Indian Takers

A war for custody of 4-year-old Raven Laws includes a spurious Alabama tribe

A judge ordered her back to jail for a few months.

Marty Laws tried briefly to take care of his daughter, but he had other pressing matters, including a trial scheduled that summer on a methamphetamine possession charge (he was convicted and placed on probation).

Laws asked the Bessingers if they would take Raven back, which they gladly did.

Shelly Walters visited her daughter weekly at Embrace after she got out of jail in the summer of 2005. But she wasn't in control of the situation — the Bessingers and Marty Laws were.

Last year, Walters insisted to Judge Flores that her relationship with Laws was solid and enduring.

But, in October 2005, she had written in court papers that, "Marty told me that I will never see Raven again and he would do physical harm to me if I attempted to take her back."

All this laid the groundwork for what happened in 2006, a year of increasingly contentious courtroom battles.


In 1997, the Arizona Legislature passed a law that allows stepparents (blood relatives or not) who have acted in place of a natural parent to gain legal custody or visitation with a child.

Courts use the term in loco parentisto describe the situation, and loco doesn't mean crazy.

The law authorizes county judges to approve visitation and even award custody to non-parents under certain circumstances.

But the legislators didn't make it easy for non-parents, who must convince a judge with "clear and convincing" evidence that it would be "significantly detrimental" to leave a child with his or her biological parents.

Still, on December 28, 2005, the Bessingers asked county Judge Arthur Anderson for legal custody of Raven, who had just celebrated her third birthday.

"It would be significantly detrimental to the child to remain or be placed in the custody of either of the child's natural living parents," their attorney wrote. "Both have substantial criminal histories, current criminal charges pending against them, [and] the minor child has been neglected while in their care and physically abused."

The Bessingers now claimed someone had smacked Raven during a visit at Shelly Walters' home that Christmas Day, leaving bruises on the girl's face and torso. They quoted from a report by psychologist Madeline Modrak, who had spoken to Raven on December 26.

Modrak had written that "it is [my] opinion that Raven is a child in significant imminent physical danger, in addition to ongoing emotional trauma when in her parents' care [with] the potential to result in severe injury or death."

Walters responded by angrily denying wrongdoing and asked Judge Anderson to order Raven's removal from Embrace until he decided on custody.

An emergency hearing on January 12 included inflammatory new allegations by the Bessingers that Walters had performed oral sex on her daughter, or vice versa.

CPS caseworker Charlotte Driver informed the judge that her agency was investigating the allegations of abuse.

"My job now and always is to put something in place that's in the child's best interest," she testified. "Right now, I have concerns about mother and father being able to provide a safe, stable placement."

But Driver also expressed concern that no one had informed CPS about the alleged abuse of Raven for five days after supposedly learning about it.

Still, Driver concluded that "the best thing for Raven at this time while I am trying to conduct my investigation . . . is to stay [at Embrace]."

Marty Laws showed up at this hearing (the only one he's ever attended in the custody case) to testify that "my daughter is my entire life. These people [the Bessingers] know it. Everybody knows it. I don't know what they think they're trying to do with this. Aneta feels that because she's had my daughter since birth that it's her kid. I don't know what's wrong with her, but that is what she believes."

Shelly Walters testified that she had been working as a waitress in east Mesa and had been off drugs for months, which the CPS caseworker confirmed.

Each parent agreed to take a urinalysis that day.

Walters did, and passed. Laws never took the test.

The next day, January 13, 2006, Judge Anderson wrote that Raven "appears to have developed stable and consistent relationships" at Embrace and gave temporary sole legal custody of the child to the Bessingers.

The judge also suspended visitation of Raven by either natural parent until further notice.

It was a smashing win for the Bessingers.

Then, for reasons never sufficiently explained, CPS officials showed up unannounced at Embrace one week later and took Raven into their custody. They did so under an Arizona law that allows the agency to put at-risk children into emergency foster care for up to 72 hours, not including weekends or holidays.

The Bessingers' attorney went ballistic, telling Anderson in a pleading that "CPS has unlawfully retained this child as an act of vengeance for [the Bessingers] failing to go to CPS before seeking emergency custody through this court. Why was this child ripped from her home?"

With Raven in a CPS-sanctioned foster home, Anderson set another emergency hearing for January 27.

Charlotte Driver of CPS told the judge that Shelly Walters had signed an agreement to allow the agency to keep Raven in foster care for at least 30 days as "family preservation" services were put into place.

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11 comments
Shocked
Shocked

Since this article ran, Marty Laws has been serving time at ASP Kingman for a class 3 felony theft charge from 2006 and is listed with another charge of danger/repetitive/enhanced due to his previous charge from 2002 of class 4 dangerous drug violation. Laws sentence expires 10/2012 or can take the flat sentence for 08/2013.

Since this article ran, Rochelle Walters served probation for a criminal shoplifting charge in 2008, has had two 2008 traffic violations, one resulting from no license plate or registration, and the other for driving without lap belts. Was she driving her children around without restraints and no plate or registration? Rochelle/Shelly's latest violation occurred in Kingman as a local traffic charge in June of 2011. She has racked up five traffic charges, one forgery charge, and eight criminal charges since 2002. I am amazed how many times she has gotten away with only probation and anyone with a track record like hers usually has records going back to when they were eighteen. She was 36 years old in 2002. This mother has not changed her spots and probably will go to great lengths to point the finger in the other direction in future predicaments. Who really fooled who in this case?

