A planned meeting between a 4-year-old girl and the mother who was videotaped beating her in an Indiana store parking lot was canceled today because the child was sick, officials said.
Martha Toogood has the flu, and was too ill for the scheduled supervised visit from her mother, Madelyne Gormon Toogood, said an official with the Indiana Office of Family and Children.
Toogood, 25, became the subject of a nationwide search after she was videotaped shaking and hitting her daughter for about 30 seconds on Sept. 13 in the parking lot of a shopping center in Mishawaka, Ind. Toogood, who has two other children, turned herself in to authorities on Saturday. She faces a felony charge of battery to a child and is free on $5,000 bail.
Martha has been placed in foster care, but her mother will be allowed to supervised visits once or twice a week. Today's visit would have been the first since Martha was taken from her mother.
If the child is well enough, Toogood will be able to see her Wednesday, child welfare officials said.
Meanwhile, officials are weighing Toogood's unusual nomadic "Irish Traveler" background as they decide who will get custody of Martha.
St. Joseph Probate Court Judge Peter J. Nemeth told child protection officials they had two weeks to recommend who should care for Martha.
Charles Smith, the director of the St. Joseph County Office of Family and Children, said his agency tries to schedule family meetings quickly, but Toogood's link to the Irish Travelers will play a role in whether other family members get temporary custody of the girl, and whether Toogood and her husband regain custody.
Close-Knit and Private
Toogood revealed her connection to the Irish Travelers when she surrendered to police Saturday. The Travelers, a close-knit groups of wanderers who have been compared to Gypsies, consist of members who are mostly of Irish descent.
A closed society, the Travelers do everything in their power to avoid public attention, but this story has brought them out into the open.
In a 1989 ABCNEWS story on the Travelers, only one member agreed to be interviewed. When some Travelers were followed by ABCNEWS cameras as they arrived at a party, they were unhappy about the attention. Some made a variety of gestures while one male party guest flashed the news camera.
Since their arrival in America in the mid-19th century, the group has roamed the countryside, doing odd jobs.
Today a large number of Travelers still roam the country looking for work. Most work in the home-repair business, and some members, police say, have been arrested for fraudulent home repair. Toogood said her husband, a roofing, paving and power-washing contractor, is a legitimate businessman.
By some estimates, 7,000 Travelers live in the United States — most in Texas and South Carolina. About 40,000 live in Ireland and England.
Toogood's attorney, Steven Rosen, said he has told his client not to answer questions about being an Irish Traveler. He said she is proud of her culture.
"She was born in a culture and in their culture the life is to travel from community [to community] because the father, the mother had to earn a living," he said.
Toogood said she and her husband have been living in Mishawaka for about six months.
Seeking a Plea Bargain
If convicted, Toogood could be sentenced to three years in prison. A not-guilty plea was entered on her behalf at her arraignment Monday, but Rosen has said she would like to make a plea bargain with prosecutors. The lawyer said he hopes Toogood will get a plea arrangement that will keep her out of jail and allow her to be with her child.
"Of course, with facts of the case the way they are now, I am hopeful that a plea bargain would be offered by the prosecution which would entail a probationary period, community service," Rosen said.
However, Rosen acknowledged that the videotape of Toogood could be practically insurmountable and that she would probably have to ask for the mercy of the court.
"We will probably enter a guilty plea and throw ourselves on the mercy of the court," Rosen said. "If a jury has to sit in judgment of this lady, the jury is going to come back with a guilty verdict … I'm confronted with a videotape that shows Attila the Hun, no question about it."
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Monmouth County prosecutors have questioned a doctor who examined Martha at Toogood's request before the woman surrendered to authorities.
Toogood brought her daughter to see Dr. Jack Haberman in Bay Head, N.J., prosecutors said. The doctor agreed that the girl showed no sign of physical injury. Toogood then took photos of her daughter naked to document that Martha had not been abused, prosecutors said.
Authorities were alerted to the photos when Haberman took the photos to a pharmacy to be developed. Pharmacy workers, fearing they had stumbled on a case of child pornography, called police. No charges have been filed in connection with the photos.
The videotape, which was released to the media as authorities sought to find Toogood, shocked people around the nation. Since turning herself in, Toogood has been making public pleas for forgiveness.
On Monday, she told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America that she hit her daughter in the head and back, but did not punch Martha. She said she has no excuses for her actions.
"I slapped and pulled my daughter's hair," Toogood said. "There is no reason. There's nothing I can say that explains it, because it wasn't right.
"It's pretty much indescribable," Toogood said of the videotape showing her beating Martha.
Toogood's next court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 7.