"Indian Takers" Co-Defendant's Plea Bargain Rejected by Judge: UPDATE

We thought we'd be reporting here on the sentencing of a Phoenix woman who plea bargained to a reduced charge of "custodial interference" in the curious case of a young girl snatched from her East Valley home back in 2007.

  Brenda Byers-Couture had pleaded guilty to the charge at an earlier hearing before Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Randall Warner, the first of  four co-defendants in the quirky high-profile case involving little Raven Laws to do so.

No clue about this one? Check out our cover story here from a few years back.

But Judge Warner tossed out the plea bargain at Byers-Couture's sentencing last week, and reinstated the woman's not-guilty pleas to the original, more serious charges, including a kidnapping count.

The reason?

Under Arizona law, a judge cannot accept a guilty plea unless the defendant admits enough facts "to constitute the elements of the crime."

Trouble is, according to Judge Warner's order, Byers-Couture "admitted that she kept [Raven Laws] from a parent's lawful custody, but would not admit that she did so `knowing or having reason to know that [she] had no legal right to do so.' For that reason, the guilty plea lacks a factual basis and the court is required to reject it."

The cast of characters in this tale included Raven's troubled mother (a methamphetamine user with a felony record), a Cave Creek couple whom assumed surrogate parenting duties for the child until the county courts put a stop to it, two local Native-American woman (including Byers-Couture) who were connected with Alabama's Cherokee River Indian Community (CRIC), and a Maricopa County judge (Lisa Flores) who had to make a series of difficult decisions.

The local women, Brenda Byers-Courture and Iva Marie Peters-Badoni, grabbed Raven from her mother's home in January 2007. The girl's disappearance was big news here in the Valley.

They kept the child at a west Phoenix home for two days until police tracked Raven down on the evening of January 24, 2007. The youngster apparently was unharmed, and the authorities soon returned her to her mother.

Byers-Couture and Badoni were charged with kidnapping and custodial interference.

The Cave Creek couple, Jacob and Letha Bessinger, still face charges of custodial interference, as does Peters-Badoni and now, once again, Byers-Couture.

Raven Laws is now eight years old.

Judge Warner set a status conference for October 14, and ordered Byers-Couture's attorney to let him know at that time whether another plea bargain has been reached or if the woman wants to go to trial.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin