The American mother whose extradition from Britain to the United States in July set off a chorus of condemnation from human rights groups is to plead guilty in federal court in New Mexico tomorrow morning, The Independent has learned.
Eileen Clark was extradited to Albuquerque to face trial for absconding with her three young children to London nearly 20 years ago.
According to sources close to the case, the 57-year-old, has accepted a deal with prosecutors to enter a guilty plea to one charge of international parental kidnapping in exchange for her freedom. She will pay restitution to her husband, John Clark, but will avoid all further punishment including prison time.
Barring any last-minute change of heart, the plea will be entered and accepted at a hearing at the federal court in downtown Albuquerque this morning before Magistrate Judge Lorenzo Garcia. Ms Clark is expected briefly to address the court. Mr Clark, who brought the legal proceedings against her, will not be called upon to testify.
In theory, once today’s hearing is concluded, Ms Clark will be free to return to Britain, where she will be reunited with her children, who are believed to have remained in the country.
Thus will end a protracted and emotionally charged legal drama which spanned the Atlantic and began in 1995 when Ms Clark fled her family home in New Mexico taking her three children with her, who were then aged two, five and seven. She has since alleged she was fleeing marital ‘abuse’. After at first staying with friends in the US, she took off for London. She later settled with the children in the Oxford area.
Ms Clark was initially charged with “custodial interference” for taking the three children away without permission from her husband. After she instructed a US lawyer, she was led to believe the charges had been dropped. However, she learned in 2010 that she faced far more serious “international parental kidnapping” charges and that she risked being extradited by Britain to face trial.
While Ms Clark took all three of her children to Britain, today’s plea deal will feature only one charge of parental kidnapping to reflect that only her daughter, Rebekah, 17, is still considered a minor. The other two children, Chandler and Hayden, believed to be 22 and 20.
The proceedings to extradite Ms Clark ignited a furious response from human rights groups in Britain, notably Liberty and Refuge. Ms Clark meanwhile argued that she was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and could not be expected to make the journey to the US.
However, in August 2013, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, upheld the extradition order and in June this year two High Court judges again rejected the challenge calling the PSTD claim “dubious”.
Speaking the same month, Ms Clark lamented the failure of her legal effort. “My case illustrates that domestic violence victims are still being failed, and it puts the imbalance of the UK-US extradition treaty into glaring clarity,” she said. “This is a treaty agreed upon post-9/11 to assist with national security. Where do I fit into that?”
On the day of the extradition in early July, Ms Clark was delivered to US marshals at Heathrow Airport for the flight to Albuquerque. In the British media, she had been widely portrayed as an innocent victim of the US-UK extradition treaty.
Speaking for Liberty on that day, Emma Norton, a legal officer with the group, excoriated the Government. “How can it be in the public interest to haul this vulnerable, terrified woman across the Atlantic to face her alleged abuser in court, thousands of miles from her home, friends and family? Eileen’s desperate case is a perfect example of how inhumane, unbalanced and unjust our extradition system has become.”
Today’s guilty plea, however, is likely to be seen by Mr Clark, who has since been reunited with two of his three children, as vindication for his nearly two-decade-long effort to bring the mother of his children to account. He has consistently denied ever mistreating his ex-wife and has since remarried.
By agreeing to the plea, Ms Clark will be obliged to drop all attempts of making a so-called “affirmative defence” in the case alleging domestic abuse at the hands of her husband. If she at attempts to resurrect the claims, the plea deal would be considered void.
The question of restitution, which will involve payments to Mr Clark for his expenses incurred in pursuing the case, will be considered at a later date. There is no indication of what the cost might be.
Deal or no deal? Plea bargaining
The practice of plea bargaining is ingrained in the US legal system. Indeed, most criminal cases in the US – around 94 per cent, according to the latest available data – are resolved in this manner, avoiding full jury trials and clogged courts, and lowering costs.
The constitutionality of plea bargaining was established by Brady vs United States in 1970 by the US Supreme Court. Some conditions were imposed to ensure defendants are not coerced or have their freedom to plead innocent unduly restricted by plea incentives that are too generous.
Typically, a plea deal involves the defendant acknowledging guilt in some degree in return for reduced charges.