A Wisconsin woman accused of running away with her infant son 17 years ago and hiding the boy from his biological father pleaded not guilty Friday to a single charge of child abduction.
Linda Sue Decker, who changed her name to Michelle Jones, appeared briefly in a Ventura County courtroom with her attorney, Jay M. Johnson, and her second husband, William.
After the hearing, Johnson said his 37-year-old client's decision to plead not guilty forces the prosecution to present its case at a preliminary hearing next month.
"Mrs. Jones is not a danger to society and she doesn't need to be punished any more than she and the boy already have . . . living 17 years on the run," he said.
Jones, who faces up to three years in prison if convicted, refused to discuss her case or explain the reason behind her plea. She has previously acknowledged in written statements that she took her 9-month-old son, Michael, from the family's Camarillo home in 1981 and hid the boy from his father, Robert Decker, for more than a decade.
Her attorney told reporters last month that she ran because she was young and "scared to death," but he declined to elaborate. Meanwhile, Deputy Dist. Atty. Denise Payne said Friday that her office intends to press its case against Decker.
"We are going to fight for the defendant to be convicted on this case because she did abduct the child," Payne said, adding that the prosecution would like to see reunification of the family.
So far, the 17-year-old boy at the center of the case has had no contact with his biological father, an English and drama teacher at Oxnard High School.
The teenager only recently learned the true identity of his father. Johnson said the boy is coping and seeing a counselor.
Jones was arrested July 10 in Brunswick, Ga., on an outstanding felony warrant for child abduction. She was stopped by local police while visiting relatives and the warrant surfaced.
She was later extradited to Ventura County, and remains out of custody on $250,000 bail.