Mother-in-law to gain custody of Sievers children

Published: April 8, 2016 2:58 PM EDT
Updated: April 8, 2016 5:08 PM EDT

FORT MYERS, Fla. – The mother-in-law of Mark Sievers, accused of planning the killing of his wife, Dr. Teresa Sievers, will obtain custody of the couple’s children, Lee County Judge Robert Branning ruled Friday afternoon.

But the arrangement could be temporary. Mark Sievers’ mother, Bonnie, filed a motion Thursday night to have the children placed in her custody. Her motion will be heard May 11.

“Mark is objecting placement of the girls with their maternal grandmother,” his attorney, Michael Mummert, said in court.

Mark Sievers signed a power of attorney form last year indicating his desire for the girls to be placed with his mother or a family friend who previously had custody of the children, Mummert said.

Mark Sievers cried twice during Friday’s proceedings, once when he told the judge the names of his daughters and when the girls walked into the courtroom following the ruling.

Ongoing battle

Friday’s decision is the latest in the battle surrounding custody of the Sievers girls, ages 9 and 11.

The first custody hearing took place in December, where after released court documents detailed suspicion of Mark Sievers’ involvement in the killing, attorneys from the state Department of Children and Families argued the children should be removed from his care due to the possibility of harming them if he was arrested.

Judge Lee A. Schreiber then described their case as one based on “probability and speculation,” ruling in favor of Mark Sievers.

Two months later, Schreiber allowed a now incarcerated Mark Sievers to continue having contact with his children while their permanent placement was being determined.

A custody hearing in March was continued because Mark Sievers had yet to be served with a petition for dependency from DCF. The document explains why the agency is removing the children from a parent’s custody.

Friday’s decision came during a DCF emergency shelter hearing to allow Mary Ann Groves, Teresa Sievers’ mother, to have custody of the girls.

DCF attorneys argued Groves has the girls’ best interest in mind, letting them make phone calls to their father and other family members.

Teresa Sievers’ family members have complained that Mark Sievers limited his daughters’ interactions with in-laws.

Groves, who relocated from Connecticut, said she plans to keep the girls in Florida.

“I will be there for my grandchildren,” she said in court.

‘An abuse of legal process’

Groves attorney, Christy O’Brien, said her client fears the children would be secluded from family if they stayed with Bonnie Sievers.

Bonnie Sievers attempted to take the stand on Friday, but was dismissed because the hearing was about Groves obtaining custody.

“There is no emergency here and so there shouldn’t be a hearing to change custody to the maternal grandmother,” said her attorney, Toni Butler, who described Friday’s hearing as a “manipulation of the system.”

Mummert had similar words for the proceeding.

“An abuse of legal process,” he said. “Not what he wants for his children. DCF has disregard for that.”

The girls were placed with the family friend after Mark Sievers’ arrest. The friend indicated she could not take care of the children long-term, and the girls began staying with Groves after the friend went on vacation in March, officials said in court.

Education was another contentious issue. The family friend wanted to enroll the girls in public school. The children’s maternal grandmothers insisted on homeschooling.

“There are a lot of chefs in the kitchen,” a DCF attorney said.

Mark Sievers, 47, remained in the Lee County jail, charged with second-degree murder in the killing of his wife, who was found bludgeoned to death inside the kitchen of the couple’s Bonita Springs home in June 2015.

His childhood friend, Curtis Wayne Wright, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder as part of an agreement with prosecutors and is expected to testify against Mark Sievers and Jimmy Ray Rodgers, who is also charged with second-degree murder in the alleged murder-for-hire plot.