Prison inmate who tried to kill children loses appeal over parental rights

Aug 31 2013 - 7:49am



A prison inmate has lost her argument to the Utah Court of Appeals of the fact she tried to kill her children twice needn't curtail her parental rights.

"She contends that some evidence is unfavorable to her, such as her two attempts on the children's lives, was given too much weight" by an Ogden juvenile court judge, reads the high court's decision.

It found Judge Michelle Heward was correct in finding termination of Reggie Peck's parental rights "was in the children's best interests."

Her lawyers say the problems only come when she goes off her mental health medication.

Peck in July 2011 was sentenced to up to 15 years in the Utah State Prison on two second-degree felony child abuse charges for trying to harm her two toddlers. She'd pleaded guilty to the charges a month earlier.

The North Logan woman had been in jail since her Aug. 30, 2010, arrest by Davis County Sheriff's deputies who found Peck and her two young daughters inside her locked Dodge Durango in South Weber after residents reported a suspicious vehicle parked next to the canal.

She'd drugged the children, ages 4 and 2, with a sleep medication, according to charging documents.

Police had been looking for Peck after she failed to return the children to their father in Bountiful the previous night. She was on probation at the time for similar charges involving dosing the children in 2009, which had been handled in mental health court in 1st District Court in Cache County.

She currently has a parole hearing set for September 2014 before the state Board of Pardons.

The Court of Appeals ruling, issued Thursday, said the evidence in the 2012 custody trial before Judge Heward showed Peck "would likely always be a safety risk for the children because she is able to mask her symptoms and present well even when she is off medication."

While she's able to hid her symptoms, Peck's mental illness "ultimately manifests itself in severe episodes that put herself and others at risk," reads the 3-page ruling, which does not specify her symptoms.

Lyle Hillyard, her Logan attorney for the custody trial, argued at the trial that Peck's behavior could be stabilized with medications. "When she's on her meds, she's a great mother ... she does really very well," said Hillyard, also a 33-year member of the Utah Legislature.

But, he said, there is little that can be done to ensure a mental patient stays on their medications, even after all the consequences Peck has endured after going off hers. He said he's barred by privacy law from commenting on her diagnosis. The custody trial had been moved to Ogden to avoid the appearance of any conflict of interest with some of the parties involved.

"I know a lot more about mental illness now than I did before, after this case," Hillyard said. "It's easy to call in hindsight, but it's very difficult to sort out when you're in the middle of it."

Sam Newton, the Weber County public defender who represented Peck in the appeal, said her next decision would be whether to appeal to the Utah Supreme Court, which he would handle.

In his communications with her at the prison "she has expressed strong interest in having a relationship with the children," he said. "She calls them 'My two beautiful, bright, amazing little girls.'"

Loss of parental rights means no contact with the children, not even supervised visitation, Hillyard said.

The Court of Appeals also based their ruling to keep her from the children on the stable and loving relationship the two girls have established with their stepmother, soon to be made legally binding through adoption by the stepmother.

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