sight.

Judy Pemberton answers the door, wearing an oversized orange Florida Gators sweat shirt and royal blue sweat pants. Russell sits cross-legged on the living room floor, absorbed in a Nintendo game that Judy gave him for Christmas 1988. He looks up, smiles, says hi, and goes back to the game.

“He’s addicted,” Judy says, grinning at him.

She shows off their new home, a two-bedroom, third-floor apartment they moved to last summer. It is clean, orderly and modestly furnished, except for some antiques handed down from Judy’s family: an imposing four-poster bed and vanity that swallow the small spare bedroom; a 1920s-era couch with velvet upholstery and curved, wooden legs; a 1922 Singer sewing machine.

In the kitchen, scores of decorative magnets pepper the freezer section of the refrigerator. In the living room is Russell’s collection of sports mugs, neatly lined on shelves. Small, framed photographs of family members fill a small table nearby.

One photo shows Judy and Russell next to a sign reading “Bermuda Star Line, Vera Cruz.” It was taken as they left on a Mexico cruise at Christmas, 1988 _ when, she says, she was five months pregnant and did not know it. Judy is wearing the same striped jump suit she wore the day she was arrested.

“I threw it out,” she says. “I would have burned it, but I didn’t have any gasoline.”

The remark is evidence of the stress of the past six months. Judy still faces five years in prison, but Coe released her on her own recognizance while her case is appealed, which could take up to two years.

On Sept. 23, Hillsborough Juvenile Judge Vincent Giglio granted temporary custody of the baby, Russell Raymond Hayes, to Mary and Raymond Duncan. The court allowed Judy and Russell unlimited, supervised visits with the baby. Giglio also ordered them to take parenting classes, which they attend weekly. He did not address whether Judy and Russell can get custody; HRS says it is possible one day. After the hearing, Russell beamed. Judy jumped up and down. “I get to see my baby every day!” she said.

All of that is now six weeks past. Judy and Russell are trying to get on with their lives. Russell still works at the restaurant making pasta and doing other jobs. Judy has a part-time minimum wage job. The couple never had a great deal of money. But the long legal ordeal and Judy’s inability to work for several months have depleted their finances.

Judy and Russell share a 1987 Chevy Sprint with a broken back window covered with plastic. Bill collectors call. They have no medical insurance; Judy has yet to see a medical doctor or psychiatrist. She says she can’t afford it.

Judy’s family, except for her sister-in-law Marci Gilbert, still shun her. “They don’t understand why I did such a thing. I don’t, either,” she says. “My family, this is the way they are: They have to make up their own mind at their own pace. I’ve just learned to stay away from them.”

She introduces one of her cats, Morris, an orange tabby, cradling him in her arms for a moment. She looks around for Baby, and finds him in the bathroom cupboard. “There you are!” she says, gently picking up the black cat. “This is his favorite hiding spot.”

Judy sinks into an easy chair and tucks her bare feet beneath her. Lamp light falls kindly on her face. She wears little makeup. Her eyes are deep set and close together, the rims a bit red. Freckles that refuse to fade with age cover her face. She is plump, as she was during her pregnancy.

Russell gets up. “Why don’t you stay?” she asks. It is more like a polite plea. Russell says “No,” softly, then goes into the bedroom. A 5 o’clock news program blares on the television. Judy gets up, clicks off the TV, then returns to her chair.

She is suddenly nervous, knowing the conversation will veer from antiques, cats and bowling to the abandonment. She says she is afraid talking will hurt her case, her chances of getting custody of Rusty. She also is shell-shocked by the media attention she has received.

But beyond that, there appears to be in her a mountain of resistance about the abandonment, a sense that despite all that has happened, she has yet to emotionally confront and resolve what she did. She admits to the crime, she expresses remorse, but as she sits talking, her words seem weightless. She seems robotic. Her occasional hostile remarks when anyone mentions the baby suggest she still denies, hoping that if she denies long enough, all of this will go away, and life can be as it was before this thing happened to her.

She answers questions with full eye contact, but her answers seem flat, lacking emotion. Her voice is girlish, a voice you can imagine talking to stuffed animals.

She grew up in Temple Terrace, less than two miles away. She was a tomboy, always closer to her father and three brothers, who spoiled her, than her mother and two sisters. In high school, she was the kind of student you can’t quite remember years later. “I went to school and went home,” she says. “I kept to myself.” Her father died 16 years ago; her mother died a few months before Rusty was born.

