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September 26, 2013

Parental rights hearing pushed back

BEULAH — A Benzie County judge continued a hearing to determine if the court will take over the parental rights of an Elberta mother accused of trying to kill her autistic daughter.

Kelli Stapleton, 45, sat in the 19th Circuit courtroom on Wednesday for just over a minute before Judge John Mead decided to delay the hearing. The “neglect and abuse” hearing was requested by the Department of Human Services after authorities said Stapleton tried to kill herself and her daughter Issy, 14, on Sept. 3 by igniting two charcoal grills inside an enclosed van.

“It’s a typical thing that happens when a parent is accused of harming their child,” Jennifer Tang-Anderson, assistant prosecutor for Benzie County, said of the scheduled court hearing.

DHS is required to file for such hearings within 24 hours of cases where authorities find evidence of neglect or abuse.

Kelli and Issy Stapleton were both treated for carbon monoxide poisoning after authorities found them in rural Benzie County. Issy lingered in an unresponsive state for days and may have suffered brain damage.

The preliminary hearing Wednesday would have determined if there was enough evidence to terminate Stapleton’s parental rights for her three children and place them under the court’s jurisdiction, but a court-appointed attorney representing DHS did not show up.

Mead issued an order removing the attorney from the case. Another hearing on the matter is scheduled for Oct. 4 at 3:30 p.m.

Stapleton’s husband, Matt Stapleton, is principal of Frankfort High School. He is not named in the matter and his parental rights will not be affected by future court decisions. He’s filed for divorce from Kelli Stapleton and seeks legal and physical custody of their children.

Matt Stapleton and members of his family were present in the courtroom but declined comment.

Kelli Stapleton’s attorney, Brian Johnson, said he expected a preliminary examination on the attempted murder charge scheduled for today in 85th District Court also to be pushed back.

Kelli Stapleton will appear in 85th District Court today at 9:30 a.m. on a motion requesting she be able to wear “civilian clothing and without restraints” at future court proceedings.

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