September 24 2008 - Holly Collins, Fugitive Mom Sentenced...

Fugitive Mom Sentenced in 90's Custody Dispute
Star Tribune, September 24, 2008

A Minneapolis woman who fled to the Netherlands 14 years ago to protect herself and her children returned Tuesday. She went to court, but she won't go to prison.

By Rochelle Olson, Star Tribune
Last update: September 24, 2008 - 5:28 AM

A Twin Cities woman who became a cause célêbre for battered women's advocates after fleeing the country with her three children 14 years ago returned home defiant Tuesday, blaming the courts for failing to believe her children and saying she would do it all again.

"I should have left sooner," said Holly-Ann Collins, 43, who was living in the Netherlands until a neighbor there recently saw an FBI wanted poster of the children and tipped off authorities. "It's the best thing I ever did."

She was joined by her daughter, Jennifer Collins, now 23, who said, "My mom is the greatest woman I know. ... We should have been listened to."

Holly-Ann Collins pleaded guilty to contempt of court before Hennepin County District Judge Margaret Daly, who gave her a 90-day stayed sentence and 40 hours of community service. She will not serve time in prison under a deal negotiated with prosecutors in recent weeks.

Her lawyer, Alan Rosenfeld, said Collins wasn't "admitting guilt" but merely acknowledging she "violated the court order" by taking the children from her husband, who had custody at the time.

In exchange for the guilty plea, Collins was allowed to return to the United States and another charge of parental abduction was dropped.

Collins fled the country in 1994 with Jennifer, then 9, and Zachary, then 11, after a lengthy custody dispute with her husband that included her allegations of abuse against him and assertions that she was mentally ill, suffering from the rare Munchausen syndrome by proxy in which a parent fabricates illnesses in children.

Collins had custody of a third child, who had a different father and was born after her divorce.
The FBI began a nationwide search for Collins that year, after she and her children disappeared June 30 from her Uptown apartment, leaving behind a poster saying, "Don't worry about us. We're safe. Please don't try to find us. We're fleeing an abusive relationship."

Collins was charged with "depriving another of parental or custodial rights," a felony.
Collins, who was granted asylum in the Netherlands, said she always told her kids they could return if they wanted. Jennifer Collins now wants to work in Washington, D.C., as an advocate for children.

Jennifer Collins said Tuesday that she feared for her family's safety had her mother not taken them away.

County Attorney Mike Freeman called the case "very difficult" and said that Collins' former husband, Mark Collins, was consulted about the arrangements. Calls to Mark Collins' Maple Grove home were not returned, but he has repeatedly denied abuse in court proceedings.
To prosecute Holly-Ann Collins would have required testimony from the children she has had custody of for 14 years, he said, making conviction difficult. "These kids don't need this to go on any further," Freeman said.

Mark and Holly-Ann, who had been married eight years, divorced in 1990. She initially was given custody of the children, but in November 1991, she refused to send them to visit their father because she said she feared for their safety. Three months later, Mark Collins sought and was awarded sole custody of the children based on her interference.

The court determined that Holly-Ann Collins suffered from mental illness and was a danger to her children. An amended order acknowledged there was "sufficient evidence" that she had been abused during the marriage.

Holly-Ann said she fled after Zachary, 11 at the time, threatened to kill himself. Zachary Collins was not in the courtroom because he didn't want to see his father, criminal defense lawyer Timothy Webb of Edina said.

Several supporters and advocates surrounded Collins, her daughter and lawyers, Rosenfeld and Webb, when they came down the elevator from the 17th-floor courtroom.

Collins and Rosenfeld lashed out. Collins said she doesn't believe justice was done because she shouldn't have had to flee. She held up court documents in which she said her ex-husband -- in his own words -- admitted breaking her nose three times and dislocating a shoulder.

"It's not justice when a mother has to hide," Rosenfeld said. "The American family court system just doesn't work with battered women and children."

Collins said the consequences for her would have been worse if she had not left.

Jennifer Collins said, "I always thought nobody cared, nobody gave a damn. It's thanks to her that I'm still here," she said with an arm around her mom.

Holly-Ann Collins said of her daughter's political ambitions, "This girl's going to make a difference."

Jennifer Collins said she called Mark Collins in June, but he was "cold" and told her she was 14 years too late.

Rosenfeld dismissed the "unfounded accusations" of mental illness as "diagnosis by quacks."
Just after her sentencing, Collins said she had more to say. She turned around in court, used her children's names and said, "I believe you."

NIS, the English-language Dutch news service, contributed to this report.

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