By City News Service
A state appeals court panel Thursday ordered a judge to allow a woman and her husband to withdraw their no-contest pleas to child custody deprivation for taking her three sons -- grandsons of a Southland congressman who previously lived in Diamond Bar -- to Mexico, where they remained for more than three years.
"Because defendants' pleas were, in part, based upon the court's illusory promise that they could prosecute this appeal, we reverse the judgments and remand the case to the trial court to permit defendants to withdraw their pleas," the three-justice panel wrote in the case of Jennifer Lopez DeJongh and George DeJongh.
The appellate panel directed the lower court to reinstate the judgments if the couple do not choose to withdraw their pleas within 30 days of the decision being finalized.
Over the prosecution's objection, the two were sentenced in November 2012 to five years probation and 100 hours of community service in connection with the three felony counts.
They were accused of depriving the boys' paternal grandparents -- Rep.
Gary Miller, R-Rancho Cucamonga, and his wife, Cathy -- of their right to visit
the children by taking the boys to Mexico in November 2007.
When the DeJonghs were found in Mexico in August 2011, the congressman thanked authorities for tracking down the boys, twins then 10 years old, and their then-12-year-old brother.
The couple's attorney, Michael V. Severo, said then that he intended to ask a panel from California's 2nd District Court of Appeal to consider another judge's ruling in the case.
Deputy District Attorney Whelma Llanos said in November 2012 that she had sought a suspended state prison term that would have made the charges ineligible to be reduced to misdemeanors.
"We do believe this is felonious conduct," the prosecutor said at the time.
Jennifer DeJongh has publicly accused the boys' father of abusing the children.