Judge says Taplin can leave prison

Posted: Friday, February 04, 2000

Juneau writer and photographer Janet Lee Dillman received court approval as a third-party custodian for accused hit-and-run driver Joel Taplin until his second manslaughter trial in May.

The approval came about 1:30 p.m. Thursday, after two mornings of testimony and deliberation at a bail hearing before Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins.

Thursday's proceedings included a closed hearing with Kenny Bennett, Taplin's former cellmate at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center. Bennett gave recorded testimony to police officer George Gozelsky on Nov. 17, and Gozelsky took the stand Thursday to relate what Bennett told him.

``Did Mr. Taplin tell Mr. Bennett anything about his plans when he was released?'' asked district attorney Rick Svobodny.

Taplin, a New England teacher, mentioned a friend back East who made fake IDs and drivers' licenses, Gozelski told the court, and said he would get false documents and go to Ireland. Then, because Ireland has an extradition agreement with the United States, he would go to Belize, the officer said.

Following the testimony of a state prison corrections officer who had written Taplin up for ignoring a direct order, Svobodny argued against bail. He cited Taplin's ``obstinacy with authority'' and the risk of flight.

The district attorney did not approve of Dillman as an appropriate third-party custodian because of what he called her ``fighting stance'' in court and the misdirection he said her answers took.

Defense attorney Thomas Nave argued for bail, calling Dillman ``a prototype third-party custodian'' because ``she does not have a stake'' in the case. ``She is motivated by heart and religion,'' ``empathy and generosity,'' Nave said.

In numerous vehicular homicide cases in which he has been counsel, Nave added, he couldn't remember one in which a defendant had stayed in jail more than a week or two before making bail.

Attorney F. Lachicotte Zemp, representing family and friends of Harry Richard Carlson, the victim in the fatal July 21 car-pedestrian crash, ``unequivocally'' objected to bail. He said he did not find Dillman ``able or reliable.''

Collins disagreed, saying, ``Mrs. Dillman is a mature adult. She has ties to Juneau. She and her husband have a home. He has a responsible job, and there is nothing that would not allow regular checks by police.''

Dillman has said she became ``haunted by'' Taplin after seeing his photo. On Dec. 10, she began to visit him once or twice a week. She testified Thursday that she was capable of monitoring him and shunning alcohol in her home.

Collins said that because of previous contact with Bennett at his trial, she could give no credence to his testimony.

``I have concerns about incarcerating a person with no prior criminal history pending re-trial, which, at the time it occurs, will be almost a year after the event,'' she added.

As soon as $100,000 bail is posted and third-party documents are signed, Taplin will be released to Dillman.

Conditions of the release include that he must be ``in her sight and sound 24 hours a day, seven days a week'' except when he is with Nave or co-defense attorney Louis Menendez for private legal consultation. Taplin is to consume no alcohol, and cannot be within 500 feet of the airport, ferry terminal, a boat harbor or heliport, Collins specified.

Svobodny requested that violation of any of the stated conditions would subject Taplin to immediate arrest.

Dan Carothers, superintendent of the Lemon Creek prison, confirmed this morning that bail had not yet been posted for Taplin.

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