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Serial Killer Strikes Again
March 31, 2007 permalink
Matt and Jennifer Lethbridge have had nine children taken by the State of Michigan. The state's score so far: two dead and seven to go. No, make that eight to go. Jennifer is pregnant again. In the latest development, the state has finalized the removal of two more children.
Detroit Free Press
Lethbridges and youngest children won't reunite
March 30, 2007, By JACK KRESNAK, FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
A Washtenaw County judge decided today that Matt and Jennifer Lethbridge, whose nine children all have landed in foster care, will not be reunited with their two youngest children.
Family Court Judge Darlene O’Brien ordered the couple’s parental rights to their 11-month-old daughter terminated, but she did not end their rights to their 4-year-old daughter, saying it would not be in the child’s best interest. Instead, the judge ordered the child’s current foster parents in Washtenaw County to consider becoming her permanent guardians.
O’Brien said the girl “would have the benefit of continuing to have her parents in her life, but she wouldn’t leave the foster parents’ home. She would be raised by them.”
The Washtenaw County foster parents have expressed an interest in adopting the girl’s 11-month-old sister.
The 4-year-old was in foster care in Detroit with her 2-year-old brother Isaac when he was killed in his foster mother’s home last August.
On hearing the ruling, Matt Lethbridge, 33, initially broke down and then appeared confused about the implications. He said he and his wife would try to keep a relationship with the 4-year-old through her foster parents.
Six of the Lethbridges’ older children were removed from their care after complaints involving neglect. All were later adopted. Isaac and the 4-year-old landed in foster care in 2005, and an infant daughter born last April was placed in foster care almost immediately. The couple’s 10th child is due next month. Washtenaw County authorities plan to file a petition to remove that child after its birth.
The Lethbridges, who now live in Canton, had contended that they have matured as parents and recognize why their children were removed from their care. Among the past problems: Their homes were filthy and there were signs of emotional and medical neglect of the children.
Washtenaw County Assistant Prosecutor Stacie Shaw told the court that the couple’s living conditions get worse when authorities are no longer involved with the family. “Their history and their actions speak louder than their words,” Shaw said, adding, “I don’t doubt in my heart that the parents truly love both of these girls,” but the risk is too great to entrust the children to their care.
The children’s attorney, S. Joy Gaines, also asked O’Brien to terminate the Lethbridges’ parental rights.
“I’m clear that they love their children and that they want to be parents,” Gaines said, but “with the extensive protective services history, there are more issues than just cleanliness. There are real mental health issues.” She also said it would not be good to move the 4-year-old, who is in her fourth foster home, again.
Earlier today, O’Brien heard testimony from Washtenaw County Protective Services worker Joseph Lanczki who said, despite the family’s long history of involvement with protective services and the juvenile court dating to 1997, things had not improved by September 2005, when Isaac and his 4-year-old sister were removed from the Lethbridges’ filthy Westland home.
“When conditions of the home reach a level of criminality, it’s pretty severe,” Lanczki said. The couple were charged with misdemeanor child neglect after the children were removed. Jennifer Lethbridge, now 30, served 45 days in jail; Matt Lethbridge, now 33, received probation.
Matt Lethbridge, given one last chance to convince the judge to return his daughters to their care today, said, “We are fanatic cleaners at this point. We don’t even think the old way any more. We are not those people any more.”
Jennifer Lethbridge attended today’s hearing by phone. Matt Lethbridge said he and Jennifer quit smoking last Friday, though he said he cheated twice after having a vasectomy on Tuesday.
Isaac’s foster mother has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and second-degree child abuse in connection with his death, but no one has been charged with the fatal beating. His death was the subject of a three-day series in the Free Press in January that detailed the failings of the Lula Belle Stewart Center, the Detroit foster care agency that handled Isaac’s care, and the state Department of Human Services, which supervised the agency.
Source: Detroit Free Press
Addendum: The State of Michigan wants the Lethbridges' next child taken as well.
Detroit Free Press
Parents of Isaac Lethbridge fight to keep newborn
Couple has lost custody of 7 other kids
April 27, 2007, by JACK KRESNAK, FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER, UPDATED AT 3:05 p.m.
Wayne County Child Protective Services on Friday filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of Matt and Jennifer Lethbridge after removing their 15-day-old baby boy from their Canton Township home.
The Lethbridges -- whose 2-year-old son Isaac was beaten to death in a Detroit foster home last summer -- said they will try to regain custody of their newborn even though judges in Washtenaw County have terminated their parental rights to seven of their nine previous children.
The couple appeared at a preliminary hearing in Wayne County juvenile court this afternoon. Referee Peter Schummer Jr. authorized the petition and said the case would be transferred to Washtenaw County unless that county rejected it for some reason. If that happened, the case would be returned to Wayne County.
Schummer also suspended the Lethbridges' visitation rights.
The baby, named Xavier Isaac Lethbridge, was removed by CPS, a division of the Wayne County Department of Human Services, about 4 p.m. Thursday with the assistance of Canton Township police, officials said.
The DHS' permanent custody petition sought to transfer jurisdiction of the boy to Washtenaw County DHS because of the family's history there. Judges in Washtenaw ended their rights to the other seven children on the grounds that the couple neglected them and did not benefit from counseling and other programs to improve their parenting skills.
Matt Lethbridge, 33, said the baby's seizure by CPS was improper because Xavier was not at risk of any harm under his parents care, despite the past history.
"This is absolutely ridiculous," Lethbridge said before the court hearing. "There is no danger to him whatsoever because there are so many monitors in place right now."
Lethbridge said he and his wife, 30, did not keep the baby's birth a secret from anyone and would have told DHS about Xavier's birth at home on April 12 if they had asked. He said the couple told their private therapist, Celeste Brown, who saw the child herself on Tuesday.
Lethbridge said their townhouse in Canton is clean. The couple lost custody of Isaac and his then 3-year-old sister in September 2005 when police found the children in their filthy home in Westland. Both Matt and Jennifer Lethbridge later were convicted of misdemeanor child neglect in that case.
On March 30, Washtenaw County Family Court Judge Darlene O'Brien terminated their parental rights to an 11-month-old daughter, but declined to terminate rights on the now 4-year-old daughter who allegedly was abused in the same foster homes as her brother Isaac.
Last December, Matt Lethbridge initially denied to the court that his wife was pregnant, but quickly recanted and said he was afraid authorities would again take their newborn away. Washtenaw County officials said they would seek to remove that baby from the Lethbridges and terminate their parental rights. That county's DHS was waiting for a birth, though it was Wayne County officials who removed the child.
"I knew the second they knew he was born they were going to come and take him," Lethbridge said. "We didn't run. We didn't hide. We were right there. We opened the door and were cooperative."
Charlsie Adams-Rogers, 59, of Detroit is scheduled to be tried June 4 on involuntary manslaughter and child abuse charges in Isaac Lethbridge's death last summer in her foster home.
Contact JACK KRESNAK at 313-223-4544 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Detroit Free Press