POSTED: 09:03 a.m. HST, May 14, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 11:45 a.m. HST, May 14, 2012
BILLINGS, Mont. >> A Montana man who set off a months-long search for his three children after he abducted and took them to the Bahamas on a sailboat pleaded guilty Monday after reaching a deal with prosecutors that calls for a four-year prison term.
James Ray Bryant, 44, pleaded guilty to a felony count of parenting interference. Two other counts of parenting interference were dropped in a deal with prosecutors signed April 27.
Todd Whipple, chief deputy county attorney in Gallatin County, declined to comment on the details of the deal, saying it would be inappropriate prior to sentencing, which was scheduled for June 27. Under Montana law, a parenting interference conviction can carry a maximum 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.
Bryant was arrested in Florida in late March, seven months after the children’s mother said he failed to return their children to Montana under a custody agreement.
The children had been reported missing by their mother in August. Investigators knew early on they had been taken to the Bahamas but said they could do nothing because of an arduous extradition process.
After receiving an anonymous tip that the children’s stepmother, Angela Bryant, had flown to Hawaii, police there put the home where she was staying under surveillance, then arrested her during a traffic stop. She told police her husband and the children were in south Florida.
In March, border crews searching for Bryant and the children spotted a boat 30 miles off the Florida coast attempting to return to Bahamian waters. The children - 15-year-old Megan Bryant, 13-year-old Maxwell Bryant and 12-year-old Sebastian Bryant - were on board, along with a dog, a cat, a lizard and a snake. Authorities said they had no reason to believe the children were in any immediate danger.
The children were reunited with their mother and legal guardian, Kelly Bryant, in Belgrade. Kelly Bryant’s phone has since been disconnected and she could not be located Monday.
Bryant’s attorney, public defender Peter Ohman, could not be reached immediately for comment. The defendant remains in custody at Gallatin County Detention Center on a $100,000 bond.
Bryant’s wife, Angela, is awaiting extradition to Montana from Hawaii on similar charges. She is scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday, said Hawaii prosecutor Jason M. Skier.
She was initially freed on $10,000 bail after challenging her extradition. After several delays in the case, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer last month sought Bryant’s return via a request directly submitted to Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
Abercrombie approved the extradition request May 5 and Bryant was arrested a second time in the case last week, Skier said. At a Friday court appearance on the governor’s warrant, Angela Bryant was again released, this time on bail of $250, Skier said.
Skier said he asked that bail be set at $250,000 but the judge disagreed, saying Bryant already posted bail once and had shown up for prior court dates.
“I’ve never personally seen anyone set bail for a governor’s warrant. It’s a no-bail warrant,” Skier said. “Obviously, the judge had another interpretation.”