A Kearns man will provide the best temporary custody for his daughter and another girl who walked out of the Freemen compound Thursday, a Utah judge ruled Friday.
The decision prompted fiery accusations of lies and broken deals from the girls' mother, Gloria Ward, and from an aunt who officials say brokered the deal with the anti-government group based in Jordan, Mont.Citing security concerns, 3rd District Judge Frank Noel told a courtroom crowded with local and national reporters that Courtnie, 10, and Jaylynn, 8, should go with Robert Gunn instead of the girls' aunt, Lynn Nielsen.
"The court does have some concerns about the security issues that have been raised," Noel said after comments from several attorneys, state officials and a tearful Gloria Ward. Gunn was never married to Ward, but lived with her and is Courtnie's father.
The Gunns will provide a secure and safe environment, Noel said.
The order was one of several twists to a complex story that has unfolded since the girls walked out of Justus Township less than 48 hours ago. Hours after exiting the plane - and in the custody of their aunt in accordance with a Montana court ruling Thursday - the girls were the subject of a custodial tug of war in a Salt Lake court-room.
The battle was exacerbated by a well-publicized stay at the compound and two Utah court orders that seemed to be at odds.
Armed with a temporary custody order issued by another Utah district court judge, Gunn traveled to Michigan about 18 months ago to get Courtnie but couldn't get Ward to turn the girl over.
The Freemen standoff prompted more judicial action on custody of the girls, who have been at the crux of FBI negotiations there. With the consent of Steve Mangum, Bluffdale, Jaylynn's father, Noel granted temporary custody to Nielsen on May 15 during the woman's efforts to get her nieces and sister away from the Freemen.
Martin Tanner, a Salt Lake attorney who represents Nielsen and Mangum, said Friday the girls expected to stay with Nielsen. They've already been traumatized enough, Tanner said.
Gloria Ward, whom Utah officials know as Tamara Mangum, begged the court to let both girls stay with her sister. "They know her, they love her," she said. "I don't think they should be put inside a dark closet and denied any physical contact with me."
But state officials said giving custody to Nielsen might mean contact with their mother, which Assistant Attorney General Craig Barlow called "the greatest danger these children face."
Speaking as a friend of the court, Barlow said Ward had placed the girls in dangerous conditions. "And she's continued to do that in the last two and a half months that they've been at the Freemen compound."
Noel agreed to let Ward and Steve Man-gum see the girls but only under strict and scheduled supervision by Utah's Division of Child and Family Services.
Frustrated afterward, Gloria Ward said the state had "welshed on their deal." They lied about letting the girls stay with Nielsen, she said.
Nielsen said the court's contradictory ruling won't sit well with the Freemen, who have little trust of the judicial system.
"Before today, I would have thought maybe things would end peacefully," she said. "But not anymore. Not after today.
"They (the Freemen) see me get screwed and they know they're going to get screwed and that the law won't be provided to any of them, either," she said.
Local constitutionalist Joe Stumph agreed. Stumph was with Nielsen in Provo when the woman got a letter from jailed spiritual leader John Perry Chaney that officials say prompted the Wards to leave the compound.
Stumph has been loosely acquainted with the Wards through the patriot movement and in a business transaction. He said Friday he loaned the Wards $5,000 to get started after leaving the compound. "They needed to fix their car and find a place to live."
He said Noel's reversal of the custody decision was unethical and dishonest.
"This is exactly why we have these groups like the Montana Freemen, because the government goes back on their word and abuses the American people in this way."