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In re B.C.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 20, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF B.C., Minor Child, H.C., Guardian, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Story County, Stephen A. Owen, District Associate Judge.

         A guardian appeals the district court's dismissal of his petition to terminate a mother's parental rights under Iowa Code chapter 600A (2018).

          Joel T.S. Greer of Cartwright Druker & Ryden, Marshalltown, for appellant.

          Larry Pettigrew of Pettigrew Law Firm, P.C., Ankeny, for appellee.

          Heard by Doyle, P.J., and Mullins and McDonald, JJ, but decided by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

         Mark, guardian of B.C., appeals the district court's dismissal of his petition for termination of the parental rights of B.C.'s mother, Candace, under Iowa Code chapter 600A (2018), upon its conclusion termination would not be in the child's best interests. He argues the court's "best-interests determination was premised on an inaccurate account of the record and on an erroneous application of the law to the unique facts of this case."

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         Upon our de novo review of the record, we make the following factual findings. Jesse and Candace were a married couple. Their marriage produced two children, B.C. and M.C.[1] On October 21, 2016, Candace shot and killed Jesse while he slept. B.C. and M.C. were in the next room at the time. Candace initially claimed it was an accident but ultimately confessed otherwise. She was arrested. The children went to live with their paternal grandfather, Mark, and his wife, LaRae. Initially, the children visited Candace in jail. Candace also kept in contact with the children by phone and written correspondence.

         In December, Mark and LaRae were appointed as guardians of B.C. and M.C. B.C. has not had contact with Candace in person or over the phone since January 2017, shortly after the guardians were appointed. Around this time, Candace continued to make attempts to contact B.C. by phone, but B.C. ignored her calls and shortly thereafter got a new cell phone number, which no one provided to Candace. Candace discontinued her attempts to call B.C. in March. Candace continued to send B.C. written correspondence through August, but her letters were not answered or returned.

         In July, a jury found Candace guilty of voluntary manslaughter. In August, Candace was sentenced to an indeterminate term of incarceration not to exceed ten years. Candace was eligible for parole at the time of the termination trial, and her tentative discharge date is in May 2021. B.C. will reach the age of majority in November 2021. At the time of sentencing, B.C. and M.C. requested no-contact orders be entered; the sentencing court denied their request. However, in September 2017, a detective with the Ames Police Department sent a letter to Candace stating the following:

I am writing on behalf of your children, [M.C.] and [B.C.]. They have asked me to inform you that they do not want any contact from you or your family in any form, which includes but is not limited to: face-to-face contact, written communication via letter, email, or text message, any phone contact, any contact via a social media platform, or any other form of communication or 3rd party contact. If you do contact them, you could face a criminal charge.

         The detective sent similar letters to several of the children's maternal relatives. As a result of this letter, Candace discontinued her efforts at contacting the children. She was also unable to contact Mark and LaRae, as they are registered victims of her crime. While in prison, Candace has participated in seven classes relative to domestic violence, emotional support, and her behavior. She regularly attends a book club and church.

In April 2018, Mark filed a petition to terminate Candace's parental rights to B.C. for abandonment under Iowa Code section 600A.8(3)(b). Thereafter, Candace reinitiated contact with the children, discovering after receiving notice of the petition that she could not be prevented by law enforcement from contacting her children. Trial was held in July 2018. The guardian ...

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