Woman Says She Doesn’t Believe She Endangered Her Child
Associated Press, Aug. 8, 2003
RAVENNA, Ohio — The trial of a mother charged with breast-feeding her baby while driving on the Ohio Turnpike took another wild turn in court Thursday.
Catherine Donkers, who’s representing herself, took the stand and questioned herself as a witness.
The courtroom scene was bizarre; taking the oath even became a several-minute ordeal because of her religion.
Donkers and the man she calls her husband, Bran Barnhill, belong to the First Christian Fellowship for Eternal Sovereignty, a group with a history of challenging state laws.
Under the religion, Donkers’ husband has complete control over his wife’s actions and she must obey him.
On the stand, Donkers told the entire story of what happened on May 8, when she was pulled over by officials after a truck driver noticed her breast-feeding her baby.
Donkers said her husband directed her by phone to breast-feed while driving so she wouldn’t be late to where she was going.
“I don’t believe there was any degree of recklessness in what I did,” she said.
The prosecution said she was so distracted when troopers tried to pull her over that she didn’t notice the sirens.
They said she was talking on her cell phone to her husband, taking notes on what he said, breast-feeding her baby and driving at the same time.
Portage County Assistant Prosecutor Sean Scahill wrapped up with the testimony of Ohio Highway Patrol Sgt. Michael A. Harmon, who was called to assist with Donkers’ stop.
Donkers is shown on police video refusing to cooperate with troopers until getting permission from Barnhill.
Harmon said he called Barnhill to the scene to take the baby while Donkers was arrested to keep the situation from getting worse.
Apparently, her husband wanted to be the defendant in case, but the judge would not allow it.
He appeared as a witness earlier in the day.
During a break, Barnhill said, “I directed her to do everything she did that day.
Under our faith, she obeys me.”
The couple also does not think Ohio law should be applied to Donkers because her car had a Michigan license plate,
In Michigan, children are allowed to be taken out of restraints or car seats to be fed.
And although Donkers was driving along the Ohio Turnpike, she was traveling to Pittsburgh, where she reportedly lives.
Both sides have rested their cases; closing arguments will begin Friday morning.
Donkers faces a variety of charges, including child endangering.
She faces up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.