HOUSTON (AP) — A judge who dismissed a state effort to keep six children in foster care two years before they were found dead in their Houston home said Wednesday that he was never told the kids were in any "immediate physical danger."
Juvenile Court Judge Glenn Devlin took the unusual step Wednesday of commenting on the 2013 case, issuing a statement defending his decision to return the children their mother, Valerie Jackson, and to David Conley, who now faces capital murder charges for the fatal shootings of the kids, Jackson and her husband.
Child Protective Services filed a lawsuit and removed the children from their home amid allegations of neglect and a history of domestic violence. The agency sought to keep them in foster care. Devlin returned the children home a month later, after Jackson and Conley agreed to counseling, among other things.
Jackson, 40; her husband, Dwayne Jackson; and her children, 13-year-old Nathaniel, 11-year-old Honesty, 10-year-old Dwayne, 9-year-old Caleb, 7-year-old Trinity, and 6-year-old Jonah were killed Saturday. Authorities say Nathaniel was Conley's son from his relationship with Valerie Jackson, while the Jacksons were the parents of the other five children.
Conley, 48, gave jailhouse interviews to several Houston television stations, saying he loved his son, Nathaniel, "to death" but that he and the other children weren't being raised properly and acted unkindly toward others.
"They were growing up to be monsters, they were disrespectful, rude in school," Conley told KPRC-TV, referring to the children. "I'm not saying they're dead because of that. I'm not even saying I killed them. God says in the Bible do not disrespect your mother and father or your days will be short, but I'm not saying that's what happened."
In its 2013 lawsuit, CPS noted Conley's history of domestic violence against Valerie Jackson and stated that the "mother's lack of control and parenting skills places the children in immediate danger."
CPS said the children told authorities they were often left alone. On at least two occasions, then-7-year-old Caleb left the home and wandered around the family's neighborhood unsupervised.
Court records show that about five months before CPS took custody of the children, Conley was arrested for threatening Jackson with a knife. In 2000, he was arrested for retaliation, accused of putting a knife to Jackson, threatening to kill her, her baby and himself. The lawsuit also listed other cases in Conley's long criminal history, including arrests for aggravated robbery and drug possession. The couple had been together when the lawsuit was filed but had recently ended their relationship before the deadly shooting.
Devlin said Wednesday that he couldn't base removal of the children on the adults' criminal histories and that CPS never stated there was "a current or immediate threat of violence from anyone."
"While the tragic events that occurred some 18 months after the CPS case is horrific, neither CPS nor any attorney or the Court could have prevented it based upon the case presented in court," Devlin said.
Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, which includes CPS, said his agency didn't have any immediate comment on Devlin's statement.
At a 2013 hearing, Devlin noted that he had been told that Valerie Jackson had installed an alarm system so her kids couldn't sneak out and that the parents agreed to counseling and therapy for one of the children. At a March 2014 follow-up hearing, he was told the kids were doing well and that Jackson had completed parenting classes.
Conley is next scheduled to appear in court Sept. 15. His attorney, Joseph Scardino, did not return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.
Prosecutors haven't decided whether they'll seek the death penalty.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70