Judy graduated from King High School in 1964. She joined the Navy in 1965. She did well; she was a hospital corpsman (a medic) and reached the rank of E-5 (E-8 is the highest enlisted rank). While in basic training at Parris Island, S.C., she met Russell Pemberton, a Marine. They married in 1966.

Pemberton was “good lookin’, very good lookin’,” Judy says. “He was one of the beautiful people.” But the marriage was unhappy, almost from the beginning. “Families, birthdays and Christmas, they mean a lot to me,” she says. But not to Pemberton. “His opinion of birthdays is it’s no big deal being born. Christmas is no big deal because it’s Christ’s birthday, not yours. I rarely got a present from him. With Mother’s Day, he’d say, “You’re not my mother.’ Things like that, that’s really, you know, gee whiz.”

Their daughter was born in 1969. Three years later, the family moved to Europe for seven years. Pemberton, a career Marine by then, left the family frequently on military trips, sometimes for long periods of time. Their relationship was unhealthy for Judy, but for years, she denied it.

The marriage ended one night in September 1987 in a scene Judy barely describes. She only says that when her husband packed up to leave for his girlfriend’s for the night, “I said, “This is ridiculous, I’m outta here.’

“I couldn’t understand why I stayed in that relationship so long. Then it dawned on me,” she says, her voice childlike and trusting. “Well, obviously, I had to wait for Russell to grow up. I didn’t know that, but they say God has a plan for us. That was mine. That’s the only thing I can figure.”

Sitting there, her hands resting in her lap, Judy seems every bit her 43 years. She is mature, rational, ordinary. Yet six months before, she left her baby in a box by a dumpster. She looks mystified by this. She frowns slightly, as if trying to discern why someone else she doesn’t know did that. She still says she remembers only bits and pieces about the day the baby was born. She slowly shakes her head when asked why she cleaned up the baby, tied the umbilical cord _ and then left him, possibly, to die.

Did she mean for him to be found?

She just doesn’t know.

“There must have been some part of me that wanted not to (throw the baby in the dumpster),” she said. “I feel at that point in time there were probably two Judys that existed, like you see in cartoons, the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. Maybe that’s part of it. I’m sure there is a bad part in me somewhere.”

Psychiatrist Michael Maher, who evaluated Judy after the abandonment, pointed out to Judy that she risked her own health. The day after she gave birth, she went to work, and four days later she bowled with a 15-pound bowling ball. “I coulda died,” she said. “I mean, that’s scary.”

Her two nights in the jail were just as scary, she says. “People coming and going, loud noises. Other people sat across the jail, they would look at me, and talk to each other and point. I just stayed to myself, I thought, “They make one move toward me, I’m gonna go up to the guard.’ They would bring newspaper articles up to me, but I wouldn’t look at them, ‘cause I just wanted nothing to do with them.”

She doesn’t remember much about testifying. She doesn’t remember caressing the VCR box that was placed next to her on the stand. She listens to her statement to the police the day she was arrested read aloud. Nooo, she shakes her head again, at the part saying she checked later on the baby. “I’m pretty sure I didn’t say that. I was just going to do laundry.”

But when shown the police report, she responds, “Yeah, I suppose it’s possible. . . . "

She does remember sticking out her tongue at a photographer. “That, believe it or not, is the extent of my bad nature _ sticking my tongue out as I walk away from a fight.”

What makes the least sense is that she abandoned the child of the nicest man she had ever known, a man she lived with and would soon marry. Why? She shakes her head, again. “It was an awful thing to do, an awful thing to do to Russell, you know. As crazy as I am about him, why wouldn’t I be crazy about his child?

“I’ve often thought _ well, you’ve seen that rocking chair,” she gestures toward the spare bedroom, “I’ve thought, if I could have just had any sort of sense about me, any awareness, knowledge of what was going on, and be sitting there in the rocking chair when Russell came home _ what a sight that would have been. He probably would have passed out, I’m sure. That would have been terrific, if it just would have happened that way. Or if someone had been around. But you know, I was there all by myself.

“How could something like this happen to a person? Not know you’re pregnant? Some people say, “Well, at your age, you weren’t married, you wouldn’t have Russell’s child.’ That’s absolutely ridiculous, the way I feel about him? I wouldn’t have cared diddly squat what anybody else thought about it.”

Since Judy abandoned her baby, five other women have abandoned their babies in the Tampa Bay area. Two babies were found alive in dumpsters by passers-by. Another was left, wrapped carefully in aprons, outside a New Port Richey nursing home.

