WOODVILLE, TX (KTRE) - Security was incredibly tight at the Tyler County Courthouse on Wednesday morning due to the "seriousness" of a child custody battle for the four-year-old daughter of a Zavalla man killed in a double-homicide on Jan. 18.
The girl has been in the custody of her maternal grandparents, but Child Protective Services took her out of their care on Jan. 23 because of safety issues. CPS will present their evidence to the judge today and wait for him to decide whether or not to continue to keep the girl in the care of CPS or return her over to her maternal grandparents, says CPS spokesperson Shari Pulliam.
"Today was a 14-day hearing. It is a hearing that is held after a child is removed and put into CPS custody. All parties here felt the need that the meeting needs to be reset. So the hearing has been reset for February 19th. There is no testimony today--the child will remain in foster care at this time," Pulliam said.
Around 40 people showed up to the custody hearing. Each guest had to go through a metal detector before they could even enter the courtroom. No visual or audio devices were allowed including cell phones.
The custody hearing was originally scheduled for Feb. 12, but was moved up to Feb. 5. During opening arguments, the attorney for the paternal grandfather, Ryan Deaton, said he wanted to reset the trial because he has had not enough time to gather evidence. Kristen Maddox, the mother of the child, was also appointed her attorney during the opening arguments, causing the judge to call a recess while the attorneys decided on whether or not they wanted to move forward.
"Well, we have an attorney that was appointed to the mother. She has not had time to review the case yet. So, we need to give her time to review the case and consult with her client. Child Protective Services is going to argue that we want the child to remain in foster care so that she is safe and we will put on that testimony on the 19th," Pulliam said.
Judge David Dunn granted Deaton's motion to continue the hearing until Feb. 19. He instructed all sworn-in witnesses not to talk about the case.
"We filed a motion of continuance because we had just been hired by Jim Maddox to represent him and we just needed a little more time to get prepared plus, and I told the judge this, we probably need time to let the criminal case work its way out cause we didn't know if there were going to be some arrests and you never know, we might not even need a hearing," Deaton said.
Dunn also denied a blanket gag order which would have kept all attorneys from talking to the media. Deaton said he did not believe there should be a blanket gag order, because someone needed to speak for his clients.
"I just think that the public and people who are interested in this case should know what's going on and it was kind of silly because they were saying everyone else could talk, but they wanted the lawyers to have a gag order and that didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. I don't think that's what our court system is about. We have open court systems, people can come an dwatch on those proceedings if they wanted. It's open to the public and what happens in the court system should be open to the public," Deaton said.
Law enforcement says the case is still an open investigation and they will continue to search every lead until a suspect or suspects are found.
"It's one of those situations that we don't want any stone left unturned. Any tip, anything, any information, no matter how small it may be we're going to follow up on it so yes, there has been numerous interviews, of course, and also the Texas Rangers we have about two that are just about with us on a daily basis. So, we're tracking leads and doing things constantly," said Tyler County Sheriff Bryan Weatherford.
Nathan Bradley Maddox, 35, and his wife, Krystal Renee Maddox, 31, were on a supervised visitation with Nathan's daughter at Mount Carmel Baptist church, which is located on CR 3725 near RR 255 in Tyler County, when they were shot and killed outside the church.
In a previous story, Bud Sturrock, the chief investigator for the Tyler County Sheriff's Office, said the couple was leaving the church when the child and a mediator said they heard up to five shots. The mediator called 911 and was told to lock the church doors and stay inside until law enforcement arrived.
A justice of the peace pronounced them dead at the scene.
According to nearly 300 pages of court documents the East Texas News discovered, Maddox and his ex-wife Kristen had been going through a nasty child custody battle.
"The child custody issue could have been a motivating factor in the shootings," said chief Deputy Phil Ryan.
Ryan also told the East Texas News that they are looking at several scenarios including a murder-or-hire plot.
In October, Nathan Maddox filed a motion against the maternal grandparents to modify the parent/child relationship, stating the grandfather has a history of family violence. In the motion, Maddox said one might he visited his daughter and got into an altercation with the grandfather. He said the grandfather choked him and screamed that he was going to kill him before he pulled a shotgun on him. The motion was found at the Tyler County District Clerk's Office.
Ryan said the sheriff's office had responded to the incident in October but could not make an arrest because of lack of evidence. He said the family gave conflicting stories and there were no visible injuries.
He says Tyler County authorities were getting evidence together for the district attorney's office to present to a grand jury before the double homicide.
In addition, Ryan said the reward for any information leading to an arrest or conviction of the suspect or suspects responsible for killing Nathan and Krystal Maddox has been increased to $2,000.