By Juan A. Lozana
SAN AUGUSTINE — An East Texas jury sentenced two women to prison Tuesday after convicting them of kidnapping a Houston boy when he was 8 months old and hiding him for eight years before he was found.
Gloria Walker was sentenced to 30 years for injury to a child and eight years for kidnapping, to be served concurrently. Her daughter, Krystle Tanner, was sentenced to eight years for kidnapping and eight years for the lesser charge of reckless injury to a child, also to be served concurrently.
Earlier in the day the same jury convicted them in the 2004 disappearance of Miguel Morin, who is now 8. Walker had faced up to life in prison, and Tanner faced 20 years.
During the punishment phase, which lasted about 30 to 40 minutes, both women testified, insisting they did nothing wrong because the child’s mother had given the boy away.
Prosecutors told jurors during closing arguments that Tanner and Walker neglected Miguel during the eight years they hid him from authorities, denying him appropriate medical care and keeping him out of school.
But defense attorneys countered there was no abduction because the boy’s mother sold him to the women and his parents never showed any concern for their son and refused to cooperate with authorities.
The trial is in San Augustine, about 140 miles northeast of Houston, where authorities say Miguel lived part of the time during his alleged kidnapping.
Both Walker and Tanner asked jurors to sentence them to probation.
“I didn’t do nothing wrong,” said a tearful Walker. She also told jurors she had very little contact with the boy, saying she was focused more on dealing with various health problems.
But Tanner contradicted her mother, telling jurors Miguel lived with Walker for extended periods of time. Tanner said she never hurt or abused Miguel.
“I didn’t know they were looking for him. I didn’t know he was missing,” she said.
Prosecutors did not present any witnesses during the punishment phase but did ask jurors for a 25-year-sentence for Walker and an eight-year term for Tanner.
Authorities said Tanner, who used to baby sit Miguel, took the boy from his Houston apartment complex when he was a baby and that she and her mother kept him hidden in homes in Central and East Texas, renaming him Jaquan.
San Augustine County District Attorney Kevin Dutton said in his closing argument that claims by Tanner and Walker that Miguel was given to them by his mother are not supported by their actions.
“If Ms. Walker and Ms. Tanner had a right to little Miguel, why wasn’t he in school?” he said. “Why didn’t you get the rest of his immunizations? Why didn’t you take him to the dentist? They knew they didn’t have that right. They knew they couldn’t put that baby out in the public eye.”
Miguel remained missing until March 2012, when Tanner and Walker were arrested. Authorities began investigating Tanner in 2010 after her newborn son tested positive for marijuana. Investigators later determined that she had the missing boy.
San Augustine County Attorney Wesley Hoyt, the other prosecutor in the case, told jurors Miguel stayed missing for years in part because of a flawed investigation by Houston police, which closed the case in 2006.
But Rudy Velasquez, Walker’s attorney, told jurors Miguel’s parents, Auboni Champion-Morin and Fernando Morin, didn’t cooperate with Houston police after the boy was reported missing and never really showed any concern for their son.
A Houston police investigator testified during the four-day trial last week she thought this was not a kidnapping case but one about interference with child custody because she believed the boy’s parents and Tanner had an agreement related to his custody.
“This is not a kidnapping. What has happened is you have a young lady who gave her child away,” Velasquez said. “Ms. Morin was willing to sell her child for $200.”
The boy’s parents were not in the courtroom during closing arguments. But Champion-Morin, had testified her son was taken by Tanner and that Houston police did not keep in touch with her about the case.
Donovan Dudinsky, Tanner’s attorney, told jurors to consider that Miguel is currently not living with his parents but is instead in the custody of a Houston-area couple in deciding whether to believe the parents’ claims that their son was taken.
A Houston judge last month placed Miguel with Junita and Joseph Auguillard, who have also been taking care of Miguel’s four siblings for nearly 10 years under an agreement they have with the boy’s parents.
Miguel has been told about the true identity of his parents and his siblings, and he has been having weekly joint therapy sessions with his parents.