"How many roads must a man walk down,
before you call him a man?"
- Bob Dylan
is a remarkable story (Westword News
, 12/7/10). It's remarkable in many ways, not least for the disgraceful treatment of an honorable father. "Honorable" is an accurate description but it fails to capture the courage and selflessness of Peter Spitz.
Spitz is an ex-marine who lives in Colorado. Back in 2000, he married a woman, Teresa Dickey, who he thought was the love of his life. She was some 18 years his junior, but the couple seemed to click and were very happy together, or so Spitz thought. They had a little boy the article calls Lee although that is not his real name.
One night in 2004, when Lee was a baby, Teresa carried out a meticulously planned crime. She made a to-do list and, at 4 A.M., took Lee to stay with neighbors, returned to the house, put a pillow over the face of her sleeping husband and shot him with a .38. She turned to leave but heard him moving, calling her name for help. So she shot him again. And again. Then she murdered his mother who was living with them. Teresa Spitz drove herself to the police station, handed an officer the pistol and told what she had done.
Meanwhile her husband had managed to dial 911 and was on the way to the hospital. He would ultimately make a significant recovery, but his wife's attack left him permanently blind and lacking the sense of smell.
Still, at her trial, Peter Spitz was his wife's greatest champion. Her defense was one of insanity that two experts agreed with. Most importantly, so did her only living victim, Peter. Surprising as it was to her attorneys, Peter testified to her great love for his mother, the woman she'd shot in the back of the head in cold blood. According to Peter, Teresa had never indicated animosity toward him or his mother. He still didn't know about an incident in which Teresa may have tried to kill Lee by drowning him in the bathtub. As far as he could tell, her actions could only have stemmed from some sort of psychotic break. The experts agreed.
So did the jury that acquitted her of murder by reason of insanity.
Teresa Spitz didn't go to prison, she went to the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo. She's been there ever since and, for the most part, has behaved as a model patient. As a result, she's gotten greater and greater freedom and more and more privileges. Members of the staff want that to continue including having unsupervised time with Lee.
Whether that's such a good idea is a matter of contention and Peter opposes it. But whether or not it's a good idea, any unsupervised time with Lee is more than Peter has. For the last six months or so, he hasn't seen his son at all. And before that, he only had visitation with the boy. That's because, during Peter's convalescence, Lee was placed in the care of court-appointed guardians.
And he's still there, not because Peter isn't a good father. There seems to be no question of that. And, although he's blind, he's fully capable of caring for his son as numerous friends have testified to. No, it seems that a therapist told the family court judge that Lee was "having difficulty transitioning" between his guardians, Don and Sheila Reynolds, and Spitz.
One problem with that assessment is that the therapist didn't think it necessary to watch Peter's the interaction with his son that friends say is exemplary. Another is that it comes in the context of Peter's attempts to dissolve the guardianship that the court had established for Lee when his dad was unable to care for him. That apparently got the Reynolds's dander up.
And who should they recruit to their cause but Teresa (who changed her last name to Lynn while in the Institute)? What did Teresa do to repay the man who stood by her in her trial for murdering his mother and attempting to murder him?
At a hearing last May, Lynn announced that she was concerned that Spitz (the man she tried to kill) might harm Lee (the son she tried to drown) in the future.
"Teresa stood up in court and accused me of being a child molester," he says. The allegation apparently stemmed from an e-mail exchange the two had had, in which Spitz wrote something about how he was so lonely he might be reduced to cruising nursing homes or buying an "underage girl" in Latin America -- some off-color joking around, Spitz says, that wasn't unusual in their communications.
The accusation didn't go anywhere, but it was the last straw for Spitz. He now keeps his contact with Lynn to a minimum. "What I've seen over the last six years is that she's totally focused on herself," he says. "She wants her freedom. She really thinks she's going to be back in our son's life. But she's been so vindictive and dishonest. She's been working very hard against me, and she's never defended me when I needed her."
I have little doubt that Teresa Spitz was insane on the night she tried to kill her husband. But that was then and this is now, and the various mental health professionals can't have it both ways. If she's now so mentally capable that she can visit with her son, she's mentally capable of the type of effort to deprive a decent man of the boy that she seems to be making. And the court should be treating this case like any other, except that the mother has a history of the most extreme domestic violence against her husband and her son.
If a court were to do that, it would dissolve the guardianship and place Lee in his father's care. Even if the therapist was correct that the child is having problems transitioning between households, that's evidence that the guardians should be removed from his life, not that his father should be. The court might want to remember that, as the boy's father, he's the one with constitutionally-guaranteed parental rights, not them. That done, the absolute maximum contact that Teresa should be allowed with the boy is occasional and closely supervised.
Remember, this is a woman who gave no one any signs of being dangerous until the instant she put a pistol to her sleeping husband's face and pulled the trigger. If she is allowed greater freedom with Lee and ends up harming him, the blood will not be only on her hands.
Meanwhile, the age-old question demands an answer; what does a father have to do to be allowed to care for his child?
Let me try to be clear. This is a man who was strong and loyal and did what he saw as the right thing under the most trying of circumstances. This is a man who was robbed of his sight and who now lives in perpetual darkness.
Tonya Martinez remembers how hesitant her former neighbor was, in his first weeks after rehab, about everything from leaving his apartment to cooking a meal when he couldn't smell it burning. But he found a mighty purpose in trying to save what was left of his family.
Peter doesn't have a lot of people right now," she says. "It's just him and his dark little world. If he had his son there, I think it would help him see the bright side. That's his life. That's his blood supply right there."
It's what a couple of guardians, his ex-wife, some mental health professionals and a court seem bent on taking away.
Thanks to Kevin for the heads-up.