The Maine Supreme Judicial Court was asked Wednesday to vacate the conviction of a Fairfield mother found guilty of illegally taking two of her children from their guardian in Maine and driving them hundreds of miles south before she was stopped by police in South Carolina.

Attorney Jamesa Drake argued that BethMarie N. Retamozzo, 37, was unable to receive a fair trial after a witness testified she had visited Retamozzo in jail in South Carolina, where she was arrested on the trip south.

Drake, in her court briefs, said knowledge that Retamozzo was jailed could have prejudiced the jury against her, so the judge at the time should have declared a mistrial.

Chief Justice Leigh Saufley told her there is “a real distinction in what jurors might draw from seeing a defendant in shackles … quite a bit different than the knowledge that someone might have been in jail as a part of a criminal charge.”

“This doesn’t strike me as a particularly difficult case for this court to resolve,” Drake said.

A year ago, a jury in Kennebec County found Retamozzo guilty of two charges of criminal restraint by a parent for taking Joslyn, now 10, and Joel Retamozzo, now 7, from their legal guardian — Retamozzo’s mother, Pamela Taylor, of Waterville.

Retamozzo voluntarily gave custody of the two children to Taylor in 2009 when Retamozzo wanted to go into the military, according to other court records. That guardianship was continued later by an order of a Somerset County probate judge, who also allowed Retamozzo supervised visits with her children.

The kidnapping offense occurred Aug. 15, 2013, when Retamozzo picked up the children from Taylor’s apartment and then failed to meet a court-authorized supervisor at the North Street playground in Waterville.

Following a multi-state manhunt, Retamozzo and the two children were found three days later at a rest stop in South Carolina. Retamozzo had said she was taking them to a sister’s home in Florida.

Retamozzo opted against testifying at her trial. After the verdict, a judge sentenced Retamozzo to an initial five months in jail, suspended the remainder of the 2 1/2-year sentence and placed her on probation for two years. Retamozzo’s jail time has been postponed until the appeal is decided, and she remains free on post-conviction bail.

In an affidavit seeking an arrest warrant for Retamozzo in August 2014, Waterville police Officer Adam Sirois said Taylor told police Retamozzo had four other children in the custody of another grandmother in Florida and that entries in a diary from a decade earlier indicated Retamozzo “was thinking about killing herself as well as her four children. In addition BethMarie wrote that the devil was telling her to molest her children, but that she didn’t know why he was telling her to do this.” None of this information came up at her trial.

At the brief oral argument before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in Portland on Wednesday, Assistant District Attorney Frayla Schoenfeld, who was also the trial prosecutor, asked the court to uphold the verdict, saying the information was not prejudicial enough to warrant overturning the verdict.

Schoenfeld said that after Taylor testified she had seen her daughter in jail, Schoenfeld immediately changed the line of questioning.

“I had follow-up questions I did not ask because I did not want any further information about incarceration to come out,” Schoenfeld told the judges. She also told them, “Finding out a defendant is jailed is prejudicial. I attempted to limit it.”

She also told them that the defense attorney at the trial, John O’Donnell, did not object at the time, nor did he ask the trial judge to indicate anything about it to the jurors.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court issues its rulings in writing, and there is no timetable for a decision.

This past August, Retamozzo asked a court for permission to travel to Florida to argue for keeping custody of her third child. At that time, the state raised objections, and a judge urged the state and Retamozzo to come to some agreement that could let her go to Florida with some safeguards against her fleeing.

Drake, who represented Retamozzo in that case, said officials in Florida were seeking to terminate Retamozzo’s parental rights to a third child there, and a Florida caseworker had requested a face-to-face meeting with Retamozzo as part of the process. Retamozzo’s rights can be terminated only after a court hearing during which she would have to be present.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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