Father convicted of murdering children’s mother denied TPR appeal

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An imprisoned father who murdered the mother of his children and burned down her home lost his appeal of the termination of his parental rights after an appellate court concluded that the children were better off out of his care. 

In September 2016, minor children S.K. Jr., E.K. and M.K. were removed from their father’s care and adjudicated children in need of services after father S.K. was arrested and charged with murdering their mother and burning down her house. He was ultimately convicted of the crimes and sentenced in January 2018 to an aggregate 65 years in prison.

A trial court soon after concluded that efforts to reunify S.K. with his children were no longer necessary pursuant to Indiana Code section 31-34-21-5.6, and DCS filed petitions to involuntarily terminate his parental rights.

The children, who are intended to be adopted by their maternal grandmother, had already been twice removed from their parents’ care and adjudicated as CHINS when S.K. was issued a no-contact order in 2011 and again in April 2016, after he was charged with battery of their mother resulting in bodily injury.

After his murder conviction, Warren Circuit Court concluded that S.K did not have the ability to care for his children and that any sort of visitation or reunification with him would only further traumatize the kids. It also ruled that the reasons for their placement outside of S.K.’s care would not be remedied, and that the termination of his parental rights was in the children’s best interest.

S.K. appealed, arguing an abuse of discretion occurred in allowing the children’s therapist to testify concerning statements they made during therapy, that DCS failed to prove it made reasonable reunification efforts, and that the termination order lacked sufficient evidence.

The Indiana Court of Appeals rejected all of S.K.’s claims in In re the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of S.K., E.K., and M.K. (Minor Children), and S.K., Sr. (Father) v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 18A-JT-2200, first finding that there was no inadmissible hearsay in the therapist’s testimony of the children’s fear of and anger with S.K.

Those statements — which would be harmless even if admitted hearsay — were based primarily on the therapist’s observations of the children and the statements made to her during therapy, as well as the treatment plan and the children’s therapy goals, the appellate court concluded.

It further found DCS’s failure to offer reunification services for S.K. and the children was not a violation of his due process rights based on his incarceration, lengthy sentence and the fact that he killed their mother.

Lastly, the appellate court found there was sufficient evidence to support the termination of S.K.’s parental rights. It therefore concluded that termination was in the children’s best interests and was supported by the opinions of their therapist and DCS service providers.

“In this case, Father destroyed his relationship with his children when he murdered their mother and burned down their home. Father caused significant harm and trauma to his children,” Judge Paul D. Mathias wrote. “Even considering the possibility that Father’s convictions might eventually be reversed on appeal, the children require stability immediately. They have suffered long enough.”

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