The Supreme Court Rhode Island ruled on Thursday that the parental rights of a convicted murderer serving two consecutive life sentences were correctly limited by the lower state courts.
Tony Gonzalez was convicted of two counts of murder in July 2012 and sentenced to serve two consecutive life imprisonment terms. While serving his sentence, his child, Izabella, was removed from the care of her mother after the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) was informed of her medical commitment due to severe “substance-abuse and mental-health issues.” Izabella was placed into the custody of the DCYF, which soon moved to sever the parental rights of Gonzalez, stating that there “was not a substantial probability that the child would be returned to the parents’ care within a reasonable period of time” due to his life imprisonment. Gonzalez appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court.
Gonzalez’s primary complaint revolved around one of the DCYF’s expert witnesses, a child therapist named Christie Wilson. Gonzalez argued that Wilson should not have been allowed to testify since she did not hold a degree in child psychology and that the lower court’s ruling based on her testimony was therefore in error. The Supreme Court decided that Wilson was qualified, however, since she had extensive “education, training, employment, [and] prior experiences” in her more than 20 years of work as a child therapist. The court stated that “the mere fact that Wilson did not have a degree in child psychology was not disqualifying” and that the lack of a college degree in the field “might bear on the weight of [the] testimony, but not its admissibility.” As a result, the Supreme Court ruled that Gonzalez did not have grounds to object to the admission of Wilson’s testimony and upheld the loss of his parental rights.