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Minn. Couple Returns After Fleeing

January 29, 2000 GMT

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ A couple who said their son’s broken bones were caused by ``brittle bone″ disease have worked out a deal with prosecutors to keep custody of their son if he remains healthy.

Wally Hines III, 31, and Debby Hines, 32, fled Minnesota nine months ago after being accused of causing their son’s injuries. The couple returned with their 18-month-old son, Wyatt, on Wednesday and appeared in court Friday. They were released without bail and allowed to keep custody of their child.

The parents were never charged with child abuse, only with depriving the county of its custodial rights and federal charges of interstate flight to avoid prosecution. The federal charges are being dropped.

The state charges will be dismissed Oct. 30 if the parents stay out of trouble with the law, continue to cooperate with authorities on care for the child, and if the boy remains in good health, Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said. The agreement includes continued involvement by social service workers and juvenile court supervision.

``They’re very happy. They wanted to come home,″ said John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, a Charlottesville, Va.-based legal advocacy group that helped negotiate their return.

``I think they feel that things have worked out about as well as could be expected,″ said Wally Hines Jr., Wyatt’s grandfather. ``I didn’t think they would have come back otherwise, to tell you the truth.″

The Hineses and their defenders have always denied that Wyatt was the victim of abuse and maintained that authorities overreacted to his injuries.

The family says Wyatt suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disease that affects some 20,000 to 50,000 Americans, or about 1 in 20,000. They say that’s what explains the broken leg and broken ribs that first brought Wyatt to authorities’ attention.

Because of the gag order, it was unclear if prosecutors were still disputing the diagnosis. Social workers have said they thought the injuries were caused by the parents.

Officials with the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation in Gaithersburg, Md., say it’s common for social workers to conclude that children are victims of abuse when they’re really victims of OI, and that the condition can be difficult to diagnose.

Wyatt’s problems were first noticed when he was just 6 weeks old and his parents took him to a doctor with a swollen leg. X-rays showed that his femur was broken in two places. When child protection workers ordered more X-rays, doctors found six broken ribs, and Wyatt was put in foster care for three months, where he suffered more fractures.

The couple got Wyatt back when they agreed to a deal that required the father to live away from their home for four weeks. Shortly before a final hearing in May, Wyatt’s femur broke again, and they fled April 27 after learning police were coming to take Wyatt away because of the injury.