A jury convicted a Lakeville, Minn., dad of child neglect for abandoning his 11-year old son in a foreclosed home with a note to go to his neighbor.
Steven Cross, 60, was in tears after a six-person jury convicted him of gross misdemeanor child neglect on Wednesday. His attorney, John Price, said the disappointing conviction may mean his client, who has has not been permitted to speak with his son for five months, may bar his client from ever being guardian of his son.
"What should have happened was to get him to see a counselor and back with his son," Price said. "Now we don't know if he will ever get to be with his son again because of the stigma."
Cross, 60, pleaded not guilty to child neglect after he left his son at their foreclosed home on July 18. His attorney said Cross left about a week before the sheriff was expected to remove them from their home.
"For 10 years, this guy was the ultimate parent while he, single-handed, raised the child," Price said, adding that the mother's rights were previously terminated by a court. "Things go bad and he doesn't let the child worry about the foreclosure."
Price said his client wanted to leave written instructions for the neighbors to have custody of the boy without the government's involvement.
Cross' letter read, in part, "To my son: If this paper is wet, it's because I am crying so bad. You know your dad loves you more than anything…there are no jobs for architects so I have to go because the sheriff will take the house July 27. There will be no more me … Some good news is your mother is still alive. Though I do not think it is for the best."
When the son woke up, he brought the note to his neighbor in tears. The neighbors called the police.
"He made a painful decision to tell the child to go to what he thinks is family," Price said.
Cross was arrested on Aug. 29 in California where he was living in a van. He was extradited and brought to Minnesota where his trial began on Monday. Cross does not have other family members except for an elderly mother in a home in New Jersey, Price said.
The boy's best friend allegedly lived next door and the neighbors were "family," Price said.
The neighbors testified that they would have welcomed him, Price said. The boy is now in the custody of his great aunt on his mother's side. The prosecutor said if he had dropped him off he wouldn't have been a crime, Price said. But the statute says that Cross willfully deprived his child of supervision because the child woke up without his presence.
"I do that every morning," Price said of his son in the sixth grade. " I told the jury don't confuse sadness with harm. He wasn't harmed. He was sad."
Now, Price said, the government has become involved in a way that is "absolutely detrimental" to the boy. The judge has indicated he doesn't plan to send Cross to jail, Price added.
Since he returned, authorities have prohibited Cross from contacting his son who is living in foster care with his great aunt.
But Cross has said he will keep fighting to get his son back.