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Mom who took children, claiming they were being sexually abused, pleads guilty in Stafford

Mom who took children, claiming they were being sexually abused, pleads guilty in Stafford

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A mother who has spent most of this year in jail after refusing to return her children to their father was scheduled to be released Monday after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor charges.

Melody R. Bannister, who turned 35 Sunday, agreed to a deal Monday in Stafford County Juvenile and Domestic Court in which she pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child abduction and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, prosecutor Ryan Frank said. Other charges were either dropped or reduced during the closed hearing.

Bannister had been in the Rappahannock Regional Jail since May 29. But she had been in custody since February, when she was arrested in Indiana following an eight-month manhunt that covered multiple states.

The nationwide search for Bannister began in July of last year after she refused to bring her four children, ages 7 to 13 at the time, back to Stafford. She took the children on vacation in June and was supposed to return them after a week to their father, who has been awarded custody.

But Bannister refused, claiming the children had been sexually abused by a family member and others in Stafford. Multiple supporters have made online posts insisting that the children had been part of a child sex trafficking ring and claimed several prominent law-enforcement officials in the county had knowledge of the alleged wrongdoing.

But prosecutors and local authorities said an investigation into Bannister’s claim proved unfounded and they scoffed at the allegations made online.

The search for Bannister took authorities to multiple states, including Wisconsin, Texas, Colorado, Kentucky, West Virginia and South Carolina. She was finally apprehended in February at a gas station in Plainfield, Ind., and the children are back with their father.

Keith Epps: 540/374-5404

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