Shsalways
Shsalways

Its funny how people can pass judgement on others when they don't know anything about the people involved or the whole story, they act like they've never made mistakes, that people can't change, "once a druggie always a druggie". So when a persons life is open to the public especially in a case such as this its easy for all those "perfect" people to give all thier negative imput. These people can't see past the surface so it's a good thing they don't hold jobs in CPS or making decisions as a Judge. Charolette Driver and Judge Flores did a great job seeing things for what they really are, not being blindsided by the Bessingers. What the public didn't know was that Jack was a BAD alcoholic, Anita's own daughter Carrie was a heavy drug user, in and out of jail. People can change. I want to thank Judge Flores and Charolette Driver for everything they did.It's been almost four years, it's amazing they all got away with it. But this beautiful 8 1/2 yr old little girl doesn't remember Jack. Aneta or anything from then, she's very happy having with her mom, dad,brother and sister

Krystal_haag
Krystal_haag

Okay once again this is krystal haag three years later from my comment I made a while ago. Check this out. I am now 18 my mom has done the best she could ever do. We live in a nice house she has all three kids living with her. And the thing is she is doing this all on her own with no one to help. And also the thing with the bessingers or I should say jack and annita. They sexualy molested my sister. Why the fuck would we appreciate them doing that to her. My sister never wanted to be with them she would scream and cry when they had cuxtody n we were on a visit. She didn't want to go with them. But reading these comments none of you have room to say who a bad mother is. Cuz u all can fuck off. My mom is an excellent mother so get ur guyss story straight before you critisize!

Arizona Observer
Arizona Observer

As to the 2 women who kidnapped Raven -- they have still not been charged with kidnapping -- they are still out there.

Arizona  Mom
Arizona Mom

Yes, I too had a custody case going on with Judge Anderson, who, by the way, is the only decent and smart judge I have come across in family court, its a shame he left. Judge Flores came into my case not knowing a darned thing about what she was supposed to do but they go ahead and let these "judges" cut their teeth on complicated family law issues. What a joke! She is completely ignornant and spent most of her time saying "I've never seen this situation before", "It's never come across my desk." "I haven't really experienced this."...excuse after excuse like that's supposed to make you feel better. How about checking with the former judge and get a professional's opinion instead of blindly making WRONG decisions and ruining children's lives. I feel sorry for this child who was taken from the only "real" parents she knew. DNA is just DNA, why do you think there are adoptions, Judge Flores should know that. Take a child from a caring home and give her to drug users and former convicts? Arizona, and the family court system here is disgusting...I've experienced it first hand, but stories like this one really make me sick, but mostly sad.....sad for the kids that Arizona claims to look out for the "best interests of". That's the only blanket statement they ever make, why? Because it covers up a multitude of sins and these judges NEVER have to explain their actions...they just go home at night to their cozy homes and families. I don't care how much this mother "allegedly" (which I don't buy for a minute) cleaned up her life, it was too little, too late.

krystal haag
krystal haag

well i think what the bessingers did is fucked up not what shelly did...the two ladies who came and got raven are devils to me...this is krystal haag and i am the daughter of rochelle walters and i was the one who was there when raven got kidnaped...everyone who was invovled stinks because my mom is a great mother and she always will be...she changed her life to make ours better so stop critisizing my mom it is very rude...thank you by by

Janie Snowden
Janie Snowden

This was a good one. I heard about it from the TV and wondered what was going on here. What was going on was very complicated, but Paul Rubin, whose stories I love, put it together. The problem is, I'm still not sure where I stand on the case. Nothing is easy in life, I guess. You can print this if you want, or just forward it to Mr. Rubin.

Janie SnowdenTempe AZ

Ralph Ontiveros
Ralph Ontiveros

That was a really interesting story that I read from the start to the end. I started off thinking that the old couple was getting screwed by the system, but then they hired the Indian tribe to keep the mother from getting that little girl. In the end, I guess Raven is going to have a hell of a time making it in life. Nice job. Ralph Ontiveros

Sharon
Sharon

The Bessingers didn't spend their personal money caring for Raven or for any of the children they have; they obtain donated funds from a number of sources and use these funds to run the unlicensed home they have. Some genuine, good things were done -- and so were so truly horrific things like kidnapping and false accusations. They aren't exactly innocent in this whole matter.

Bonnie
Bonnie

I'm just wondering how long it will be before the Bessingers' decide that they need to be compensated for all their time spent carrying for Raven. Honestly, it doesn't sound like her mother has been too grateful of the fact that they've raised and cared for her daughter. I wouldn't hold it against the Bessingers' for wanting to be reimbursed their time and money.

And I completely agree, CPS is a joke. Anyone trying to do right by a child knows that CPS is completely incapable of doing what's in the best interest of a child and worries more about the rights of their shitty parents.

John
John

This is one fucked up saga, and while its great that everything is working out for little Raven I got to point out a few things. One the Bessingers went overboard, no matter their motivation they went about it the wrong way, lying about cops showing up at your house to harrass you? come on. And if there was indeed abuse why did they take so long to report it? Two Walters seems very ungratful for the 3 years of free child care she got. Not to mention half the damn statments shed made contradict the rest of her claims, seems neither side is a shining beacon of truth.

And THREE this story just goes to show you how fucking incompotent the morons at CPS really are, this witch Driver found it disturbing that the "drug felon" father was staying at the Bessingers' house with his daughter(Never mind the fact that moomy is a druggie too). She uses the "drug felons" presence as partial justification to remove the girl from the Bessingers' care, and then goes on to endorse him as the childs primary care giver while mom is at work? WTF?!?!?! The guy keeps skipping out on his drug tests. I hate CPS with every fiber of my being. And if this woman is such a good mom why is she letting a child(her teenage daughter) decide whether or not she will babysit her litle sister?

And what is up with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office? They can indict children as adults in child porn cases but they cant make a case againts two self admited kidnappers?

 

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