MINNEAPOLIS -- Prosecutors have worked out a deal with a couple who surfaced this week after nine months on the run with their 18-month-old son, a boy the parents say is the victim of a rare ''brittle bone'' disease, not child abuse.
Wally Hines III, 31, and his wife, Debby, 32, returned to Minnesota with their son, Wyatt, on Wednesday after several months of negotiations. They made a brief court appearance in Hastings on Friday, were released without bail and allowed to keep their son.
Now all three are staying with another family at an undisclosed location in the Twin Cities area, and they're hoping to put their lives back together, their supporters say.
''They're very happy. They wanted to come home,'' said John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, a Charlottesville, Va.-based legal advocacy group that took up their cause and helped negotiate their return. ''... They've been through a pretty horrendous time.''
Under the agreement, Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said the criminal charges will be dismissed on Oct. 30 if the parents stay out of trouble with the law, continue to cooperate with authorities on care for the child, and if the boy remains in good health,
The agreement includes continued involvement by social service workers and ongoing juvenile court supervision. A spokeswoman for the county attorney, Diane Anderson, said officials couldn't give further details because all parties in the case remain under a judge's gag order. The gag order also applies to the couple.
The Hineses and their defenders have always denied that Wyatt was the victim of abuse and maintained that authorities overreacted to the boy's injuries. The parents were never charged with child abuse, only with depriving the county of its custodial rights and federal charges of interstate flight to avoid prosecution. The federal charges are being dropped.
The family says Wyatt suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, known as OI for short, a genetic disease that affects an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 Americans, or about 1 in 20,000. They say that's what explains the broken leg and broken ribs that first brought Wyatt to the attention of authorities.
Prosecutors had suggested earlier that the boy's fractures might have been caused by roughhousing by his father. Because of the gag order, it was not clear if prosecutors were still disputing the diagnosis of OI.
Officials with the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation in Gaithersburg, Md., say it's common for child protection workers to conclude that children are victims of abuse when they're really victims of OI.
Wyatt's problems were first noticed when he was just 6 weeks old and his parents took him to a doctor with a swollen leg. X-rays showed that his femur was broken in two places. When child protection workers ordered more X-rays, doctors found six broken ribs, and Wyatt was put in foster care for three months, where he suffered more fractures.
The couple got Wyatt back when they agreed to a deal that required the father to live away from their home in the suburb of Rosemount for four weeks. Shortly before a final hearing that was scheduled for May, Wyatt's femur broke again.
In an e-mail to the Saint Paul Pioneer Press last summer, the Hineses said when they learned April 27 from a doctor that police were on their way to pick up the boy, they grabbed clothing, diapers, baby food, two Bibles, an atlas, and letters from doctors and medical records they believed would exonerate them. They fled the state, and abandoned the father's job as a pilot with Sun Country Airlines.
A medical exam Thursday showed no new fractures, Whitehead said.
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