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Jewish World Review Nov. 28, 2001 / 13 Kislev, 5762

Bob Greene

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Dad punished for not delivering his son to prison -- AND you wonder why people lose faith in public institutions.

In the days just before the United States went to war -- the days just before non-war news began to be pushed deep into the newspaper -- you may recall that the case of double murderer Kimberly Faust, who wanted her 6-year-old son to be ordered to have sleepovers with her in prison, was being covered here.

Faust, 35, is serving two life sentences in a Nebraska prison because of what she did on April 25, 2000. She apparently was jealous about a relationship she thought her estranged husband, Bruce Faust, was having with a woman named Shannon Bluhm. Kimberly Faust lured Bluhm to a rural area in Otoe County, Neb., and then, in a car, repeatedly stabbed Bluhm on her face, hands and chest. Faust set the car on fire, and left.

A man who lived nearby with his wife and three children -- Robert Parminter, 45 -- saw that a car was in flames. He hurried out of his house to see if someone needed help. He saw Shannon Bluhm -- who was on fire -- in the car, and tried to pull her out. As he was doing this, Kimberly Faust returned and shot Parminter in the left eye, the left side of his mouth, and, after he was on the ground, under his chin. Faust also shot Shannon Bluhm in the back of her head.

For killing the two people, Kimberly Faust was sent to prison for life.

But after she began to serve her prison term, she went to court to demand that her former husband send their 6-year-old son into the prison to have overnight sleepovers with her.

She argued that her divorce settlement with Bruce Faust entitled her to overnight custody of the child every other week. In Nebraska, prison rules allowed female inmates (but not male inmates) to have children between 1 and 8 years old sleep in the prisons. Once they passed the age of 8, the children no longer had to be sent to the prisons overnight. All such visits required the permission of the custodial parent -- in most cases, the spouse of the prisoner.

In the Faust case, Bruce Faust said he didn't realize that his divorce decree meant that he literally had to send the 6-year-old boy into a state prison every two weeks to sleep. He was fearful for the safety of the child in prison; at Kimberly Faust's murder trial, her own attorneys (in seeking lenience for her) had argued that she suffered from psychological conditions that caused her to handle stress badly, and was not always able to appreciate the consequences of her actions.

But then she went back to court demanding the sleepovers with the 6-year-old.

Otoe County Judge Randall Rehmeier warned Bruce Faust that if he did not deliver the boy to prison when Kimberly Faust wanted him to sleep there, then Faust could be found in contempt of court and sent to jail himself.

After we began reporting on this case, the governor of Nebraska, Mike Johanns, decided to step in. Gov. Johanns said he was deeply troubled by the entire situation. "There is an obvious problem," he told us, "when someone commits a murder . . . and then a child is turned over [to the murderer in prison] for an overnight visit. There is something inherently troublesome in the state's participation in that situation."

Gov. Johanns ordered that prisoners convicted of certain serious crimes could no longer demand that children be sent into their prisons overnight. The children would still be eligible for supervised daytime visits.

Last week the original case was back in court for a hearing. It would have seemed to be over -- the state had changed its prison regulations, the governor had stepped in on behalf of the child.

But Judge Rehmeier in Otoe County had been made to look injudicious by his original actions in trying to force the prison sleepovers.

And last week Judge Rehmeier found Bruce Faust -- who had argued persuasively that the child should not sleep in prison, who was so obviously in the right that even the governor of Nebraska ended up supporting his position -- in contempt of court for his original resistance.

Judge Rehmeier ordered Faust, an auto mechanic who could not afford to hire a lawyer in the original action, to pay $3,800 in attorneys' fees and costs, or go to jail.

If, by saying that no 6-year-old child should be forced to sleep in prison with a double murderer, Faust was in contempt of court, then a lot of people in this country -- including the governor of Nebraska -- are in contempt of such a repugnant notion.

If Judge Rehmeier is seeking to punish Faust for making the court look bad, perhaps the judge should understand that you can't order citizens to respect a public institution -- the public institution must earn that respect.

If the judge believes that levying the contempt fine is the proper thing to do, perhaps some citizens will, as a symbolic gesture, choose to pitch in to help pay the fine, to send the message that in this country a person should not be punished for standing up for what is right. The address of the clerk of the Otoe County Courthouse is P.O. Box 726, Nebraska City, NE 68410. Once the fine is paid, this case is over.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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