McLennan County District Court Judge Bill Logue denied a motion Tuesday to give Branch Davidian cult member Sheila Martin temporary custody of her children — saying the request is a bit premature.
Martin, who appeared in court with her attorney, Gary Coker, made the motion after the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services filed a temporary motion to name the children’s paternal grandparents as conservator.
Sheila Martin’s husband, Douglas Wayne Martin, a 42-year-old Harvard Law School graduate, was one of the 78 people who died in the April 19 blaze at the Mount Carmel compound.
Authorities found his body at the stage area of the building.
After denying Martin’s motion, Logue granted Douglas Martin’s parents Joseph and Helen Martin of New Jersey, temporary conservatorship.
Before the 51-day siege ended, Sheila Martin and her three younger children left the compound.
The bodies of Douglas Wayne Jr., 23, Sheila, 15, and Lisa, 13, have not been located in the remaining rubble.
The body of Anita, 18, has not yet been identified but is believed to be among the dead.
“The goal is to place the children in a healthy family relationship,” Logue said. “I felt her request was premature since she’s still in a Salvation Army halfway house and she has no employment. I’m not saying that all these things can’t ultimately fall into place, but that’s not the case right now.”
Sheila Martin’s attorney disagreed.
“She’s the mother, and she hasn’t done anything wrong,” Coker said. “There’s been no proof of criminal conduct whatsoever.”
Coker said his client will be leaving the Salvation Army halfway house and had hoped to get custody of her children before leaving for the Northeast.
“She’s being penalized because she’s a member of that group,” Coker said. “I don’t think that’s right and I told the judge that. They’re assuming that there’s something wrong with her and whatever it is needs to be repaired.”
He argued, too, that because the grandparents are 70 and 71 years old, they may not be able to handle the two children, who are 4 and 6 years old.
The couple does not have temporary custody of James, the Martins’ 10-year-old son who has cerebral palsy. James is one of three children that Protection and Regulatory officials hope to place with relatives within the next 30 to 60 days, said Jesse Guardiola, a Children’s Protective Services supervisor.
The agency started out with 21 children, and all but four have been placed, he said.
“We’re still waiting on several resources for the fourth child,” he said.
When one of the agency’s investigators conducted a home evaluation of Helen and Joseph Martin, the results produced a glowing report, Logue said.
The investigator wrote in her report that: “They are one of the finest couples that I have met in my 21 years with the agency.”
When reached by telephone Tuesday, Helen Martin declined to comment.
“I have nothing to say,” she said. “I’m not interested in putting their life out.”
In other cult-related developments, four more Branch Davidians were identified Tuesday as examiners at the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office continued to perform autopsies.
The four were Michelle Jones, 18, Vernon Howell’s sister-in-law; Pablo Cohen, 28, an Israeli citizen; Jaydean Wendel of the United States; and Rebecca Syahpieah of Samoa.