VIDALIA, Ga. — A Baptist pastor who hasn't seen his two children since they disappeared 20 years ago with their maternal grandparents says he is disappointed with a plea bargain that allows the grandfather accused of kidnapping them to avoid prison.
Marvin Maple, 72, entered a best-interest plea May 22 to two counts of custodial interference in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where he lived with his now-deceased wife before disappearing with Christi and Bobby Baskin, then ages 8 and 7, during a custody dispute in 1989.
Authorities finally caught up with Maple this year in San Jose, Calif., after someone heard him complain about negative portrayal of the grandparents in news stories about the missing children during the two decades they lived under assumed identities.
In early May Maple's attorney filed a motion asking a judge to throw out the 20-year-old kidnapping warrant, claiming it failed to state probable cause, was outside the court's jurisdiction and contained other legal flaws.
The judge agreed, dismissing the warrant and prompting the prosecution and defense to strike a bargain allowing Maple to plead to a lesser offense and receive four years of probation. After that the conviction could be expunged, if Maple lives up to terms of his probation.
The children's father, Mark Baskin, is a high-school band teacher and pastor of a Baptist church in Georgia. He said May 27 officials have explained the failure to prosecute a kidnapping charge to him several times, but he still does not understand it. He said he feels the FBI should have indicted Maple on identity and Social Security fraud, since the children, now in their late 20s, have Social Security cards identifying them by the names Jennifer and Jonathan Bunting.
After Maple's Feb. 1 arrest, Baskin and his wife, Debbie, traveled from their home in Vidalia, Ga., to California in hopes of a reunion. After a week of failed attempts to contact the children, the Baskins returned home.
"These recent events make a reconciliation even more difficult," Baskin said in an e-mail to a reporter. "However, our focus continues to be on Christi and Bobby."
The Baskins left the children with Marvin and Sandra Maple in 1987, while they and a younger child headed off to Louisville, Ky., where Mark enrolled to study for the ministry at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
After a falling out with the Maples, a custody battle ensued, with the grandparents accusing the Baskins of abusing the children and exposing them to satanic rituals. Investigators found no evidence supporting the allegations, and the Baskins eventually won custody. But, before the order could be served, the Maples took the children and disappeared.
That started Mark and Debbie Baskin on a 20-year search for their children, which included telling their story on television's "Unsolved Mysteries" program in 1990.
Mark Baskin said in a recent newspaper interview that the couple has written letters and sent family photos to Christi, 28, and Bobby, 27, but the children refuse to communicate, apparently out of loyalty to their grandfather.
"It's been hard, harder than we even imagined it would be," Baskin said in a May 12 story in the San Jose Mercury News. "It's like so-close-and-yet-so-far syndrome."
After the children vanished, Baskin dropped out of seminary and sold insurance for a living. Today he teaches band and chorus at Montgomery County High School in Mt. Vernon, Ga. Early this year he took on additional responsibilities as pastor of Normantown Baptist Church, just outside Vidalia.
"I am still pastor at Normantown and, despite all the distractions, our work continues there," Baskin told an Associated Baptist Press reporter. "I just have to remember Romans 8:28 as we function through this crisis."
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.
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