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Custody fight reveals a highly dysfunctional family

August 15, 2013 Updated: August 15, 2013 at 6:25 pm

The trial of a 78-year-old man accused of molesting two granddaughters sparked an out-of-court custody battle this week after one of the girls testified that she and her sister have been sleeping at the defendant's home while he battles the charges.

Prosecutors alleged a bond violation by Emmett Andrew Larsen after the 11-year-old girl's revelation on the witness stand Wednesday, but El Paso County District Judge Barney Iuppa disagreed, finding no evidence that prosecutors had requested a "no-contact" order.

The girl said during testimony that while her mother has an apartment in Colorado Springs, she and her sister have spent much of the past two weeks living with their grandparents - with their mother's permission.

Defendants are generally prohibited from contacting alleged victims as a condition of bond, but in this case, no such order existed, court records show.

Larsen, a retired Federal Aviation Administration employee, remains free on bond. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust. If convicted, he faces a penalty ranging from intensive sex offender probation to life in prison.

Despite Iuppa's ruling there was no bond violation, El Paso County child welfare workers launched an after-hours attempt to track down the girls and place them into protective custody.

The emergency action came after a call to an abuse hotline from someone who had heard the girl's testimony, said El Paso County Department of Human Services worker Patricia Hartman, who briefed the judge Thursday outside the jury's presence.

After getting a magistrate's order approving protective custody, Hartman said she managed to track down the mother outside her Colorado Springs apartment but was unable to locate the girls.

Further efforts to pursue protective custody were nixed by Thursday morning by Iuppa, who warned of the potential for a mistrial and bristled that he hadn't been contacted in such a sensitive matter.

When the mother failed to arrive in court for her scheduled testimony, Iuppa angrily said the trial may have to be scrapped, calling it a "worst-case scenario" for both sides. The trial resumed when the woman showed up an hour late, claiming she had overslept.

Iuppa overruled an order by El Paso County Magistrate Jessica Curtis approving the custody action, and he barred attorneys from addressing the out-of-court developments at trial.

He told Hartman any efforts to seek custody of the children must go through his court.

Larsen is accused of repeatedly groping the adolescent girls after they and their mother moved into his home in 2012.

The girls' mother testified this week that she doesn't believe the girls were abused - even as she claimed on the stand that Larsen molested her as a child.

She told authorities the abuse began at age 2 and continued into her teenage years, an arrest affidavit shows. The abuse included "full intercourse," the woman claimed.

The woman, who lived in California at the time, said she didn't report the abuse, and that no charges against her father were ever pursued.

Police and child welfare workers called to the stand at Larsen's trial have disputed her claim that she wasn't aware her daughters were abused by Larsen.

In testifying on Thursday, the woman told the court that she moved with her two children into Larsen's home last year after losing a job in California. She said an ex-boyfriend in California molested both girls, and she considered the move into her father's home a "new start" for the family.

The mother said she also wanted to secure the girls' health coverage through her father's federal retirement benefits because both have serious health problems in need of treatment.

Defense attorneys told Iuppa the effort to take custody from the girls' mother came in retaliation for her rolling back some allegations against her father.

Testimony is expected to continue on Monday.

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