Child-chainers’ appeal denied

Published 12:33pm Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Minn. Court of Appeals maintains court’s ruling to terminate parental rights

Brian and Charity Miller’s attempt to regain their parental rights was unsuccessful.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday denied the appeal by the Dexter couple — who chained their now 7-year-old son to his crib — to overturn the termination of their parental rights.

The Miller’s parental rights were terminated in March after District Judge Fred Wellmann ruled all requirements to terminate their rights were proven beyond a reasonable doubt and issued their now 7- and 9-year-old sons’ custody to Mower County Human Services for foster care placement.

The state court of appeals agreed Tuesday, as Judge Heidi Schellhas wrote the Millers’ “arguments are unpersuasive in consideration of the evidence demonstrating the county’s active reunification efforts, testimony corroborating that the county engaged in active reunification efforts, and this court’s ‘considerable deference’ to a district court’s decision to terminate parental rights.”

Attorney Tom Lenway, who represents Brian, said Tuesday morning he hadn’t yet looked over the opinion nor discussed the decision with his client.

The Millers have had no contact with their children since they were arrested in April 2011 for chaining their youngest son to his crib from bedtime until morning every night over a six-month span. They made their sons stay in their bedrooms most of the time and didn’t provide them sufficient food or bathroom access. The younger son weighed less than 30 pounds when he and his brother were placed with a foster family in April 2011.

The Millers were sentenced in July 2011 to one year in jail on one count each of gross misdemeanor false imprisonment and one count each of malicious punishment, but were released in January after serving almost exactly six months. They received credit for time served and participated in the sentence to service program, which reduced their required time in jail.

While the Millers will never have custody of their two children again if the ruling stands, it doesn’t bar them from having more kids and parenting them in the future.

The case spurred legislative reform as Rep. Jeanne Poppe and Sen. Dan Sparks, both DFL-Austin, sponsored a bill which lowered the threshold for charging false imprisonment crimes against children as felonies. The law change was signed into law in April and took effect this month.

Charity’s attorney, Dan Donnelly, did not immediately return calls for comment Tuesday morning.

—Reporters Adam Harringa, Kevin Coss and Matt Peterson contributed to this report.