Hearing on Parsonses’ children closed to public after ‘far too much sensational publicity’
The adoptive parents of missing teen Erica Parsons were in court Thursday for a custody review hearing on their two youngest children, who were removed from their home by the Rowan Department of Social Services.
A judge closed the hearing to the public at the request of attorneys for the Parsonses and Social Services. A source with knowledge of the case said the couple did not get their children back at the close of the hearing.
Sandy and Casey Parsons’ youngest children have been placed with Casey Parsons’ mother. Social workers removed the children — a boy and girl aged 7 and 9 — July 31 after authorities began investigating the disappearance of Erica, who is now 15 years old.
Erica Parsons — a niece who the couple took in as an infant and adopted at age 2 — has been missing nearly two years, but was only reported missing on July 30 by her adoptive brother, James.
Investigators have searched a storage shed owned by the Parsonses and located on the property of Sandy Parsons’ father in China Grove. A warrant says investigators collected a hammer, teeth and a videotape, among other things.
A week earlier, investigators seized items from the couple’s Miller Chapel Road home including red-stained flooring and drywall, two large knives in shrink wrap, and literature about child death cases including JonBenet Ramsey and the Susan Smith case in South Carolina, the warrant said.
A WBTV reporter spoke with Casey Parsons as the couple went into the courthouse Thursday morning. She told the reporter the teeth were her children’s baby teeth, which she kept when they fell out. She said the literature about JonBenet Ramsey belonged to her sister. And she said she didn’t know anything about the red-stained wall and flooring material.
According to WBTV, Casey Parsons said the couple felt “blindsided” by the “Dr. Phil” show and believe the show made it less likely that Erica will come forward.
Their attorney, Carlyle Sherrill, told a Post reporter later that the couple won’t be giving any more interviews. The only comment he would make is that the “Dr. Phil” show was ratings-driven.
The hearing on the couple’s two youngest children was recessed Thursday morning and continued into the late afternoon.
Sherrill still represents the couple, but they each have a different attorney in the juvenile matter.
Sandy’s attorney, Gary Rhodes, told a Post reporter after the morning break the purpose of the hearing was to determine “if there has been a case of abuse or neglect.”
Casey’s attorney, Andrea Davis, had no comment.
District Court Judge Beth Dixon asked each attorney about their thoughts on closing the hearing.
Social Services Attorney Cynthia Dry said she believed the case would be greatly compromised if media and the general public were allowed to stay. The Guardian ad Litem attorney, Blake Evans, and Davis both agreed to a closed hearing.
“There’s been far too much sensational publicity already,” Rhodes said.
Dixon granted the requests, saying this was not just about Erica, but there were other children who should be shielded from the media spotlight.
During the lunch recess, the couple walked across the street to the Davis Law Firm amidst a media frenzy, but did not speak. Casey and Sandy Parsons stayed inside the law firm until it was time to return to court.
A Post reporter asked Davis after the afternoon hearing what would be next for her client. Davis had no comment.
Meanwhile, a local woman has planned a candlelight vigil for Erica at 8 p.m. today in front of the Parsons home at 218 Miller Chapel Road. (See separate story above.)
Sandy and Casey Parsons say they let their adopted daughter go to live with her biological grandmother in Asheville, and they believe she’s still with the woman they know as Irene “Nan” Goodman.
Investigators haven’t been able to verify that woman’s existence and the Parsonses say they haven’t spoken with her since February 2012 and don’t know how to contact her.
Authorities say the information the Parsonses have provided has not been truthful. The couple stopped cooperating with the investigation after a couple of days and hired an attorney.
Sandy Parsons failed a lie detector test on the “Dr. Phil” talk show. Casey Parsons didn’t take the test because she was in pain from a recent surgery, the talk show host said. She was offered a chance to take the test after taking pain medication but declined, the host said.