Girl in prison custody case refuses decide’s questions | Information
WEST CHESTER – It is customary in Chester County and across the Commonwealth for Common Pleas Court judges to instruct jurors who have tried before them in a criminal case that the accused on trial is not required to testify on their own behalf.
You do not need to take a stand, and this decision cannot be made against you.
In addition, the defense is not required to provide any evidence of innocence, offer witnesses to refute the prosecution, or address the jury with introductory or closing arguments. The burden in the case rests directly on the government, the judges informing the panel members to remove the legal cloak of innocence from the accused, who can choose to remain silent if he or she wishes.
But that almost never happens. Through their attorneys or alone if they wish to represent themselves, the defendants will tell the jury what they think of the case, how they will accept the evidence, and why they should not be found guilty of the charges brought against them.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, as they say, meet Rebecca Ellen Kirschenbaum.
The 39-year-old Phoenixville woman appears to have chosen the route of silence in the face of charges brought against her – including the kidnapping of a minor – when she stands before Judge Jeffrey Sommer later that year. Whether based on a point of principle or for simple reasons, the decision puts Kirschenbaum in serious danger; If convicted of first-degree abduction, she faces a maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison.
During what is usually routine legal proceedings that deal with the status of the two cases in which she is charged, Kirschenbaum announced that she would not answer any of his questions, even as innocuous as, “How are you?” She said she appeared under duress and suggested not to accept the legitimacy of the court.
“I have nothing to say,” said Kirschenbaum. “Different from what the paperwork I submitted itself says.”
“Are you telling me this is paperwork?” Sommer asked, trying to get the conversation going. “What should I see?”
There was no answer. Four more times when Sommer asked Kirschenbaum whether she wanted to hire a lawyer to represent her, hire a lawyer to assist her in representing her, or whether she needed time to prepare for the trial, the little blonde, a slim one Woman wearing jeans and a plaid jacket, handcuffed and shackled, refused to say anything. She just looked around the courtroom like she was waiting for a bus with a group of strangers.
“Can you at least nod your head if you can hear me?” Summer asked in frustration. When she didn’t answer again, he remarked dryly, “I’ll see if we can get an interpreter for someone who is hard of hearing for the process. Do you understand? Many Thanks.”
Kirschenbaum was first arrested and charged with disrupting child custody and withholding the whereabouts of a child, both crimes, after Phoenixville police began investigating allegations that they were improperly looking after their two sons Ages 7 and 5 took care of.
According to a criminal complaint filed by Phoenixville detective Nick Natale, a ChildLine service caller for suspected child abuse reported in May that the children were neglected and that the home they lived in was the scene of drug activity.
Over the next few weeks, Denton said he tried to track down Kirschenbaum and her boyfriend, but could not contact them or the children, despite leaving them messages. Eventually, he spoke to the older boy’s father and learned that he had not had any contact with his son since March 2020, even though he shared custody of the child. Neither had a social worker from the Chester County Department for Children, Adolescents and Families, Denton said.
Kirschenbaum was eventually arrested in Phoenixville District Court and released on bail. She was ordered to stay with her father at his home.
Then, in February, after Kirschenbaum missed several court dates on the initial charges and was no longer living with her father, she appeared in the Common Pleas Court to bring an arrest warrant against her. She was allowed to make a phone call but was not returned on bail. She was taken into custody in the lobby of the County Justice Center along with her then 6-year-old son.
Later that day, when a judge ordered that she should not be allowed unsupervised contact with her son, she initially refused to identify an adult who could supervise the child and then said the boy would be with a friend in West Chester Life. The judge allowed her to leave the court to hand over the child to the woman, but she did not and disappeared, according to an affidavit from Chester County detective Ben Martin.
An arrest warrant for kidnapping was issued on February 18, and she was picked up the next day. She has since been held in Chester County Jail on bail.
Assistant District Attorney Erin O’Brien of the DA Child Abuse Department told Sommer at the status hearing on Thursday that she was ready to try the two Kirschenbaum cases in July. This process would presumably continue with or without Kirschenbaum’s active voice.
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan, call 610-696-1544.