MACHIAS — Colin Haag, 34, and Amanda Cyphert, 35, who lived as a church pastor and his wife in Jonesport, were both found guilty Thursday of hiding Cyphert’s young daughters from their biological father following a three day jury trial in Washington County Superior Court. They were ordered held without bail pending sentencing later this month, shackled and taken to jail.
Haag was found guilty of two counts of kidnapping for taking Cheyenne Hodges, now 10, and Airiel Hodges, now 13, from the family home on Mason Bay Road on April 18, 2010, and secreting them in an Ellsworth motel when their dad showed up looking for them. These are Class A crimes and carry a potential prison term of 30 years for each count.
The father, Randall Hodges, who now lives in Florida with the couple’s 15-year-old son, had been searching for his daughters for two and a half years, court testimony this week revealed, ever since his and Cyphert’s marriage disintegrated when they lived in South Carolina.
Cyphert was found guilty of two counts of criminal restraint by a parent, Class C crimes, which each carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Both appeared shocked when the verdicts were read after two hours of deliberation by the jury of six men and six women. Haag visibly paled and Cyphert began crying. Neither testified during their conjoined trial.
Justice Kevin Cuddy set sentencing on all charges for 1 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 16.
In an unusual move, Cuddy offered to hear victim impact statements from Hodges or any of the couple’s three children before they headed back to Florida. Hodges and the girls declined, but Gabe Hodges, 15, spoke on behalf of his mother.
He told Cuddy that he had missed out on two and a half years with his mother and did not want to miss out on any more time with her. He asked the judge not to impose jail time. Cuddy then asked him who taught him values such as right and wrong and he answered, “My mom and my dad.”
“Who raised you?” Cuddy asked.
“My mom and my dad,” the boy repeated.
The teenager then asked the judge if he could hug his mother. Despite being shackled hand and foot, Cyphert was able to grasp her son as he hugged her. “I love you,” she whispered to him throughsobs.
First District Attorney Paul Cavanaugh conveyed to Cuddy that the youngest child, Cheyenne Hodges, did not want to come into the courtroom but wanted Cuddy to know that she loves her mother and doesn’t want her to go to jail.
During the trial, 12 witnesses were called and 19 exhibits presented to show a pattern of false and secretive behavior by Haag and Cyphert, Cavanaugh stressed to the jurors during his closing arguments on Thursday morning.
“Do the law and the facts match?” he asked them. “It is that simple.” The definition of criminal restraint, he said, requires that Cyphert knew she had no right to take or retain the children from their father. Kidnapping, he said, has a similar definition. Cavanaugh said Maine law is clear that, absent any court document stating otherwise, both biological parents are joint guardians of their children.
Cavanaugh portrayed Haag as a man living and perpetuating lies. He was never divorced before he married Cyphert and was never ordained as a minister. He had not fathered the two girls, had manufactured a false resume, held three valid drivers’ licenses in three states, had removed the children from school and had changed their last names to his.
“What gives Amanda and Colin the right to make [Hodges] look for his children for two and a half years and when he finds them, take and hide them in Ellsworth?” Cavanaugh told the jury.
In testimony by Hodges and his daughters this week, all agreed that when Cyphert and Hodges separated in 2007, the children were given the choice of whom they wished to live with. The girls chose their mother and the son chose his father. Within days, Hodges and his son moved to Florida. Cyphert and her daughters lived in South Carolina for another year and a half.
During that time, Cyphert and Haag became a couple and Haag began applying on www.pastorfind.com for positions in churches. He admitted in a jailhouse interview with the Bangor Daily News last April that he was not an ordained pastor. The couple moved several times while in South Carolina, moved to West Virginia in 2009, and accepted a pastorship in Steuben at the Lighthouse Bible Church in late 2009.
Hodges testified that it was an Internet search that revealed Haag was pastoring in Maine and that led him to his daughters. The biological father testified that he only came to Maine to check on his daughters, not to take them away from his wife. But Haag and Cyphert were arrested after police determined that the girls were hidden in the Ellsworth motel, and Hodges was told to take the girls home with him. They have been living with him in Florida ever since and, once back home, Hodges obtained a divorce from Cyphert that granted him full custody. The divorce also allows Cyphert visitation with the children at Hodges’ discretion.
Cavanaugh said following the verdict that he has not determined what sentences he will be asking for the couple.