Fighting for Franklin

A white lawyer has him. His grandmother wants him back

The lawyer showed up at the hospital, and according to Collins, persuaded her to hand Franklin over to him. The stay at the hospital had stretched into several hours, and Collins says Moore promised to take the child to his own doctor the next day.

"We stood arguing five or seven minutes at St. Joseph's," recalls Collins. She had grown wary of Moore's intentions, and suspected he did not want to give up Franklin. But despite her misgivings, she allowed Moore to take the boy. "This was the worst mistake I could have ever made," Collins says now. "I let my child go back to this man's house."

As soon as she got home, she called Moore's house and got no answer. The following day, she continued to bombard Moore's house with calls, but still received no answer.

That morning, according to court documents, Moore had in fact taken Franklin to his own physician, Dr. Marrie Richards, and told her that the boy had complained that his parents had beaten him on the back, stomach and penis with a broomstick. Richards examined the child, found that the boy had a fever and noticed marks on his body that seemed suspicious. She recommended that Moore take Franklin to Texas Children's Hospital for tests. Moore took him.

Once the hospital admitted Franklin, its staff began asking questions: Who were Franklin's parents? What exactly was Moore's relationship to the boy? Moore had no parental documents showing he had legal custody of Franklin, and at first told workers he did not know how to contact Franklin's parents. That evening, when hospital personnel refused to allow Moore to leave with the child, he called Collins at the hotel where she worked.

Moore told Collins that Franklin was in the hospital. The next voice on the line, she recalls, was that of a child-welfare worker who brusquely informed her that she needed to get to Texas Children's immediately. When she arrived, she didn't yet know that Moore had alleged that she and Frank Chatman had beaten Franklin with a broomstick and forced him to drink toilet water with detergent when he was at Collins's apartment. Moore had also claimed that Collins was a chronic drug addict, and that he intended to get a court order to take possession of Franklin.

Collins says the hospital workers were prepared for the worst when she arrived. "These people were waiting for this monster to walk in the hospital," she remembers, "and they see a well-dressed, well-kept woman whose first concern was her child." Confronted with the abuse allegations, she vehemently denied them, and hospital personnel began taking a closer look at James Moore.

Franklin remained at Texas Children's for a week, but doctors found no physical evidence that he'd been abused, either by his natural family or by Moore. Still, all didn't seem right with the boy.

Among those who examined Franklin was hospital social worker Jennifer Stansbury, a former Harris County child-welfare worker and the wife of Fort Bend district judge Thomas Stansbury. The social worker hadn't seen Moore or Franklin previously, and hadn't been told much about the case.

What she saw in a hospital consultation set off alarm bells. Moore "was holding the child the entire time," Stansbury recalled in a deposition. "He was stroking him, his buttocks, and he kept going, like, down and then under. And it was a continuous motion down and under. It wasn't a pat. It wasn't anything I'd ever seen somebody do to a child before."

Moore also kissed Franklin on the lips, Stansbury said, in a way that was "sensuous, not comforting."

According to Stansbury's deposition, she later learned other members of the hospital staff observed Moore exhibiting "inappropriate behavior" toward the child.

Stansbury also stated during the deposition that she was afraid of Moore. When his attorney asked why, she answered, "I think he's obsessed, and I worry about being a target of his anger." Asked to explain what she meant by "obsessed," she replied that what she had seen in the hospital room led her to believe Moore was obsessed with Franklin.

Observers were also concerned by Franklin's own behavior. Harris County Children's Protective Services caseworker Tila Marbley saw Franklin and Susanne Collins together at the hospital on April 21, two days after his admission, and was struck by the boy's behavior."

"He was lying on his mother's lap," Marbley testified in a deposition. "He had his hand inside his briefs, and his hand was moving. It was an up-and-down constant motion.... I've seen little boys fiddle with themselves before. I've never seen a child go up and down, up and down in constant motion before."

When Marbley asked Collins what her son was doing, she replied, "He always does that." When Collins was instructed to tell him to stop, Marbley recalled, "he laughed and kept doing it."

After the hospital completed its tests and found no evidence of physical abuse, Texas Regulatory and Protective Services took custody of Franklin and placed him in a foster home, where he remained for two weeks. TRPS recommended that permanent custody of Franklin be awarded to his grandmother, Virginia Howard, a blood relative who offered a proven, stable child-rearing environment.

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