"I knew my daughter was in danger, and I felt like I had no other choice but to run," says Cecilia. "I believed that during the unsupervised visitation that Jason [Sephri's father] had with my daughter, he was abusing her physically and sexually." Cecilia claims that when Sephri returned home from visits with her dad, she had red marks on her chest, arms and legs. "I picked her up and I held her, and she was just whimpering and crying so hard, and I knew right then that there was something wrong."
Cecilia took matters into her own hands and fled with Sephri on April 20, 2004. "It was very traumatic going on the run with my daughter. You never knew what was going to happen next. Every time I heard an AMBER alert, I waited to hear my name or Sephri's. Every time a police officer drove by us, I would hold my breath," Cecilia recalls. "I would go to the library and look up how to change your name, how to get a different social security number " just trying to figure something out to take that next step."
When Cecilia went on the run with her daughter, she became a fugitive and was wanted for a felony. The law caught up with her, and she was captured after two months as she headed toward the Canadian border. "Before they took me away and Child Protective Services came to pick up Sephri, the officer let me hold her. I just kept telling her that it would be OK and that I loved her, and that whatever happened, I would always be there for her, in spirit," Cecilia remembers as she wipes away tears. "I just kept kissing her and rocking her. The officer actually had to pick me up off the floor, and then they walked me out."
As a result of Cecilia's incarceration, Sephri was immediately taken from her and returned to the father. It's been almost five years, and even though Cecilia says she's not a flight risk, she is unable to be alone with her child.
"The first time I saw Sephri after I was arrested, it was wonderful and it was awful, all at the same time," Cecilia remembers. "I received supervised visitation with Sephri. I'm not allowed to know where she goes to school. I'm not allowed to know where she lives and who her friends are. This year she started kindergarten, and I couldn't be a part of it. You can't feel like a parent, when you have no idea what's happening in your child's life. I felt empty inside. It makes you feel like so much less of a person. I still feel like they're treating me like I'm a criminal."
"Are you a criminal?" Dr. Phil asks Cecilia.
"I don't believe that I'm a criminal," she says.
"Why did you do it? What pushed you over the edge?" Dr. Phil asks.
"The night before I left, my attorney called me and told me that he had spoken with Jason's attorney, and they both decided they didn't believe the abuse allegations, and he was withdrawing as my attorney," she explains.
"Is it possible that you were wrong? Because nobody seems to believe that but you," Dr. Phil says.
"I don't believe I was wrong. I feel I did the right thing," Cecilia says.
Dr. Phil introduces Bret Doyle, attorney for Cecilia's ex-boyfriend, Jason, and Kimberly Gruber, Cecilia's attorney.
Dr. Phil asks Bret, "What's going on here?"
"I've been on this case since February 2003, and through multiple enforcement actions after the paternity suit, I've questioned [Cecilia] on the stand about any types of abuse. [There's] never been any testimony about abuse," he says. "It was not until she got out of jail, and she filed a modification, that she had an affidavit attached to a modification, that I dismantled, and the court called her a liar. She has basically hung herself." He adds that Cecilia was the Sole Managing Conservator of Sephri before she fled. "The problems that were coming up were when [Jason] would use his money to go up and visit his child. She would either not show up, or she would show up and not even let him hold the child. There was never any alone time with this child. That's what precipitated the multiple enforcement actions." He says that while he questioned Cecilia on the stand, she told the court, "'I just do not want anyone telling me how to raise my child, whom the child's going to be with.'"
"Is that true?" Dr. Phil asks Cecilia.
"No," she replies.
Dr. Phil turns to Kimberly and asks, "What do you say about this?"
Kimberly mentions that she's new to the case. "Just by reviewing the more recent documents, it's incredibly obvious to me that the fellow counsel is not exactly honest in everything he does," she says. "On the other hand, Cecilia has told the same story again, and again and again, and I fully believe, with all of my body, that what she did was the best thing for that child."
Dr. Phil takes Kimberly to task. "In a matter of about 60 seconds, you said [Bret's] dishonest, and that it was OK that your client abducted her child and went on the run in violation of the law," he says. "Am I missing something here?"
Bret responds, "If she pulled this act in court, it would be a much different reaction to her assessment of my ethics."
"At this point, what you want is to regain some type of access to the child, right?" Dr. Phil asks Cecilia.
"Definitely," she says. "Right now I have therapeutic supervised visitation with her, but it's so difficult because an hour a week just isn't enough to have any kind of relationship with your child."
Dr. Phil asks the attorneys what the future holds.
"I had a parent who had a child taken from him, without his permission, for doing absolutely nothing wrong other than wanting to establish a parental bond with that child," Bret says, as he is interrupted by Kimberly. He turns to her and says, "You don't even know this case, Ma'am. I don't even know how long you've been out of law school, but it hasn't even been that long." Turning back to Dr. Phil, he continues, "It took him into financial bankruptcy, the trauma of him trying to locate his child. He lost jobs."
"He was in constant communication with Cecilia, through her uncle," Kimberly retorts.
"Lawyer, you don't talk when somebody else is speaking," Bret snaps.
The attorneys bicker.
Dr. Phil addresses Cecilia. "I think you set yourself back by going outside the law rather than just staying the course," he tells her.