Couple absent for start of abuse trial
Arrest warrants are issued for the missing Allains, who are accused of child neglect and abuse.
By MICHAEL KRUSE
BROOKSVILLE - The long-awaited, much-anticipated Allain trial started Tuesday morning with a considerable twist.
It didn't actually start.
The defendants didn't show.
Lori Allain, 49, and Arthur "Tommy" Allain, 47, both charged with felony child neglect and abuse, failed to appear as scheduled at 9 a.m. in Circuit Judge Jack Springstead's courtroom. The day was not one of launching jury selection and the beginning of testimony, but of arrest warrants being issued, lawyers making head-shaking cell phone calls, Hernando County sheriff's detectives knocking on doors and even a close friend of the Allains wondering over the phone what the heck was going on.
At 9:20 a.m., Springstead issued recommitment orders, warrants for arrests, for both Allains, with no option for bail.
The next pretrial hearing would be Nov. 18. The next trial date is Nov. 21.
First, though, the Allains have to be found.
"Did I expect this? No," Assistant State Attorney Sherry Byerly said Tuesday morning in an interview in the courtroom. "Does it come as a complete surprise? No."
Elliott Ambrose, Arthur Allain's defense attorney, said he thought the no-show might have had something to do with county government and courts being closed Monday because of Hurricane Wilma.
"I just think that they have misunderstood ... " Ambrose said outside the courtroom. "I don't think there was any intentional conduct on their part."
Kristen Staab, one of the Allains' two older daughters who live on their own in Spring Hill, answered her home phone about 20 minutes before noon.
"They're going to turn themselves in," she said.
She was asked when.
"I don't know," Staab said, "and I really don't have anything else to say to you."
As of late afternoon, though, Lori and Arthur Allain, who face a minimum of more than eight years in state prison if they're found guilty, and a maximum of 30, had done no such thing, according to Deputy Donna Black, spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office.
The Allains were originally arrested on June 18, 2004, when they were accused of starving a 10-year-old girl until she was "at risk of imminent death," in the words of an attorney for the state Department of Children and Families. They were the girl's DCF-approved, "long-term, nonrelative caregivers." When sheriff's deputies found the girl, officials said, she was dehydrated and malnourished, weighed just 29 pounds and was being kept behind a double-locked door near the rear of a messy, smelly mobile home.
On Tuesday morning, with TV cameras, newspaper reporters and photographers in Springstead's courtroom, Byerly, the prosecutor, asked for the recommitment orders, and got them with no argument from the attorneys for both of the Allains.
Ambrose got on his cell phone and walked out of the courtroom and into the open lobby and then into a bathroom.
When a reporter followed him in, he said into the phone, "Hold on a minute," then pulled it from his ear and put it down by his hip and walked through some sliding doors and went outside before talking again.
He came back into the lobby a few minutes later.
"All I can say is they're in the county," he said. "My secretary is trying to get a hold of them."
Robert Christensen, Lori Allain's attorney, walked out of the courtroom lugging a big box filled with files.
"I have no comment," he said.
Mark Young, meanwhile, a Pasco County man who says he has been friends with Arthur Allain since they were teenagers, left a message on a reporter's cell phone Monday night saying he wanted to talk. On Tuesday, he said he was subpoenaed to be in court on Monday but that the weather nixed that and that now he didn't know what was going on.
"We were under the impression they were going to call to let us know when it was going to be rescheduled," Young said. "I thought Elliott Ambrose was going to call us. Now everyone is up a tree.
"This is kind of important here, and all of a sudden everybody seems to have dropped the ball here; nobody called and said nothin'. It's almost like they were set up for this. I do smell a rat here."
He said he didn't know where his friends were.
"I'm beginning to panic," he said.
It was 10:10 a.m. or so. Springstead was back in his office for a quick break before moving on with the rest of his docket.
"They're done," the judge said of the Allains. "They had their court call.
"I got other matters set for trial."
The warrant for arrest was official by 11 a.m.
At 12:10 p.m., a detective from the Sheriff's Office showed up where the Allains have been living, the right half of a tan, stucco duplex with a cluttered yard at 1332 London Ave., a couple blocks off the southern end of Deltona Boulevard.
James Bettineschi pulled into the driveway and got out of an unmarked olive-colored car with tinted windows.
He knocked on the door twice.
He looked through a window to the right of the door.
He knocked for a third time.
"Sheriff's Office!" he hollered.
Allison Atchison was outside in the street. She lives next door. She mentioned a van.
She told Bettineschi that the Allains' blue and white Chevy van was usually parked by the side of the road up on the grass. And that it was there Monday night. And that it was not there at 8:10 a.m. Tuesday morning when she came outside to put her daughter on the bus.
Bettineschi wrote his cell phone number on the back of a business card and gave it to her.
"It's in the computer system nationwide, if they get stopped or pulled over," the detective said a few minutes later before getting back in his cruiser. "It's an active investigation."
And it remained that way as afternoon turned to evening.
"They're still not located," said Black, the sheriff's spokeswoman, "and they haven't turned themselves in, either.
"We are actively looking for them."
Michael Kruse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 352 848-1434.