More than Meets the Eye in Case of Sex Offender Given Custody

In June, Oklahoma County Special Judge Howard Haralson made a decision that sent shockwaves across the nation. He awarded sole custody of 6-year-old Sarah Knight to her father, Nicholas Elizondo, a convicted sex offender who spent six years in prison for molesting his 6-year-old stepdaughter. Sarah's mother, Lisa Knight, and other relatives were stunned with the judge awarded custody to her father in California. Knight and Elizondo divorced while she was pregnant with Sarah, and the girl has lived in Oklahoma her whole life. Not only has the judge's decision uprooted a girl from her home state and sent her to live with a man she knew only from brief visits and internet chats, but that man is a sex offender convicted of molesting a girl the same age Sarah is now. Knight also says that since Elizondo has been awarded custody of the girl, he has been arrested, and Sarah placed in DHS custody. Knight's cousin, Jody Coomer, told reporters, "She’s been taken away from him by the DHS out there. They had to give her back but why was she taken? She’s never been taken from her mother." Even more, says Knight, Sarah came home from an unsupervised visit to her father saying "something really bad happened," and accusing her then 19-year-old half brother of touching her inappropriately in the bathtub. Sarah's Oklahoma family says they believe that the judge deemed Knight to be an unfit mother solely on the basis of her inability to name every doctor responsible for Sarah's care. The family says that Sarah's list of doctors is extensive since the girl was born with a cleft lip and pallete, and that naming all of her specialist would be a daunting, nearly impossible task. The media and the public are outraged. Why would any judge in his right mind give sole custody of a 6-year-old girl to a man convicted of molesting a 6-year-old girl? Why would a sex offender as a parent preferable to a mother who couldn't name every doctor her child has seen? The answer, of course, is that the judge is privy to information that may not be available to the general public, or that they simply choose to overlook. Elizondo was charged with 11 felony counts related to the rape of his stepdaughter. He asserted his innocence and said that the girl was coached by her mother to make accusations against him.  He accepted a plea deal to plead no contest to one count of lewd acts with a child under 14 in exchange for the dismissal of the other 10 counts. What most media accounts of this story refuse to admit is that the alleged victim of his crime, now 24 years old, testified at a custody hearing for Sarah that she fabricated her account in 1995. As for Sarah being taken from her father and being placed in DHS custody? As a convicted felon, Elizondo is prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition. According to a Bakersfield, California, news report, Elizondo was pulled over and found to have a single bullet in his vehicle. He claims that he didn't know the bullet was in the bed of his truck, and that it belonged to his now 20-year-old son. He says that placing the girl in DHS custody was unnecessary because his adult stepdaughter and son could have cared for the girl. Elizondo believes he was targeted on the basis of his sex offender status. Lisa Knight says that Elizondo showed little interest in his daughter until she turned 6, the age of his alleged victim. However, Elizondo's custody petition alleges that Knight repeatedly failed to comply with the terms of the custody agreement. In his petition, Elizondo alleges that being awarded sole custody of Sarah is in the child's best interests for the following reasons:

  • Visitation in California with her father has gone well for Sarah
  • Knight refused to cooperate in purchasing a plane ticket for Sarah to visit in December 2012, as per the custody agreement, and he was forced to fly to Oklahoma instead
  • Knight again refused to cooperate with the purchase of a plane ticket for Sarah to visit for Spring Break 2013
  • The custody and visitation order from the divorce allows internet visitation with Sarah, which Knight has "failed to facilitate and allow"
  • Sarah spends a great deal of time with relatives Ron and Jody Coomer, but that Knight had left Oklahoma to get away from them because they were "threatening her." Another time, Knight moved to a shelter because she "couldn't live with [them] anymore."
  • Jody Coomer filed for guardianship of Sarah, but the matter was dismissed with Elizondo protested.
Oklahoma has a bad history of giving custody of children to parents who do not deserve them--think Kelsey Smith-Briggs or Serenity Deal. However, not having all available information, it is impossible to say whether Judge Haralson made the right decision or not. Even if Elizondo and his son are not child molesters, and merely pawns in a custody battle, Sarah's childhood will be made difficult living with a father who can't attend school functions, can't take her to the park, and can't take her to dance lessons. Maybe neither Knight nor Elizondo deserves custody of their daughter. But one thing is certain--little Sarah deserves better.

Comments