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Chapter 1: Ricky enters foster care


Chapter 1: Ricky enters foster care

Out of options to care for Ricky, drifting mom bids a tearful good-bye


Casey Gann was 19 and homeless when she brought her 3-year-old son to the Jackson County Department of Human Services to place him in foster care seven years ago. Tears in her eyes, she asked for a few minutes alone with Ricky.

"I talked to him and told him that he wasn't going to be with Mommy," she said. "I just told him that he was going to be going with somebody else, living with somebody else, until Mom could get it straightened out to where I would be able to take care of him.

"After I got done saying that, I said, 'Is that OK?' "

Ricky nodded.

"Before he left, he gave me a big hug and a big kiss and said, 'I love you, Mommy.' "

Then Ricky was led away.

The boy had been through a lot already. He'd traveled between California and Michigan three times on a bus with his mom. He'd bounced around homeless shelters and the homes of friends and relatives. He may have been sexually abused.

He'd had a rough way to go from the start.

His mother was just 16, a small-town girl from Springport in Jackson County, when she gave birth to Ricky on Sept. 8, 1997, in Chula Vista, Calif., a town on San Diego Bay near the Mexican border. Casey Gleason had hooked up with the much-older Rick Gann and followed him to the West Coast from Michigan. Rick was 39 when his son was born.

They weren't yet married when they brought Ricky home to a chaotic household where drugs were used. A half-dozen or more people lived there, on and off, including Casey's father. Casey said she tried to shield Ricky from the partying that went on in a backyard guesthouse dubbed "the Office."

To Rick, a 300-pound Army veteran on disability for deteriorating vertebrae, Casey was the neglectful parent. He said she would put Ricky in a walker or high chair and pay no attention to him. But if Rick was serious about being a dad, he blew it when he was busted in April 1999 while crossing into California from Mexico with several pounds of marijuana.

"It was like his third or fourth time," Casey said. "I told him not to 'cause he was going to get in trouble. And then my dad woke me up the next morning and said, 'Casey, I don't want you to cry or get upset, but Rick's in jail.' "

By then, she didn't really love Rick anymore. She caught a bus for Michigan with Ricky.

The two of them drifted around central Michigan, going back to California once more to visit Rick. But when he landed back in jail for violating parole, Casey and Ricky caught another bus to Michigan in early 2000.

Things didn't go so well. Casey couldn't find work. Once she did, it didn't last long. She went from boyfriend to boyfriend. Ricky was along for the bumpy ride.

Two complaints alleging that he was being abused were lodged with Child Protective Services in Jackson County that summer. One, in June, said Ricky was dirty and had a bruise on his body that looked like someone had hit him with an open hand. Another, in July, said he'd been whipped with a belt. Little is known about the allegations and nothing was ever proved.

By September, Casey was out of options to provide for Ricky. On the afternoon of the 23rd, she turned Ricky over to the State of Michigan.

Tim and Lisa Holland marry ...

It would be six years before Lisa Holland would be found guilty of first-degree murder and child abuse in Ricky's death and Tim Holland would plead guilty to second-degree murder.

The two met in the spring of 1997 through an online dating service. The relationship deepened quickly. A few weeks after they began dating, Tim asked Lisa's father for permission to marry her.

After their Nov. 29, 1997, church wedding in Williamston, Tim and Lisa honeymooned in Las Vegas and moved into a small apartment in Haslett, near Lansing. Tim worked first as a security guard at a Meijer in Lansing, then as a private investigator, even buying a Glock semiautomatic handgun.

Lisa's jealousy emerged early. She flew into a rage when Tim went for a walk and ended up talking with a woman who managed the apartment complex. Lisa accused him of having an affair and pointed the Glock at him, Tim said. But he never filed a police report and later sold the gun.

Years later, he told police he never knew what was going to set his wife off. "If I'm not home at a certain time, she's yelling and screaming at me," he said.

Tim began working as a warrant enforcement officer with the Jackson County Friend of the Court on March 16, 1998, the same day as his supervisor, Ward Staffeld. Staffeld said Tim left early that day -- and many others -- after getting a call from Lisa. She controlled him, Staffeld would later tell authorities, and he advised Tim to "get away ... while he still had a chance."

But Tim stayed with Lisa and, to satisfy a job requirement that he live in Jackson County, they took out a $70,000 mortgage on a three-bedroom home on a large lot in Summit Township, just south of the Jackson city limits.

... and begin to plan a family

By mid-2000, Lisa and Tim Holland, then 27 and 31, had weathered a bad patch in their marriage, and baby fever struck. Lisa became increasingly wrapped up in the desire to have a child, even consulting with a doctor about fertility treatments.

Earlier in the year, Tim had talked about divorce. He complained at work that his wife was lazy and, though she didn't have a job, wasn't doing anything around the house and had maxed out their credit cards.

"He was up at 4:30 doing laundry because she didn't know how to do laundry," coworker Robin Walling said. "She didn't know how to cook, didn't know how to clean. He said, 'She doesn't know how to do anything!' "

But when he'd bring up divorce, she'd bring up her ailments, including headaches she thought might be a sign of a brain tumor. And if he gave her an ultimatum, she "threw herself on the ground and started kicking, just like a child," Walling said Tim told her.

After they gave up on fertility treatments because of the cost, Lisa hit on the idea of foster parenting. It was a pathway to adoption: The state pays you to care for children while judges and social workers sort out the best course.

Wanting a family, too, Tim backed off from divorce. They applied to become foster parents through the Jackson County Department of Human Services and took the training. Background checks described them as upstanding citizens.

Staffeld wrote a letter of recommendation, calling Tim "an outstanding human being" and Lisa -- someone he didn't know well -- "a lovely person."

"Any children assigned to his care would be fortunate to be living under his roof," Staffeld wrote.

The Hollands' provisional foster care license came through Sept. 21, 2000. The state said they could have up to four foster children 5 and younger, though none who was highly aggressive or destructive or had severe emotional or physical impairments.

Tim and Lisa Holland were ready for a child.

Contact JACK KRESNAK at 313-223-4544 or jkresnak@freepress.com.

2007 Dec 2