A Morenci man accused of parental kidnapping now faces charges that could lead to life in prison.
Kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment charges were added last week to an existing accusation of parental kidnapping against John Skelton, 39.
The parental kidnapping charge could result in imprisonment of one year, but the new kidnapping charge comes with the possibility of three life sentences.
Skelton faces kidnapping charges relating to the disappearance of his three sons, Andrew, 9, Alexander, 7, and Tanner, 5, following a Thanksgiving visitation. Skelton failed to return the boys to their mother, Tanya, and claimed they were given to an unnamed organization.
Morenci police chief Larry Weeks doubts Skelton’s story and announced Feb. 1 that the focus of the investigation was changing from missing persons to homicide.
The new charges were to have been presented in circuit court Feb. 23, but Skelton’s public defender, John Glaser, requested a two-week adjournment for time to study the new information submitted by the Morenci Police Department.
Chief Weeks said the new reports he submitted to county prosecuting attorney Jonathan Poer led to the heightened charges.
The three kidnapping charges claim the children were restrained with the intent of taking them outside of the state. “Restrain” is defined as restricting a person’s movements or to confine the person so as to interfere with that person’s liberty without that person’s consent or without legal authority.
Volunteer search crews combed rural areas in Northwest Ohio in search of the boys after their disappearance. Information collected by police suggested Skelton may have traveled with his sons into Ohio.
The unlawful imprisonment charges, in this case, Weeks said, refer to the children being secretly confined. Those charges each carry a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
Glaser will study the new information and talk to Skelton for a decision on how to proceed. Circuit Court Judge Margaret Noe set March 9 as the next hearing date.
Glaser told the Adrian Daily Telegram that it is up to Skelton to decide whether to proceed with setting a trial date or to demand a preliminary examination relating to the new charges. At an examination, the prosecution would be required to present evidence supporting the new charges.
In December, Skelton waived his right to a hearing regarding the parental kidnapping charges.
Skelton is also scheduled to appear in court March 18 regarding contempt of court charges. His failure to return the children breaks the provisions of the visitation agreement with his estranged wife.