A case pitting two mothers against each other over the parenthood of a baby was resolved without harm to the child, but one Honduran immigrant has spent the summer in jail, lost his lucrative painting job and could face deportation as a result of the incident.
Wilson Canan-Cruz, 25, pleaded guilty Friday to kidnapping and filing a false police report and was sentenced to six months active plus 2 1/2 additional years in suspended jail time.
"It was an extreme family situation," Pamela Johnson, Canan-Cruz’s attorney, told The Daily Progress after the hearing in Albemarle County Circuit Court.
In court, Canan-Cruz was described as both an uncle and an alleged abductor to a baby girl that he and his girlfriend were supposed to be temporarily keep at their Wilton Farm Road apartment. County police were dispatched there on April 23 after Canan-Cruz and his girlfriend, 34-year-old Catherine Ortiz-Caridad, reported that a woman was trying to take "their" child.
As it turned out, a DNA test showed the baby’s real mother was a woman described in court by the initials M.S.O., who had given birth in Honduras and paid $4,000 to have the baby brought across the border while she established herself in Pennsylvania.
After getting settled, according to prosecutor Alicia Milligan, M.S.O. began contacting the Albemarle couple to arrange pickup. But over the course of about a month, Milligan said, M.S.O. would receive ominous text messages containing excuses delaying her quest to retrieve her little girl, named in court papers only as E.M.S.
"The messages were threatening in nature," according to a detective’s report. "The messages further conveyed that if [M.S.O.] tried to take E.M.S. back, Catherine and Wilson would call the police on her."
They followed through on that with one report to police by Ortiz-Caridad on April 19 and then another when M.S.O. showed up in person to retrieve her child, the prosecutor said.
"They told M.S.O. that the baby was no longer hers," said Milligan.
Officers placed the then 11-month-old in the custody of a foster family while DNA testing was undertaken. On the afternoon of May 15, the couple was arrested and charged with kidnapping and filing false police reports.
While her young boyfriend’s prior experience with the courts consists solely of roadway infractions — including driving without a license and a reckless conviction for going 95 in a 65 mph zone — the older girlfriend has a longer record.
Court documents indicate that Ortiz-Caridad has an array of criminal convictions including assault, forgery, domestic battery and six parole violations.
"Many of her answers follow a long pause, as if she’s considering how to answer," wrote the magistrate processing her kidnapping arrest. "Considering the nature and circumstance of the crime alleged, I don’t trust that she will go to court."
Ortiz-Caridad was held without bail until mid-July, at which point she was permitted to wear an ankle monitor for what’s called home electronic incarceration. She was not present in court Friday, but court records indicate that she is slated to offer a plea of her own next month.
During Friday’s hearing, Johnson the defense attorney suggested that her client Canan-Cruz was not the instigator in this case but conceded that he participated in keeping a baby from her mother.
"Yes, he did make a false story to the police," said Johnson. "He does admit that the child is not his."
She added that unlike the conventional notion of a kidnapping case, there was neither ransom nor any physical harm to the child.
"They just wanted to keep the baby," said Johnson.
An interpreter was present to translate the English courtroom proceedings into Spanish, but Canan-Cruz seemed to understand things his lawyer said in English, and the judge asked about his English comprehension
"I’m working toward learning," Canan-Cruz answered in English.
Court papers indicate that he was working more than 60 hours per week as a painter at a rate of $20 per hour and taking home about $1,000 per week at the time of his arrest. But, he reported, his current incarceration at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail put his income on hold.
The plea agreement puts all six months of active jail time on his misdemeanor conviction, a 12-month sentence for filing a false police report. The agreement calls for two years of jail time on the kidnapping charge, a felony, with all time suspended. And it demands 10 years of good behavior plus a two-year protective order against contacting the real mom.
"She continues to suffer nightmares and lives in fear of the defendant and Ms. Ortiz," Milligan told the court.
While the judge promised to issue credit for time served, which might lead to an autumn release for the man standing before him in a jail-issue jumpsuit, Worrell mentioned several times during the sentencing hearing that a felony conviction could lead to deportation. And while Canan-Cruz’s citizenship status was not specified in court, his attorney Johnson expressed afterwards that while he may not yet have citizenship, he does have a right to be in the United States due to a green card.
"I hope it goes well for him," Johnson said.