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Mother found guilty of kidnapping daughters

Jacqueline Bontzolakes doesn't deny absconding with her two daughters.
She also doesn't deny taking them from Erie County to Canada and eventually to Barbados.
What Bontzolakes claims is missing from the criminal charges against her is why she fled: She said she and her older daughter were victims of domestic violence.
"We're talking physical, sexual, emotional and psychological violence," Tracy Hayes, a federal public defender, told a jury this week. "It's not just one day. It's a cycle. It's a pattern. And Ms. Bontzolakes lived it."
A federal court jury disagreed Thursday and found the Town of Tonawanda woman guilty of kidnapping. She could face up to 11 years in prison.
The story of Bontzolakes and her two daughters - a rare case of international parental kidnapping in Buffalo - unfolded over the course of a three-day trial that portrayed her as both criminal and victim.
Federal prosecutors insist she purposely uprooted her two daughters, ages 7 and 9, because she lost custody of the older girl.
"She was not fleeing domestic violence," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Fauzia K. Mattingly. "She was kidnapping her children."
The government's case against Bontzolakes offers a glimpse into international parental kidnapping, which until this year was rare, if not unheard of, in Buffalo federal court.
It has been a long-standing problem elsewhere, however, an issue so big that a Hague Convention in 1980 resulted in an international treaty governing how countries deal with these types of kidnappings.
To hear Hayes talk, the case against his client is not about kidnapping - Bontzolakes acknowledges taking her children out of the country - but rather the motivation behind what she did.
"It's not that simple," he said of the kidnapping charges. "The story started well before that."
It's a story that Bontzolakes says started when she was only 6 or 7 and was sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend. That continued years later when she was abused by her own boyfriend, the father of one of her daughters, she said.
What started out as a stable relationship, she said, quickly turned ugly.
"I was afraid," she told the jury. "The physical violence almost always led to rape."
Bontzolakes said the final straw came when she began to suspect that Norman E. Green was abusing their daughter, as well.
"She had a burn on her forehead," she said of the younger daughter. "I learned she was burned with a curling iron."
Throughout the trial, the prosecution argued that the allegations against Green were nothing more than a smoke screen that Bontzolakes manufactured after she was arrested in Barbados.
"All we've had are accusations," Mattingly told the jury. "No eyewitness accounts, no evidence, no text messages, no phone calls and no orders of protection."
Green, who had sole custody of his daughter when she was taken by Bontzolakes, also denied the allegations and at one point broke down while talking about reuniting with his daughter in Florida when she and her mother were first brought back from Barbados.
"There was some confusion," he told the jury, his voice cracking with emotion and pausing more than once to wipe his eyes. "I was only able to see her a couple of minutes. She was taken to foster care."
Throughout the trial, Mattingly and Eric M. Opanga, the other assistant U.S. attorney handling the case, noted that Green was never charged by any of the child welfare agencies investigating Bontzolakes' allegations.
They also reminded the jury that Bontzolakes began the kidnapping process - applying for passports - the day after a Family Court judge gave sole custody to Green. She remains in his custody today.
Hayes and Daniel P. Greene, the other public defender on the case, told a far different story and suggested that Green and Fred Smalls II, the father of Bontzolakes' younger daughter, were the motivation for their client fleeing the country.
"Did you sexually assault Jacqueline Bontzolakes?" Hayes asked Green at one point.
"I'm telling you, I never sexually assaulted anyone," Green answered.
"Did you physically assault Jacqueline?" Hayes continued.
"No," Green said. "I don't know where you're going, but no."
Bontzolakes also relied on a series of witnesses, including a University at Buffalo law professor and domestic violence expert who testified that he believes she was a victim of abuse.
"Yes, there's definitely a domestic violence situation," said Charles P. Ewing, a lawyer and psychologist, "and it's obvious she's a battered woman."
Ewing said her story, especially that she waited years before revealing her own alleged abuse and that she lost custody of her younger daughter, is typical of domestic violence victims.
When questioned by the prosecution, he acknowledged that he never met or interviewed Bontzolakes but that after listening to her testify, he was convinced she was a victim of abuse.
And when Mattingly suggested that Bontzolakes' testimony might have been less than truthful, Ewing said, "It didn't appear false to me."
Visiting U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson of Arkansas, who presided over the trial, allowed Bontzolakes to remain free until her sentencing.