MACHIAS, Maine — The three children of Amanda Cyphert and Randall Hodges testified Tuesday in the first day of Cyphert’s criminal restraint trial in Washington County Superior Court. Colin Haag, Cyphert’s former boyfriend, is being tried at the same time on two counts of kidnapping.
The charges relate to two of Cyphert’s daughters, Airiel, now 13, and Cheyenne, now 10, who Assistant District Attorney Paul Cavanaugh told the jury were hidden and kept from Hodges, their biological father. Cavanaugh said Hodges, who was living in Florida with the couple’s son, Gabriel, now 15, had been searching for his daughters for 2½ years before an Internet search revealed in April 2010 that they were living in Jonesport.
Hodges came to Maine, notified police that his wife was hiding his children from him, and Haag and Cyphert were arrested. Haag has remained in jail since his arrest last April. Cyphert was released on bail last September.
Cavanaugh told the jurors — six women and six men — that when Cyphert and Haag learned that Hodges was on his way to retrieve his daughters, they packed and readied to leave their Jonesport home for Ohio. Cavanaugh said the couple hid the two girls, then 9 and 12, in an Ellsworth motel, leaving them alone while the adults returned to Jonesport to deal with Hodges and the police.
Cavanaugh suggested the jury focus on the facts: “This is about keeping [the girls] from their dad and brother.”
But the defense attorneys for Cyphert and Haag painted a picture of a family that first fell apart and then fell away from each other.
Cyphert’s defense attorney, Jeff Davidson, likened the case to Shakespeare’s play “Much Ado About Nothing.” He said when Hodges and Cyphert separated, the children were given the choice of whom to live with. The girls chose their mother; the son chose his father. The father and son moved to Florida; the mother, her daughters and Haag stayed for two years in South Carolina and then moved to Maine. At the time of the couple’s arrests, there was no court-ordered or formal custody arrangement between Hodges and Cyphert.
One of the most damaging statements to the state’s case came from its own witness, Hodges. The children’s father testified that when he arrived this week in Maine for the trial, he allowed his daughters to visit and stay overnight with their mother. When Davidson asked him why he would let the children stay with their mother since she is charged with hiding them from him, Hodges answered, “This is the state’s case. Not mine.”
Haag’s attorney, Toff Toffolon, told the jury, “This case is not about a disenfranchised father. These girls were not secreted, not held against their will; they were where they wanted to be.”
During their turns on the witness stand, neither girl said she was kept against her will or hidden from her father. They each testified that they lived openly, attending church, visiting the Bangor Mall, local dentists and optometrists, and going to parties and sleepovers with other children.
“Did you have the freedom to come and go while in Maine?” Toffolon asked Airiel Hodges.
“Yes,” she answered.
“Did you want to live with your mom?”
Both girls, however, said they had no communication with their father or brother once their mother began seeing Haag more than two years ago, and Airiel Hodges said she was told by both her mother and Haag that they could not call or visit their father. Hodges testified that he and family members searched for the girls, visiting neighborhoods where he thought they might be living, searching for them on the Internet, and sending cards and letters to old addresses.
Cyphert, thin and trim in a striped sweater and black slacks, cried during her children’s testimony. Haag looked dramatically thinner and paler than when he was arrested and showed little emotion during the day except a flash of surprise when court personnel told him he could not speak with Cyphert during a break.
Haag was wearing a wedding ring; Cyphert was not. Testimony revealed that Haag and Cyphert were married in 2008, nearly two years before Cyphert’s divorce from Hodges was final, although it is unclear if that marriage ever was legal or just a ceremony without official paperwork.
Sgt. Glenn Mosher of the Ellsworth Police Department testified that the girls did not appear afraid or unhappy when he went to the Ellsworth motel and brought them to the police station. He said the girls never said they were being held against their will or that they were hiding.
Mosher testified that Hodges said the girls were being kept from him and when Mosher contacted the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, the sergeant was directed to turn the girls over to their father. Within a half-hour, Mosher said, they had left the police station and were en route to Florida, where they have lived since.
Both Cyphert and Haag are expected to take the witness stand Wednesday after the state rests its case. Justice Kevin Cuddy is presiding.
CORRECTION: The reference to the date of Cyphert and Haag’s separation has been removed.