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Tampa mom accused of kidnapping children showed signs of abuse, lawyer says

Sharyn Hakken appears in court before Judge Chet Tharpe on June 17. A new court filing suggests Hakken showed signs of physical abuse before she and her husband kidnapped their children and fled to Cuba.
Sharyn Hakken appears in court before Judge Chet Tharpe on June 17. A new court filing suggests Hakken showed signs of physical abuse before she and her husband kidnapped their children and fled to Cuba.
Published Aug. 10, 2013

TAMPA — New court documents filed in the case of Joshua and Sharyn Hakken, the Tampa couple charged with kidnapping their children and fleeing to Cuba, indicate Sharyn Hakken showed signs of physical abuse when encountered by Louisiana police officers last year.

The Louisiana incident — which led to drug charges against Joshua Hakken and set off a chain of bizarre events culminating in the alleged abduction of the couple's two boys — began when police were called to a hotel outside New Orleans. Sharyn Hakken was running down a hallway, screaming and knocking on doors, police said.

The Hakkens and their attorneys mostly have been silent about that night last summer, citing in part Sharyn Hakken's assertion that she lost consciousness and did not recall interacting with police. The picture of the Hakkens that has emerged for public consumption is of a couple united by their interest in antigovernment conspiracy theories and anger at their loss of parental rights.

But in a motion filed Thursday in Hillsborough Circuit Court, Sharyn Hakken's attorney, Bryant Camareno of Tampa, states there were "injuries found on Sharyn Hakken" and that she underwent "involuntary commitment" for mental instability even as her husband was arrested. The motion asks prosecutors to turn over medical records and photographs of her injuries from the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services.

At the time of her commitment, Sharyn Hakken was with her husband and two sons, 4-year-old Cole and 2-year-old Chase. In an interview Friday, Camareno said the "injuries" referred to in his motion were "bruising on her body and two black eyes."

He declined to comment on whether Sharyn Hakken, 34, had been abused by her husband, who is 35. Prosecutors and defense lawyers are barred from discussing evidence they have reviewed in the case until Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe approves its release.

Camareno took pains to note that he and Joshua Hakken's attorney, Jorge Chalela, are still cooperating on the case. But he pointed out that suggestions of domestic violence could change the legal terrain for Sharyn Hakken, if not for her husband.

Speaking hypothetically, Camareno said, "If … those injuries were the result of a domestic scenario, why is she being punished for that?"

The Slidell Police Department, which took the Hakkens into custody last year, did not return calls for comment. In previous statements, Slidell police have said Joshua Hakken was charged with marijuana possession and related charges but did not mention domestic violence.

The Hills­borough County Sheriff's Office declined to comment, citing the pending criminal case.

Clearwater criminal defense lawyer Douglas deVlaming said compelling evidence that Sharyn Hakken was abused by her husband could bolster a "defense of duress" — the common-law concept that those forced into criminal acts should not always be prosecuted. Such a defense would probably be more successful, deVlaming said, if Sharyn Hakken agrees to cooperate with prosecutors and point the finger at her husband.

"A lot is going to depend on whether or not she is going to cooperate with authorities," deVlaming said. "They may look at it and say, 'We understand she wasn't the impetus behind this.' "

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The Hakkens are each charged with felonies including kidnapping and child abuse. In April they kidnapped their children, who were staying with Sharyn Hakken's mother, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. The family then boarded a sailboat in Madeira Beach and fled to Cuba, the Sheriff's Office said.

After being apprehended near Havana, the Hakkens were flown back to Florida and arrested. They are now being held at the Falkenburg Road Jail, awaiting trial. Cole and Chase were sent to live with their grandparents.

At the time of the Cuba trip, a Louisiana court had just terminated the Hakkens' parental rights. The decision stemmed from the hotel incident in June 2012, and from another episode two weeks later, when Joshua Hakken showed up with a gun at a Louisiana foster home demanding that his boys be returned.

The Hakkens are home-schooling enthusiasts whose leeriness of government extends to vaccinations and even the exhaust trails of airplanes, according to their attorneys. (The latter fear of so-called "chemtrails" secretly spread from the skies by government agents is popular among some tea party activists.)

Their attorneys have said they were seeking "asylum" in Cuba because they feared they and their sons were in danger from U.S. government officials.

Peter Jamison can be reached at pjamison@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3337. Follow him on Twitter @petejamison.


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