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Man Goes Free After 10 Years

January 29, 1998 GMT

CHICAGO (AP) _ The death of a woman who tried for 13 years to discover her daughter’s whereabouts has allowed the girl’s father to be released from jail without revealing if he knows anything about the case.

Odell Sheppard, 50, walked free Wednesday after 10 years in jail on a contempt of court order obtained by Norell Sanders. He never said if he knew what happened to their daughter, Deborah Sanders, who would be 15 now if she is still alive.

The order became invalid after Ms. Sanders died Saturday of kidney failure.

Cook County Circuit Judge Marjan Staniec said he believed Sheppard knew what happened to Deborah _ that he may have abandoned the child, or even sold her.

``Let me make it clear that the incarceration of the last 10 years was not done to punish,″ Staniec said. ``It was only done to coerce the person to tell the truth.″

Ms. Sanders said Sheppard came to her apartment in September 1984 and took the child during an argument. The two were not married and did not live together. The girl was just shy of 2 at the time.

Ms. Sanders talked to Deborah once on the telephone shortly after the abduction, then Sheppard called and warned her she would see the child next in a ``pine box,″ she said.

Sheppard claimed he returned Deborah that December after taking her to a family funeral in Tennessee. But Ms. Sanders’ relatives testified they never saw the girl.

Sheppard was convicted of child abduction, served 1 1/2 years and was released in October 1987.

Three days later, when ordered to return to court with the child, he came alone and was jailed. Legal experts said Sheppard was subjected to what may have been the longest civil contempt jailing ever in the United States.