NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) - The custody battle of a woman with Down Syndrome continued in a Newport News court Monday and Tuesday.
The verdict on whether 29-year-old Jenny Hatch will be her own guardian or continue to live under the guardianship of her mother will be revealed Friday.
Hatch has been in and out of courtrooms for months -- her mother is fighting for full guardianship and to keep her in a group home, but Jenny has repeatedly said she wants to live with her friends, couple Kelly Morris and Jim Talbert, who say they will gladly take her in.
Jenny told WAVY.com outside court Monday, "I am coming home. I have had enough. I am coming home today or tomorrow. I have had enough. Thank you all...I want to live at Jim and Kelly's."
But, in reality, Newport News Judge David Pugh could go either way on the case.
On Monday, Pugh repeatedly interrupted Jenny's attorneys and witnesses. He expressed concern that Jenny had trouble when she was living on her own -- trouble managing money and keeping up with cell phone bills, and she was hit by a car while riding her bike during daylight hours.
On Tuesday, when Pugh was scheduled to make a final decision on the case, he heard more witnesses supporting Jenny independence and pushed the final court decision to Friday.
Morris and Talbert took Jenny in when she was released from a hospital following a bicycle accident and her mother and step father refused to take her.
"Accidents happen," Morris said in court Monday. "We are at risk every time we walk out the door. That could happen to anyone. How many times does she ride a bike without an accident? I mean you can't judge because there was an accident -- you need to shroud all this protection. You can't avoid accidents."
Morris and Talbert employed Jenny at their thrift store. While living and working with them, Jenny was fully integrated in the community -- she worked, she volunteered in political campaigns, she went to church, she visited the local Panera Bread. Jenny even reached out to a program to bring attention to bullying against people with disabilities.
Jenny lived with Morris and Talbert until a Community Service Board and Jenny's step-father, Richard Ross, told the couple that Jenny would lose her Medicaid voucher -- worth over $100,000 a year in services -- if she continued to stay with them.
The crux of Jenny's case is this: Should she live where she wants, and will her Medicaid benefits follow her for the special services she requires?
Tuesday, witnesses supporting Jenny took the stand and talked of her involvement in the community. No one helped Jenny's case more than expert witness Sandra Hermann, an Intellectual Disability Medicaid Waiver expert, who said she was very concerned when she read Jenny's Plan of Care.
"Her preference was to live in the community, and that was not granted," said Hermann. "She was living in a group home against her wishes."
That group home decision was made by Jenny's mother, Julia Ross, who is now a temporary guardian of Jenny. What is clear is that Jenny does not like living in group homes.
"I wouldn't say it was in her best interest when she ran away four times from those homes," Hermann said.
Hermann further testified Jenny's Intellectual Disability Waiver follows her and she gets all the services it provides regardless of where she lives.
"She can live anywhere in Virginia as long as it is not an institution," Hermann said.
Neither of Jenny's parents made any comments in court Monday or Tuesday. Julia Ross refused to leave the courthouse in order to avoid WAVY.com cameras.
Ross is accused of physical abuse towards Jenny. Talbert confirmed those claims in court Monday -- Ross slamming Jenny's head against a wall, throwing her down stairs and into a closet.
"That is what Jenny told us," Talbert testified Monday. "We told that to a lot of people, the CSB, and her case worker."
WAVY.com asked Jenny about the abuse claims.
"I am not going to say anything to [Ross] anymore," Jenny replied on Monday.
On Tuesday, Jenny left court in tears when the verdict was not given because Pugh said he wanted to read two depositions first.
"I'm going home, Andy," Jenny said to WAVY.com through sobs.
Judge Pugh must first determine whether Jenny is an incapacitated person. Only an incapacitated person can have a guardian. If he can't, then Jenny is her own guardian. If the Judge rules she is incapacitated, then he can appoint a guardian, which may be her mother, Jim and Kelly, or someone else.
Closing arguments begin at 1 p.m. Friday at the Newport News Circuit Court. The final verdict will follow.
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