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An Icelandic court has found that two American fugitives should not be extradited to Maricopa County because of the condition of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jails.

In May, New Times reported that Connie and Donald Hanes faced extradition from Iceland on charges that they illegally took Connie's granddaughter, Zenith, away from her mother, Scottsdale resident Kelly Helton.

But the Haneses' attorney, Ragnar Arnason, argued in a July 1 court hearing that if Iceland did extradite the pair, they would be subject to a jail system that violated Icelandic standards of humane inmate treatment.

To bolster his case, the attorney played a recent, half-hour German TV documentary which revealed crowded and medieval conditions in Maricopa County jails as well as the mistreatment suffered by Richard Post, a paraplegic whose neck was broken when he was strapped down roughly in a restraint chair by Arpaio's jailers.

After the videotape was shown, Donald Hanes says, prosecutor Sigurdur Gislisson appeared visibly shaken.

Arnason also presented newspaper articles, including several published in New Times, as evidence that prisoners were subjected to inhumane treatment in the jails.

District Court Judge Ingibjorg Benediktsdottir had earlier decided that the Haneses' offense was extraditable under Icelandic law. The island nation's supreme court, however, voided that decision and asked Benediktsdottir to reconsider the case. This time, Arnason was armed with the German videotape and newspaper articles about Arpaio and his jails.

On Monday, Benediktsdottir ruled that Iceland could not extradite the Haneses to such a place.

The Haneses had battled with Helton for custody of Zenith for years. Helton had at one time signed over custody of Zenith to her mother, Connie Hanes, but later changed her mind, saying she was unaware that she had given up all future rights to her daughter. A Utah court eventually sided with Helton, giving her sole custody of her daughter, but allowed the Haneses to continue to visit Zenith. On one of those visits in October 1995, the Haneses disappeared with the little girl.

Eventually, the FBI snatched Zenith from her Iceland preschool and returned her to Helton. The Haneses, meanwhile, were charged with custodial interference, which carries a penalty of two to eight years of prison time.

At one time, the Haneses had offered to voluntarily return to face those charges if Maricopa County prosecutors would allow them to travel under their own power rather than be subject to prisoner transport. But their local attorney, Tom Hoidal, says none of his letters to Deputy County Attorney Louis Stalzer was answered.

With Iceland's decision not to extradite, the Haneses are now under no compulsion to come to Arizona and face those charges.

Donald Hanes, in an e-mail message to New Times, expresses relief at the decision, but adds that he and his wife feel "compassion and condolences [for] those who have suffered in Maricopa County jails."

He adds that Iceland's Channel 1 has reported that the U.S. Embassy is pressing the Ministry of Justice to ask the supreme court to review the decision. The ministry had until Thursday, July 10, to do so.

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