Defense in Dollars case glimpsed at

Date: 2005-04-12

JUSTIN GEORGE
St. Petersburg Times

John and Linda Dollar are good people who thought they could change the lives of seven children they adopted who had been rejected by their birth parents, according to their attorney.

But they may have gotten in over their heads, Charles Vaughn said, providing a small glimpse into what could be his defense after a judge on Monday set an Oct. 31 trial date.

"They got involved with children that came from a lot of dysfunctional families," Vaughn told reporters.

Now, he said, "we're trying to deal with the extra baggage these kids brought with them."

In other, understated words, Vaughn meant: The Dollar children, who came from broken families, were a handful for the devoutly religious Pine Ridge couple who took them in.

Vaughn declined to elaborate but said details on the children will come out once he takes sworn depositions or statements from the children beginning in June. Shanda Rae Shelton, the Dollars' oldest child, who is 25, also will be deposed, Vaughn said.

Vaughn spoke to reporters after the Dollars appeared in a brief status conference Monday where Circuit Judge Ric Howard also scheduled a June 6 status conference and an Oct. 27 pretrial hearing.

John Dollar, 59, and his 52-year-old wife were arrested Feb. 4. They have pleaded not guilty to charges of aggravated child abuse and torture. Their children are in state foster care.

Vaughn said he would not rule out a resolution before trial, including the possibility the Dollars could enter into a plea agreement with prosecutors. But he said he is girding for a trial.

"Twenty-five to 30 witnesses," the defense attorney said, "ranging from a septic tank (inspector) to an endocrinologist."

Whether the scheduled trial ever takes place in Citrus County remains to be seen after the dogged press attention the case has received.

"I have serious concerns whether or not a fair jury can be picked or found in Citrus County," Vaughn said.

Monday, three photographers and two television cameras trained on the Dollars' every expression as they stood before Howard clad in red jail uniforms, leg irons and white tennis shoes. Both uttered "yes, sir," while waiving their right to a speedy trial and said nothing else to the judge before they returned to the Citrus County jail, where they are being kept separately from the general population.

While the Dollars have said little publicly about what they're going through, intimate conversations between them and others were aired last week when several letters were released that expressed the Dollars' feelings about jail, as well as their bewilderment about the case.

They also found it surprising that those letters were available to the public under Florida's open records law.

"It upset them to see their private correspondence being published," Vaughn said.

More details are expected to emerge soon as hundreds more discovery documents are set to be released soon, assistant state attorney Rich Buxman said.

Justin George can be reached at (352) 860-7309 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

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