On Oct. 23, Claire Moritt, an 18-year-old freshman at Hillsborough Community College, locked herself in the dormitory bathroom and gave birth to a full-term baby boy. The baby was later found dead in the toilet. Her friends in the dorm did not know what had happened until it was too late.

Judy followed news accounts about Moritt, who is charged with first-degree murder. Her trial is scheduled to begin in March in Tampa.

A year ago, Judy would have condemned Moritt, just as Judy has been condemned. Not now.

“I thought, “I hope they’re not too tough on her.’ Since I’ve been all through this, I’ve learned that when something like this happens, don’t judge them. There can be a lot of circumstances that can lead up to it. Anymore, I don’t judge. I’m more tolerant of a lot of things. And people.”

Is she a criminal? “Obviously, I must be. I did the act. But I’m not a bad person. I’m not the monster that most of the media made me out to be. There’s a lot more to me than the things you saw on TV.”

Moritt’s baby died. “Mine lived. He could’ve died, yeah. I see him every day, the thought of that happening is just. . . . " She pauses. “It’s just not acceptable at all.”

It is nearly 7 p.m. Judy and Russell are going to the Duncans’ nearby to see Rusty, as they do most every night. Judy, instantly at ease with safer subjects, shows a flowery greeting card, handling it as if it were a treasure. Inside, Russell’s small handwriting asks, “Will you be my wife?”

Judy then flips through a pile of photos. She stops at one.

“This is my favorite,” she says.

Rusty is lying on the couch, Russell is leaning over his son. They are laughing, looking into one another’s eyes.

“We’re pretty sure he’s gonna grow up to be a terror,” Judy says. “Russell says he’s gonna grow up to be mean and ornery. I said, “I hope so.’ I just like ornery children, it shows a lot of spirit.

“I call him Sugar Bear. He’s my Sugar Bear. I’ll walk in and say, “Hi Sugar Bear,’ and he’s all smiles. He reached for me one time a couple weeks ago. Oh God. It was wonderful.”

Judy says she hopes Rusty never has to know about the day he was born. She hopes that by then, no one will remember it. But when she and the Duncans took the baby to the bowling alley, someone called Channel 10. The TV station contacted HRS, which determined there were no violations.

Yes, it’s possible someone will say something. Or Rusty will ask questions.

“I’d just tell him there was a big mistake made,” Judy says. “You know. Something happened.”

On Jan. 6, 1990 Judy Pemberton and Russell Hayes were married in a small, civil ceremony. The guests were a friend of Russell’s, Raymond and Mary Duncan and Russell Raymond Hayes.


In many ways, 18 months later, things seem frozen in time. Judy’s case is still on appeal. Raymond and Mary Duncan still have temporary custody of Russell Raymond, who will be 2 on April 27. Russell Hayes continues his steadfast loyalty to Judy. “We’re still crazy about one another,” Judy says. “We miss each other when we go to work. We tell each other “I love you’ about a dozen times a day.” Russell is serving his two-week National Guard training in Starke.

Today Russell and Judy Hayes are trying “to get our lives back to normal,” Judy says. She works at a fast-food restaurant. Russell works as a supervisor at a Tampa restaurant. At least once a week, they visit their son at the Duncans’ home in Tampa.

The past 18 months have been difficult. Russell and Judy have had severe financial problems. Both of their cars were repossessed. For a long time, they couldn’t afford a phone. Judy has not sought the counseling recommended by a psychiatrist who evaluated her after her arrest. She says now that Russell’s insurance may pay for it, she plans to begin. They have a phone and a car once again.

Though there is tension at times between the Duncans and Judy and Russell, the four have managed to negotiate a reasonable coexistence focused on little Russell. The Duncans are putting money away for the boy’s education. Judy and Russell are also saving money for his college education through a stock plan at the company where Russell works, Judy says.

“We want him to go to Notre Dame,” she says.

Little Russell is doing fine, says Mary Duncan.

“He’s talking! Yesterday, I said, “Wanna go outside?’ and he said, “Who, me?’ He goes down the slide all by himself now. He can almost do a somersault, and ride his tricycle.”

The writer: Sheryl James, 39, is a writer for the Times Floridian section. A native of Detroit and a graduate of Eastern Michigan University, she wrote for the Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record before coming to the Times in 1986. She lives with her husband and daughter in St. Petersburg. The information in this series was gathered from interviews, court files, transcripts and police records. Some quotes are taken from transcripts; other conversations and thoughts are taken from people’s recollections.

• • •

‘A gift abandoned’ series

Day 1: Jack-in-the-box

Day 2: “Love me, don’t leave me’

Day 3: Taking the stand