A federal judge in Houston has affirmed a jury’s guilty verdict last month for a Brazilian couple tried on allegations that they helped their daughter in the international kidnapping of their 8-year-old grandson, in a case that garnered widespread attention from top officials in two countries.
Following the guilty verdict, defense lawyers had asked the judge to reconsider the verdict.
U.S. District Judge Alfred Bennett ruled Monday that a reasonable juror could have concluded beyond a reasonable doubt the husband and wife helped kidnap their grandson.
A reasonable juror, he said, could also have concluded based on the majority of the evidence that their daughter, codefendant Marcelle Guimaraes, was not fleeing a pattern or incident of domestic violence when she left Houston with the boy in 2013 and settled in Brazil. This so-called “affirmative defense” — that they had reason to believe she was in danger — could have effectively canceled out the kidnapping charges against them, which is what defense lawyers had asked the judge to do.
Defense attorneys Rusty Hardin and Jimmy Ardoin, who represent the boy’s grandfather and grandmother, respectively, declined to comment on the ruling.
On May 25, the jury found Carlos, 67, and his wife Jemima Guimaraes, 66, guilty of helping in an international parental kidnapping. The jury acquitted them both of conspiracy to kidnap the child.
Appeals to Congress
The jury verdict followed a three-week trial in which the boy’s father, a physician at Baylor College of Medicine, testified at length about his turbulent relationship with the child’s mother, who worked at an investment firm. In 2013, she violated their joint custody agreement in Harris County when she took their son to a family wedding in Brazil and never returned.
In the years she has been gone, state and federal courts in both countries have taken up the question of where the boy, Nico Brann, should live.
After the verdict, the judge indicated that he had questions about the decision he was willing to consider. Upon receiving the verdict slip from the jury foreman, Bennett sat looking at the paper for several minutes before reading it aloud. He did not formally accept the jury’s decision. Instead, he explained, once the jury had left the room, that he needed time to consider defense attorneys’ request that the grandparents should be cleared based on their argument that their daughter was fleeing domestic violence.
“As the judge of this court, I have to make a determination if judgment notwithstanding the verdict is appropriate,” Bennett told the lawyers. “I want to think on it.”
The child’s father, Dr. Christopher Brann, sought intervention from judges, diplomats and politicians in a five-year campaign to bring his son Nico back to Houston. The physician testified in Congress shortly before the trial and the bipartisan Senate Judiciary Committee, including U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas, released a letter during the trial urging the Trump administration to “use every possible tool” to bring the boy back.
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The federal court in Brazil determined the child should remain there with his mother. That ruling is on appeal.
Despite the rulings by Brazil’s courts, Brazil’s attorney general filed court documents supporting the U.S. stance that it should determine custody in this case.
Felipe Costi Santarosa, deputy consul general for Brazil, explained in an email, “The government of Brazil agrees that, in this case, according to the Hague Convention, it is for the U.S. (courts) to determine custody.”
Beyond the particulars of the Guimaraes trial, Costi Santarosa said there are deeper issues that should be considered, broadly, in international custody disputes.
“It is important to see that there is a much bigger structural problem behind this case and other similar ones,” he said.
“In times of the #metoo movement,” he said, “one must not only look to work abuses, but also to domestic misconduct against women.”
After trying the courts and diplomatic avenues, Brann reported what the executive branches of the U.S. and Brazil both consider a parental abduction to the FBI in 2015, which led to a criminal indictment.
His ex-wife, who was indicted along with her parents, is still facing trial in the case. She is considered a fugitive and remains in Brazil.
The Guimaraes are set for sentencing on Aug. 2.
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