Twins of missing Fla. mom Michelle Parker to be returned to dad, prime suspect in case

Michelle Parker
Personal Photo
Michelle Parker vanishes same day she appears on "The People's Court"
Michelle Parker
Personal Photo

(CBS/AP) ORLANDO, Fla. - A judge ruled on Wednesday that the 3-year-old twins of Michelle Parker, the Florida mom who disappeared the same day her episode of "The People's Court" aired on television, must be returned to their father - the only suspect in the woman's disappearance.

Pictures: Michelle Parker

The twins had been removed the previous day from the care of 40-year-old Dale Smith, who is the focus of the investigation into what happened to his ex-fiancée.

On Wednesday, Child welfare officials cited what they described as a pattern of violence by 40-year-old Dale Smith, but Judge Thomas Turner ruled that the twins face no imminent danger in his care.

Joe Iuzzolino, an attorney for the Florida Department of Children and Families, told the judge that Smith had displayed abusive and criminal behavior on multiple occasions since 1992 that included him striking Parker in front of the children in 2009.

But with no evidence that Smith had abused the children, Turner wasn't persuaded that they should be removed from his care. The children have been living with Smith and his parents since the 33-year-old Parker disappeared.

"I don't think incidents that happened years ago constitute a pattern," the judge said.

Smith's attorney, Mark NeJame, has said his client has done nothing wrong. He hasn't been charged.

Police say Parker was last seen on Nov. 17, the same day an episode of "The People's Court" aired in which Parker and Smith argued over who was responsible for the cost of a missing $5,000 engagement ring.

Smith and Parker had been together off and on since 2006. Court records show Parker filed for a domestic violence injunction against Smith in 2009 but the order was dismissed after a hearing.

Smith has had traffic infractions and arrests on a misdemeanor drug charge and a misdemeanor charge of possession of an opened container of alcohol in a car, according to court records. The most serious charge he faced was for aggravated battery in 1996. He pleaded guilty and a prison sentence was withheld.

Complete coverage of Michelle Parker on Crimesider