On October 19, 1986, 47-year-old Anthony Rome, Sr. picked up his six-year-old son, Anthony Jr., from his ex-wife for a regular day of visitation in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. When he failed to bring the boy back to his mother that evening as required by a temporary custody agreement in their divorce decree, she called police.
Rome and the boy traveled from state to state until January 1987, when FBI agents arrested Rome in Cleveland, Ohio, where he was staying with Anthony Jr. The boy’s mother, Kathy Ann Smit Schepf, traveled to Cleveland and brought the boy to her home.
Rome was charged with abducting the child. At a pretrial conference, Rome’s attorney said he planned to introduce evidence that Schepf and her boyfriend were physically abusing the child and that Rome was justified when he removed Anthony Jr. from the home. The judge barred the evidence as irrelevant.
Rome went on trial in Minnehaha County Circuit Court before the judge who heard the evidence without a jury. On April 28, 1987, the judge convicted Rome and sentenced him to five years in prison. The judge suspended the sentence and imposed probation.
In May 1988, the South Dakota Supreme Court reversed the conviction and ruled that the evidence supporting Rome’s belief about the physical abuse should have been considered.
Rome went on trial a second time in 1989 and prior to the trial, the judge required Rome to make an offer of proof as to what the evidence was. Rome’s attorney said that he would offer evidence that on several occasions, the boy had bruises on his buttocks and legs that were received “at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend.”
Rome’s attorney said that the boy told his father he didn’t want to live with his mother because of the abuse. Rome had taken the boy to a physician for an examination after he failed to return the boy to his mother. During that doctor visit, the boy expressed the same fear to the doctor. Rome’s attorney said he would call the physician and also a psychiatrist who had examined the boy. Both would testify to the boy’s fears and both were prepared to testify that the boy should remain with his father.
Rome’s trial lawyer also said that Rome believed the custody hearing would not protect the boy and that Rome was convinced that the judge hearing the custody case was going to rule against him, even though the medical and psychiatric testimony had been presented in that proceeding. Rome told his trial lawyer that the lawyer who was handling the custody matter had told him that the final custody hearing would be meaningless.
The judge refused to admit the evidence and Rome was again convicted, this time by a jury, and sentenced to five years in prison with the sentence suspended.
In January 1990, the South Dakota Supreme Court again reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. The court held that Rome should have been allowed to present the excluded evidence so the jury could decide whether his conduct “was justified by a reasonable fear of death or bodily harm [to his son] that [was] imminent or emergent according to ordinary standards of intelligence and morality.”
On April 24, 1990, the Minnehaha County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the charge.
– Maurice Possley