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Women’s Rights Groups Outraged Over Grandmother’s Imprisonment

September 11, 1990 GMT

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ Imprisoning a 77-year-old woman because she failed to tell where her daughter has been hiding with her two children shows the U.S. court system at its worst, women’s rights advocates said Tuesday.

Superior Court Judge Mark A. Pfeiffer on Monday sent Mary Pigeon to prison for an indefinite term, saying he would release her only if she tells where her daughter and granddaughters are.

″I’m really concerned about the inappropriateness of this type of technique to squeeze information out of a 77-year-old woman,″ said Lynn Heufelder, director of the Women’s Resource Center in Newport.


The Rhode Island Women’s Political Caucus said the incarceration ″shows the judicial system at its worst.″

The judge ″has shown little wisdom, no compassion and dangerous rigidity,″ said Elizabeth Morancy, chairwoman of the caucus.

Pfeiffer should have considered home confinement as an alternative, she said.

The National Organization for Women’s Rhode Island affiliate also objected to the decision, its president, Susan Luckel, said.

″We think it’s reprehensible,″ she said, adding the group would discuss the case at its Thursday meeting.

Elaine Yates and the children, Kimberly Ann, then 3, and Kelly Ann, then 10 months, left their Warwick home in August 1985 after Mrs. Yates found her husband with another woman on the family boat.

Ms. Morancy said Mrs. Pigeon’s plight was a family rights issue, a sentiment echoed by Ms. Heufelder.

″It seems to me at this point that the government is preying on the family relationship and to pick on a 70-plus-year-old-woman for a decision made by her daughter is not right,″ Ms. Heufelder said.

Russell M. Yates Jr. later acknowledged hitting his wife and cutting her forehead with a diamond ring when they argued about the boat incident. After she left, he sued for custody of the children and won when his wife did not contest the lawsuit. He then sued Mrs. Pigeon, seeking the girls’ return.

The couple has not divorced. Yates says he does not want to give his wife the legal opportunity to change her and the girls’ names.

A year ago, Pfeiffer ordered Mrs. Pigeon to tell her son-in-law where his wife and daughters are and to pay $23,000 in damages. No money has been paid.

When Monday’s deadline came with no disclosure of the family’s whereabouts, Pfeiffer said he was left with ″no alternative″ but to send Mrs. Pigeon to jail for contempt of court.

″I have no desire to punish this woman,″ he said.

Mrs. Pigeon has maintained she does not know where her daughter took her granddaughters. Pfeiffer says he believes otherwise.

″I feel very sad about it, and I wish Elaine would come home,″ Mrs. Pigeon said after the sentencing.

Mrs. Pigeon was working at the Adult Correctional Institutions, spokesman Joseph DiNitto said.

″She’s down in our kitchen,″ DiNitto said. ″It’s very light janitorial work, sweeping floors, stuff like that.″