Louann Bowers released from prison

I’m a bit behind in the times — this news is from July 1 — but I thought I’d share it anyway: Louann Emma Bowers has been released from prison after serving four concurrent terms for child endangerment.

(“Concurrent” sentences is where you serve all the sentences at the same time. Like, if you get six years for theft and twenty years for murder, concurrently, you only serve twenty years. “Consecutive” sentences are where you serve one sentence at a time; for the previous example you could get serve 26 years in prison.)

Louann is supposed to be on probation for 23 months. While she was in custody she had a sixth child, got her GED and took parenting classes. I hope she continues to improve herself now that she’s out, and maybe get custody of her kids back. It sounds like she needs a lot of serious counseling.

Louann Bowers sentenced

Last fall I wrote about one of those stranger-than-fiction cases (entries here and here): Louann Bowers, age 16, disappeared in 1993 leaving a note saying she was running away to get married. She vanished seemingly without a trace and some people wondered if she’d actually met with foul play. She was actually declared legally dead in 2004, eleven years after her disappearance. But Louann turned up in 2009, alive if not well, and stuck around just long enough for the cops to verify her identity, then she dropped out of sight again, only to reappear in 2010.

Louann, it turned out, had run off with her uncle by marriage, Sinhue Johnson, who is twelve years older than her. She thought of him as her husband. They had five children together (Louann was pregnant with a sixth when they were discovered) and had lived essentially off the grid all that time: the kids weren’t in school, they had no documents, lived in a filthy hovel that had no water or electricity and was later condemned. The children, who were between 2 and 13, were taken into foster care and their parents were charged. Louann said she simply didn’t know any better and hadn’t realized how abnormal the situation was. She said she kept the children underground to protect them from abuse.

Well, Louann just got sentenced after pleading no contest to five counts of child endangerment. (The article includes current pics of Louann and Sinhue Johnson.) She was given a term of 11 1/2 to 23 months in prison followed by 23 months of probation. She was in jail awaiting trial for nearly as long as her minimum sentence, so she might get out soon. Whether she’ll ever get custody of her children again is an open question.

As for Sinhue Johnson, his case is still up in the air. He was found incompetent to stand trial, but he wants a second opinion on that, and the case can’t go anywhere until that issue is taken care of. If convicted of all charges (in addition to child endangerment he’s facing weapons violations and theft charges) he could get up to 42 years in prison.

More Louann Bowers stuff

It seems that Louann Bowers (whom I wrote about earlier) was declared legally dead in 2004, eleven years after her 1993 disappearance. Yet the woman is alive (if not well), and if she overturns her death decree she could claim some inheritance from her dead grandmother that was distributed among her family in 2008. (Her share comes to over $100,000.) I’ve always wondered what happens if a person is declared dead and later turn up alive and kicking.

It usually takes several years before an MP can be declared dead, but there are exceptions, as the article notes. The September 11 terrorist attacks being one. Also, if the death is witnessed — like, if the person fell into a river and was swept away and the body was never found. It’s my understanding that in most states, if someone wants to have an MP declared dead before 7 years have passed, they have to present compelling evidence that the MP is dead. But once 7 years have gone by, the burden of proof swings the other way — to prevent a death declaration, someone will have to present compelling evidence that the MP is NOT dead. I’m not 100% sure on this though, not being a probate lawyer.

Shocking info on Louann Emma Bowers

Some surprising info on Louann Emma Bowers. She was 16 when she disappeared in 1993, leaving behind a note saying she was running away to get married. I later heard she was found safe in the summer of 2009, but had no other info. Well, now I do: the York Dispatch says Louann ran away with her uncle by marriage, Sinhue Johnson, who was then 28. She was stopped by a police officer in New York City in June 2009, identified, interviewed, and released back into oblivion. A few months later, child protective services found Louann, her uncle and their five kids in a hotel room. The children were completely hidden from the outside world:

The children range in age from 2 to 13 years old. They have no birth certificates, were never enrolled in school, never received medical care or vaccinations and had no documentation to prove they existed, police allege. For years, they lived in squalor at 734 S. Duke St. with no heat, no electric service, no water, no functioning toilet and a leaky roof, court documents allege.

[Police Detective Dana] Ward said they lived in one filth-covered room of the house, which is now condemned, and apparently used plastic sheets to gather – and use – rainwater leaking through the ceiling.
The children are now in foster care, enrolled in school and receiving medical attention, Ward said.

This article has a current picture of Louann and says, “The children aren’t at their expected education levels and there are possible mental-health issues with some of them.” Not a big surprise. More details:

“Everything was in complete disarray, covered in filth,” Ward said of the home’s interior. “It appeared the entire family was residing in a second-floor room.”
The building’s other rooms were uninhabitable because of clutter and structural deficiencies, he said.
In the room where the family allegedly lived, Ward found children’s clothing, dishes, pots and pans and a kerosene heater that was apparently used to cook on, he said. He also found one double bed and a set of bunk beds.
Water source? In another room, he found sheets of plastic hung to catch rain that leaked through the ceiling, Ward said. Rainwater that collected in the plastic sheets was funneled into buckets, he said.
“It appears that’s how they were getting water,” Ward said, as there was no water service to the building.

Both Louann and Johnson are now facing child endangerment charges in connection with this. The York Daily Record says they are facing additional unrelated weapons charges. Louann’s attorney says she was manipulated by Johnson and didn’t realize just how bad the situation was:

Bowers loves her children and never thought she was doing anything to hurt them, according to Gross, her defense attorney.
“She just thought it was their circumstance as a family,” he said. “She actually thought she was acting in a way that was best for her family, but she now understands there were many, many shortcomings. … She understands the consequences of her actions and the basis for these charges.”
Gross said he thinks Bowers’ own history factors into her “inaction” with respect to her children. He confirmed Bowers has been with Johnson since she was 16 and considers him her husband.
“The issue we have is that when you’re … with somebody, you tend to become what they want you to become, and that’s really where she’s at,” Gross said. “She has a very adolescent, immature view of love and loyalty.”

This reminds me a great deal of the Tanya Kach case. Except even more tragic because innocent children — though Louann was one as well — are involved here.