On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Mercer County, Docket No. FG-11-17-11.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Simonelli and Hayden.
Defendant L.T.R. (Louis)*fn1 appeals from the March 17, 2011 Family Part order terminating his parental rights to his daughter, A.N.J.R. (Abigail), born in October, 2008. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
We discern the following facts from the record. In June 2009, A.M. (Adele) was living with her two daughters, Zelda,*fn2
born in December 2001, and Abigail and was involved in a violent relationship with Louis.
On June 28, 2009, P.H. (Peter), Zelda's father, found Adele in her home, lying, bleeding and unresponsive; Abigail, then eight months old, was sitting unattended in the living room. Adele died from her injuries later that day. On June 30, 2009, plaintiff New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (Division) obtained a Family Court order granting it custody of Abigail and Zelda. Both children were placed with their maternal grandparents, where they remain to this day.
On July 2, 2009, the police arrested Louis and charged him with Adele's murder. As he was unable to post bond, Louis has remained incarcerated since his arrest. When a Division investigator met with Louis on September 30, 2009, he requested that Abigail be placed with his mother, but the Division ruled her out due to her substantiated history of child neglect.
A few weeks later, on October 20, 2009, the court denied Louis visitation with Abigail at that time because of allegations of his prior acts of domestic violence, including death threats against Zelda. In addition, the children's therapist opined that if Louis had murdered Adele, contact with him would be traumatic to his daughter because it might trigger memories of the incident that would interfere with the healing process. On November 18, 2009, Louis stipulated in court that he was unable to care for Abigail due to his incarceration and agreed to the court's continuing jurisdiction pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4C-12. In March 2010, a grand jury indicted Louis for first-degree murder in Adele's death.
On September 3, 2010 the Division filed a complaint for guardianship, seeking termination of Louis's parental rights to Abigail. Louis then requested that the Division place Abigail with his grandmother or his aunt. The Division declined to explore his relatives for placement since Abigail had been living with her maternal grandparents and her sister for over a year and had formed a strong attachment to them.
At a hearing on December 3, 2010, defense counsel advised the judge that due to the pending criminal charges Louis decided to assert his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and did not plan to provide any testimony or witnesses during the guardianship trial. Louis also stated that, as a part of invoking his right against self-incrimination, he would not participate in any Division services, including counseling or anger management. As a result, the Division cancelled the psychological and bonding evaluations scheduled for Louis. Thereafter, Louis also refused to sign a release allowing the Division to review services he ...