FULL TEXT: Los Angeles, April 8 – A mother convicted of beating her two-year-old daughter to death was barred forever today from again seeing her month-old son.
The justice declared: “This baby has the right to grow up and not be treated worse than our dog.”
The same ban, the judge ruled, applies to the baby’s father.
Shaking with sobs, Mrs. Shirleen Kunin stole a last glance at the baby, Steven Dale, as she was led back to her cell, preparatory to transfer to California’s institution for women at Tachachapi. She must serve a one to 10 year term for manslaughter in the death of her daughter, Denise.
The dramatic custody hearing was held in the superior court of Juvenile Judge A. A. Scott, following Mrs. Kunin’s sentencing to prison yesterday – her 25th birthday.
~ Father Asks Custody ~
The baby’s father, Lawrence Kunin, 27-year-old Beverly Hills salesman, made a request for custody, telling the court he could provide a good home. But the judge retorted:
“This is an unfit home by reason of neglect, cruelty and depravity of the parents. This court cannot sit idly by, in view of the testimony, and make plans whereby either parent ever has access to this youngster.
“He and his wife are not fit persons to have custody or contact. Personally, I am going to see that she doesn’t have that opportunity.”
Mrs. Kunin’s trial on a murder trial on a murder charge was delayed a month for Steven Dale’s birth on March 7 in the prison ward of general hospital. She had not seen her son again until today’s hearing.
The tot was held in the arms of a nearby woman deputy, who lifted the blanket so Mrs. Kunin could see Steven’s face. She made no attempt to approach the child as she was led away weeping. Kunin, grim but composed, accompanied her, trying to comfort her.
Witnesses at the wife’s trial testified that she frequently whipped Denise, once turned a garden hose in the baby’s mouth, and several times left the child unattended. Today, she declared “I loved that baby. It wasn’t unattended, as they said. I may have been impatient. But I have to live the rest of my life and remember this.”
“I hope you’ll never forget it,” the judge replied.
The judge asked Deputy District Attorney Adolph Alexander, prosecutor of Mrs. Kunin, if the husband had been linked with mistreatment of the daughter.
Alexander replied that Kunin, according to testimony, had been present on some of the occasions. He added that a Beverly Hills police officer testified that the salesman told him “I beat the baby a week before she died.”
Commenting later on the severity of his decision, Judge Scott told reporters: “It is unusual, but very much warranted by the facts.”
~ Action Unprecedented ~
Deputy District Attorney William Ritzi, in charge juvenile matters, and other court attaches said they could not recall a previous court order under which both parents would be forever forbidden to see the child.
Judge Scott said he was basing his order on a section of the California Welfare and Institutions code. This section provides that under certain conditions the juvenile court may retain jurisdiction in the case of a child until it is 21 years of age.
The jurist referred to one of these conditions in the law whereby jurisdiction may be kept in the case of a child “where home is an unfit place for him by reason of neglect, cruelty or depravity of either of his parents, or of his guardian or other person in whose custody or care he is.”
Judge Scott added that within a few hours of his decision, he had received three telephone calls inquiring about adoption of the baby.
Richard Maddox, Mrs. Kunin’s attorney, declared:
“Legally, I construe this as a temporary decree. When she is released from Techapi she and Mr. Kunin can take action to regain custody.”
Superior Judge Harold B. Landroth, who heard Mrs. Kunin’s trial, said he had received more letters from the public on the matter than in any previous he had heard in 17 years on the bench.
[“Judge Forbids Mother From Ever Seeing Baby,” syndicated (AP), Apr. 9, 1948, p. 9]
For more cases, see: Women Who Like to Torture