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Schillings Innocent Of Custodial Interference

June 30, 1987

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) _ A couple who admitted they knew they were breaking the law have been found innocent of criminal charges for taking their 8-year-old granddaughter to Florida to keep her from her father.

A Josephine County Circuit jury deliberated an hour before returning innocent verdicts Monday on felony charges of first-degree custodial interference against Gregg and Thea Schilling, both 45.

The Schillings embraced as the verdicts were read. Cheers and applause erupted in the courtroom.

Schilling said he and his wife would resume efforts to win custody of their granddaughter, Eva, who has been living in California with her father since the Schillings’ arrest in November. During their trial, they contended they were justified in breaking the law.

According to testimony, the Schillings fled Grants Pass in November 1984 with their granddaughter, though she was in the legal custody of the state.

Defense attorneys said the Schillings decided to flee in desperation after learning the state was going to recommend Eva live in California with her father, Robert Fordham, who was seeking custody.

Three doctors testified that they wrote letters saying Eva would suffer grave psychological damage if she was separated from the Schillings, who had raised her from the age of 9 months after she was physically abused.

Walter Durrell, the former boyfriend of Eva’s mother, Marla Schilling, is accused of beating the child and giving her a bottle filled with acid. Durrell has been indicted on a charge of third-degree assault, but remains at large.

Two years after they fled, the Schillings were arrested in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after Eva told a playmate the people she was living with weren’t really her parents, police said.

Deputy District Attorney Clay Johnson had argued the circumstances didn’t justify breaking the law.

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