CARSON CITY — The Nevada Supreme Court has reversed a lower court decision that maintained the parental rights of a Las Vegas couple awaiting trial in the killing of a 17-year-old girl.
Rather than rule for the termination of rights, however, the high court’s unanimous Thursday decision ordered a full evidentiary hearing into the case with instructions on how to proceed.
The court said that in a case where a parent is imprisoned pending a criminal trial, an effort to terminate rights can include the introduction of evidence of the crime charged to the extent the commission of the crime bears on the existence of parental fault in the care of the child.
The order also said that “clear and convincing evidence that the parent committed such a crime may appropriately serve as a basis to terminate his or her parental rights.”
The case involves parents Gabriel Wayne Yates and Anne Marie Osburn, who are charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping in the 2008 death of 17-year-old Nichole Yegge.
The two were arrested when their daughter was less than 1 month old.
Both parents are scheduled to go to trial later this year, and both remain in jail.
The child, identified only as R.Y., has been living with her maternal aunt and uncle in Tennessee since infancy.
Several years after the criminal charges were filed, the Clark County Department of Family Services filed to terminate the couple’s parental rights so the child could be adopted by her aunt and uncle.
The district court found that the agency carried its burden of proving that R.Y.’s best interests would be served by termination. But the court found that child and family services had failed to demonstrate parental fault and so declined to terminate their rights.
The child and family services agency appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court noted that the district court correctly found that the parents did not “neglect” the child because, while in jail, they do not have custody of her.
And given the presumption of innocence to which the parents are entitled, “the existence of the state’s criminal allegations is not alone sufficient to establish parental fault,” the court said.
But the court said child and family services is entitled to present evidence that the parents engaged in “conduct toward a child of a physically, emotionally or sexually cruel or abusive nature” to establish parental fault.
The court said there is evidence in the record on appeal that may establish parental fault on these grounds, including a police report indicating that the police followed Yates to the victim’s grave site and that Osburn told a third party she had strangled the victim.
At the rehearing, the court said Child and Family Services must specify the factual and legal bases on which it seeks to terminate parental rights and enumerated other instructions on how the matter must be handled by the district court.
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3900. Follow him on Twitter @seanw801.