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Woman guilty of abducting son

Canadian Press, By JOHN COTTER, on CNEWS.canoe.ca, various newspapers and radio stations in Canadian and the U.S.A., January 5, 2005

RED DEER, Alta. (CP) - An Alberta woman whose son reportedly discovered he was a missing child when he typed his name into an Internet search engine was found guilty of child abduction Wednesday.

Gisele Marie Goudreault, 46, took her son, Orey, from Red Deer in May 1989 just as his father, Rod Steinmann, 42, was to be granted sole custody of the boy. She fled to Mexico and then to the United States where she was arrested last February. The couple were never married and Steinmann only learned he had a son 18 months after Orey was born.

Goudreault clenched her hands tightly together and stared at the floor as assistant chief Judge David Plosz delivered the verdict in provincial court.

"I find you did take the child in contravention of the court order and that you clearly showed intent to deprive the father of the child," Plosz said. "I find you guilty as charged."

The case made international headlines earlier this year when Goudreault was arrested in her Los Angeles-area home in front of her son.

During sentencing arguments, Goudreault's lawyer, Markham Silver, refuted reports that Orey, who is now 18, discovered he was missing on the Internet.

Silver said Goudreault told him about his father when he was nine years old.

"Orey was well aware of his roots," Silver said. "In order to Google himself he had to know his name."

Rod Steinmann was not in court for the verdict. He has spoken with his son on the phone, but they haven't seen each other since 1989.

However, Linda Steinmann, Orey's grandmother, spoke to reporters outside court.

"Nothing is going to bring back the last 15 years," she said. "At the trial, the defence argued a lot of technicalities. The judge has put them aside."

Silver said no decision will be made about an appeal until after his client's sentencing, which is set for Feb. 9.

After Goudreault moved to the Los Angeles-area she worked as an administrative assistant for a school district and has since applied to become a U.S. citizen.

Following her arrest, she was held in a U.S. jail for four months and then extradited to Canada.

During sentencing arguments, Crown lawyer Bert Skinner said the judge's options include a suspended sentence, a conditional discharge or incarceration.

The charge carries a maximum punishment of a $2,000 fine or six months in jail.

But he cautioned a severe sentence could make it difficult for Goudreault to return to California to be with her son because of U.S. immigration rules.

"We have concerns for the son," Skinner said. "It could deprive the son of both parents."

Silver urged the judge to consider giving Goudreault an absolute discharge or to give her double credit for the four months she spent in custody in the U.S.

He said Goudreault raised Orey well and provided a stable home life where he thrived, winning awards for scholastic achievement, student leadership and for excelling in sports and community activities such as the Boy Scouts.

Both mother and son were also active in church and performed volunteer and charity work with the homeless, he said.

"What we are really trying to do is protect Orey," Silver said. "Maybe the best way to do that is to give him his mother back."

Orey, who has also applied for U.S. citizenship, graduated high school last June and is now attending college in Los Angeles.

While he has maintained contact with his mother, the two have not met since her extradition.

Plosz said Goudreault clearly violated a May 17, 1989, court order that granted Steinmann full custody of Orey on June 1 of that year.

He rejected defence arguments that the fact Orey was still in Goudreault's custody when she fled Red Deer on May 28 somehow mitigated her actions, or that a subsequent custody order invalidated the court judgment.

RCMP say parental child abduction is a growing problem in Canada, with 358 reported cases in 2003.

The Missing Children Society of Canada says such abductions deprive a child of knowing both parents and of having important relationships with grandparents, aunts, uncles and other extended family.

Linda Steinmann said she takes no solace from the verdict and hopes some good will come from the case. She said she just wants to see her grandson again some day.

"It is not going to change anything for us," she said. "Hopefully, whatever happens, it will change something for other people who are in the same situation and are looking for help from the authorities."