Mother Is Acquitted of Child Stealing : Courts: Ex-husband calls verdict a 'mockery of the justice system' and vehemently denies that he ever molested his daughter.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A San Diego Superior Court jury Tuesday acquitted Nancy Hogan of child stealing after she testified that she had spirited her daughter out of the country because she believed her husband had molested the girl.

Faced with the possibility of being sentenced to up to three years in prison, the 29-year-old mother admitted that she stole her child away to the Dominican Republic. The 5-year-old girl is still there, living with an aunt and uncle.

She said she fled after a judge awarded legal custody of her daughter to her ex-husband, Thomas Hogan, the girl's father. Eventually, she came back to the United States--alone--and was arrested, then spent more than a year behind bars, unable to post bail, awaiting her day in court.

"I just hope that, out of the agony I've suffered, some good will come of it for some other mother in my situation," she said Tuesday after her release from jail. "But I wouldn't wish this on anyone."

Her daughter knows nothing of the court case against her mother, Nancy Hogan said.

Thomas Hogan, 40, an Oceanside waiter who has vehemently denied molesting the girl, said Tuesday he could not believe the way events had turned out.

"I think it's a mockery of the justice system that this verdict was returned," he said. "A criminal has beaten the system. Nancy has beaten the system, and she's laughing all the way to the Dominican Republic."

The criminal case had its roots in a bitter divorce.

Thomas and Nancy Hogan were married in New York in 1985. Their only child, a daughter, was born the next year. The year after that, Nancy Hogan moved to San Diego, claiming that Thomas Hogan had been abusive toward her and the child.

A few months later, Thomas Hogan came West and the couple tried to reconcile.

But, Nancy Hogan said, Thomas Hogan began "tongue-kissing" the baby. In February, 1988, she caught him with his hand on the naked baby's crotch, she said in court papers. He said he was drying her off after a bath. She said there was no towel anywhere near.

The next day, Nancy Hogan moved into a battered women's shelter. Shortly after that, the couple began divorce proceedings.

In September, 1989, Family Court Commissioner Alan B. Clements pronounced the couple divorced. He awarded custody to Nancy Hogan, saying Thomas Hogan would be permitted visits only in a public place and in the presence of a third person.

An incident on Oct. 21, 1989, at the Los Angeles airport changed everything. Nancy Hogan invited her ex-husband to go to the airport to pick up one of her relatives. The baby went, too, along with Nancy Hogan's sister.

At the airport, the sister went to the terminal. In the car, Thomas and Nancy Hogan started fighting, according to court documents. Nancy Hogan's brother and a friend, just off the plane, joined in the fray.

At some point, Nancy Hogan handed her daughter to her brother and tried to leave the parking lot. She ran over her husband's foot with the car and crashed into a cement pillar, rendering the car unusable, according to court documents. In hysterics, she ran away from the parking lot.

Thinking the baby was safe with her brother, Nancy Hogan hitchhiked home. Two days later, she learned that a warrant was out for her arrest, and police had turned the baby over to Thomas Hogan.

"She tried to murder me," Thomas Hogan said Tuesday. "She claims she backed the car out. She did 65 m.p.h. coming at me and ran over me, then she demolished the car. Any 16-year-old driver knows you don't leave the scene of a car crash. Yet she leaves the child there? She brings the child to the airport to watch her father get murdered?"

At a hearing Oct. 31, after learning about the incident at LAX, Clements reversed himself and awarded custody to Thomas Hogan, court records show.

Clements allowed Nancy Hogan to spend the day with the baby but ordered her to turn her over to Thomas Hogan at 6 p.m. that day at the Escondido police station.

During those few hours, Nancy Hogan testified this Monday, her daughter kept touching her private parts.

"She said Daddy plays with her that way," Nancy Hogan testified. "It was like a game to her.

"I believed he was molesting her," Nancy Hogan added. "I wanted to get away. I was scared." That night, she said, she and the girl flew to the Dominican Republic.

Nancy Hogan said no more about the flight. In a series of pretrial rulings, Judge William H. Woodward said Nancy Hogan would not be allowed to testify about the divorce case or her allegations about the ex-husband.

Woodward allowed brief testimony only about what Nancy Hogan was thinking the afternoon she decided to flee. Intent to steal is a key element in the crime of child stealing, and the jury was entitled to decide whether Nancy Hogan had that intent, Woodward said.

The judge also barred Thomas Hogan from telling his side of the story. Woodward said a criminal case was not the place to hear about a divorce battle.

Nancy Hogan was arrested in December, 1990, in New Jersey. She had come back to the United States to make money to support her daughter, she said. For 15 months she remained in jail.

On Tuesday, after deliberating half a day, the jury came back with its verdict: not guilty. Jurors reached Tuesday night declined to comment.

Thomas Hogan said after the verdict that he was frustrated at not being allowed to defend himself in court "against these unsubstantiated, inane, inhuman accusations."

"I mean, I've got my daughter for 10 days," from Oct. 21 to Oct. 31, Thomas Hogan said Tuesday. "She tells you newspaper people that (the daughter) is touching her genitals. I didn't realize my daughter was that articulate.

"Why the hell, when I was supposed to meet her at 6 p.m. at the Escondido police station, why didn't she (Nancy Hogan) have me arrested? If my daughter can articulate all this, why wasn't that done? Because it never happened."

He added, "I have to live for the hope I will see (my daughter) again. The reality of it, I probably never will. But I will never give up the hope."

Nancy Hogan said Tuesday that she would like to bring her daughter back to the United States, to reunite her with her father--if conditions seem right. But that is an issue for another day, she said.

Celebrating her freedom with a trip to the beach and a dish of frozen strawberry yogurt, Nancy Hogan added: "I'm convinced the steps I took were the only ones available to me. I wouldn't want to do this again. But, if the situation was the same way, same circumstances, I'd have no other choice."

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