Local woman offers to oversee Taplin until second trial begins

Court has yet to decide on custody

Posted: Thursday, February 03, 2000

A Juneau woman has volunteered as third-party custodian for accused hit-and-run driver Joel Taplin until his second trial in May.

Janet Lee Dillman, author of a December letter to the editor in Taplin's defense, appeared in court for Taplin's fifth bail hearing Wednesday and again today. Her husband Steven Dillman did not testify about his willingness to be Taplin's custodian.

At least a dozen employees of the National Marine Fisheries Service, where victim Harry Richard Carlson worked for 30 years, looked on, showing tacit support of the late fisheries biologist.

Because Taplin's first trial ended in a hung jury last week in Ketchikan, defense counsel Thomas Nave said, ``We should be able to apply the presumption of innocence to Mr. Taplin.''

Nave first proposed that Taplin be released into the custody of his parents, William and Ellen Taplin, and reside with them at their Massachusetts condominium.

Nave's second proposal was that Taplin, accused of manslaughter for recklessly causing the death of Carlson in July, be released to Dillman, who lives in a small home in the Mendenhall Valley.

Dillman has visited Taplin at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center ``every Wednesday and Saturday,'' and wished to ``monitor a 12-hour curfew situation'' including regular check-ins with police, Nave said.

District Attorney Rick Svobodny said he should have been given more notice of the new custody plan.

Collins said Wednesday that she ``continued to have concerns with respect to flight risk'' of Taplin, 27, but would consider his parents as custodians if they established a Juneau address. She then gave Svobodny 24 hours to check Dillman's records, and scheduled today's bail hearing.

Dillman first visited Taplin on Dec. 10. In her letter she said she found him, ``a young man that any mother would be proud to call her son ... delightful, warm, understanding and compassionate.''

Dillman and her husband moved to Juneau from California in July 1995. They are the parents of three, including sons who are 28 and 30 years old.

Dillman used to work for a travel agency and described herself as a self-employed writer and photographer.

Under questioning from Svobodny today, Dillman said her work status means she could easily adjust her schedule to monitor Taplin. She listed the alcohol, including cooking wine, she poured out Wednesday preparing for her role as custodian.

After several questions about her dwelling, Svodobny asked, ``Who lives there?''

``Only Fred, Ellen and Roxanne,'' Dillman answered.

Urged to give details, Dillman identified Fred and Ellen as cats and Roxanne ``as a mannikin who sits on the stereo speaker.''

Steven Dillman is an employee of Silver Bay Logging Aviation, on call during December and January. During the rest of the year, he works a two-week-on, two-week-off schedule.

``What are your husband's feelings'' about the third-party custodianship, Svobodny asked.

``We are in complete agreement,'' Dillman said. ``There is no conflict between us because of it.''

No custody decision was made by midday today.

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