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Most scams, such as sub-prime mortgages and email scams, victimize adults. But custody scams victimize children. When government fails to protect children it throws open the doors to private contractors—lawyers and clinicians—who enrich themselves at the expense of children. (More about this child and the mother who tried to protect her appears below.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How are custody decisions evaluated?

Elizabeth Brown wiped tears from her eyes Friday morning as she implored a judge to reconsider a plea deal that allows Matthew Roland to serve life in prison instead of receiving the death penalty for the beating death of their daughter, 4-year-old daughter Kristina Hepp, a year ago.

By Karen Voyles
Staff writer

Published: Saturday, April 24, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 23, 2010 at 10:56 p.m.

To see the entire story, go to:

TRENTON, FL - Almost a year after 4-year-old Kristina Hepp was found lifeless inside her Waccasassa mobile home, her father pleaded no contest Friday morning in her death and was ordered to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Matthew Roland, 24, pleaded no contest to first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse. Circuit Judge Ysleta McDonald sentenced him to a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

Kristina died April 27, 2009, inside the home where Roland had been living with her and his girlfriend, Chelci Folds, 20, of Mayo. Following an autopsy, the Medical Examiner's Office issued a determination that Kristina could have survived had she received medical care.

In court on Friday morning, Chief Assistant State Attorney Jeanne Singer told McDonald that if the case had gone to trial, witnesses would have testified that Roland had been "torturing or maliciously punishing, causing corneal and genital injuries and other injuries."

Singer also said there would have been testimony that the injuries found on Kristina during an autopsy "had been inflicted over time" and were the result of Roland using his hands and a belt to beat Kristina.

. . .

Absent from court was Folds, who had moved into Roland's home in February 2009, a day or two before he was awarded custody of Kristina.

. . .

Roland allegedly told deputies that while watching his daughter, he "got into it" with her that night and spanked her. Deputies also said Roland told them he hit her with a belt the afternoon of April 26.

. . .

Early the next morning, Roland woke Folds and told her Kristina was not breathing. Roland and Folds said they took the child to the living room, according to the Sheriff's Office, and put her down on the floor. Roland then tried to give her another nebulizer treatment and CPR before calling 911, the Sheriff's Office reported.

According to investigators, Folds spent at least 12 hours with Roland and the injured child without taking steps to care for her injuries.

Folds was charged with child neglect with great bodily harm. She received five years' probation as part of a plea deal in the case. Prosecutors identified Folds as the key witness against Roland.

Eighth Judicial Circuit Medical Examiner Dr. Martha Burt, who went to the Waccasassa mobile home where Kristina was found dead, told Gilchrist County sheriff's investigators that Kristina's multiple injuries were survivable had she received timely medical attention.

About the mother and child pictured at the top

On February 21, 1992, Rhode Island Family Court's Chief Judge Jeremiah Jeremiah gave this two-year-old to the sole custody and possession of her father despite his history of domestic violence and failure to pay child support. The father, a police officer, brought false charges against his ex-wife, first saying she was a drug addict. (Twenty-two random tests proved she was not.) Then he had her arrested for bank fraud, then for filing a false report, then for sexual abuse, then for kidnapping. None of his charges stuck.

The child remained with her father and stepmother until 2003, when, at 14, she finally realized that her mother had not been a drug addict. The teenager persuaded Judge Stephen Capineri to let her return to her mother. There she began working on the painful issues of lifelong coercion and deception--a tangled knot of guilt and rage. Most painful has been her father’s continuing refusal to let her visit two dearly loved half-sisters, whom she has not seen since 2003.

She is one of countless children in Rhode Island subjected to severe emotional and physical trauma by Family Court when it helps abusive parents to maintain control over their families after divorce. When she turned 18 in 2007, she gave the Parenting Project permission to publish her picture on behalf of all children who have been held hostage by Rhode Island custody scams.

We are using this blog to provide links to stories that will help concerned people, including government officials, become aware of this form of child abuse and legal abuse. We must work together to improve the courts' ability to recognize the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in victims of domestic abuse who are trying to protect their children.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are looking for the story of the removal of "Molly and Sara," please visit

About the Author and the Cause

Parenting Project is a volunteer community service begun in 1996 at Mathewson Street United Methodist Church, Providence, RI, to focus on the needs of children at risk in Family Court custody cases. Our goal is to make Rhode Island's child protective system more effective, transparent, and accountable.

The Parenting Project coordinator, Anne Grant, a retired minister and former executive director of Rhode Island's largest shelter for battered women and their children, researches and writes about official actions that endanger children and the parents who try to protect them. She wrote a chapter on Rhode Island in Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody: Legal Strategies and Policy Issues, ed. Mo Therese Hannah, PhD, and Barry Goldstein, JD (Civic Research Institute, 2010).

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Find out more about the crisis in custody courts here: provides forensic resources to end violence against women

about domestic violence in hague custody cases:

more about domestic violence in law enforcement: