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Dad who kidnapped his kids in 1979 gets probation

May 28, 1999
Web posted at: 11:20 p.m. EDT (0320 GMT)

In this story:

Mom: 'Would have been kinder to murder me'

Daughters: Retroactive permission to kidnap

Uncle: They are pathetically deluded

Life as a socialite


CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (CNN) -- A father who kidnapped his two young daughters 20 years ago, moved them to Florida, changed their names and told them that their mother was dead will not go to jail under a plea bargain deal accepted by a Massachusetts judge Friday.

Stephen Fagan, 57, appeared before Middlesex Superior Court Judge Peter Lauriat and pleaded guilty to two counts of kidnapping and one charge of contempt of court. Fagan received a five-year suspended prison sentence and five years probation.

In addition, he must perform 2,000 hours of community service at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, and pay a $100,000 fine. The money will be donated to the New England Home for Little Wanderers, a charity chosen by his ex-wife, Barbara Kurth, the mother of the kidnapped girls.

Fagan was unrepentant after his sentencing and insisted he absconded with his daughters for their own good, saying he acted to protect their happiness and security.

"I left Massachusetts 20 years ago with two infants, two suitcases, and a paper bag full of diapers," he told reporters outside the courthouse. "It was an agonizingly painful decision, but I believed at the time it was the right decision and I still believe it."

Fagan admitted in court that he hadn't held a job in 20 years, since he left Massachusetts, where he was a supervisor at the Harvard Law School legal aid bureau. Since his flight, he has twice married wealthy Florida women who supported him.

Mom: 'Would have been kinder to murder me'

Fagan's former first wife, Barbara Kurth, approved the negotiated plea, but she later issued a statement condemning his actions.

"Some days I believe that Stephen Fagan would have been kinder to really have murdered me, rather than having done so only in the minds of my children -- at least then there would have been no question as to his punishment," Kurth's statement said.

"The only victory here would have been for my daughters to have known and loved me for the past 20 years," the statement added.

Kurth and her daughters sat on opposite sides of the courtroom as Fagan took the witness stand. It was the first time she, her daughters and her ex-husband had been in the same room together since he took the girls from her home. They barely looked in her direction.

Kurth had submitted a written statement to the judge, but she chose not to speak in court.

Both daughters, now in their 20s, have supported their father since his arrest last year, and have refused to have any contact with their mother.

They read statements on their father's behalf in court and mentioned their mother only to say that she had requested that they not be allowed to read her psychiatric reports.

Daughters: Retroactive permission to kidnap

"For the past two decades, he has foregone his identity, profession and the comfort of family and friends for our well-being," said daughter Rachel Martin, 25. "Our father has dedicated his life to raising us and instilling in us the knowledge, values and goals necessary to become independent women."

"We want the court to know that if we could retroactively give our father the consent needed to take the action he did 20 years ago, we would do so without hesitation," she added.

"By pleading guilty to these charges, our father has once again sacrificed his own interests for us," said Lisa Martin, 22. "He knows that this trial, with the media attention that has accompanied it, would place our lives in the public eye, denying us any privacy whatsoever."

Lisa Martin also expressed gratitude to the district attorney's office.

Fagan could have faced up to 20 years in prison if he had been convicted on both kidnapping charges. In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations for kidnapping is six years, unless the defendant leaves the state.

He had been free on $250,000 bail as he sought the plea bargain.

Uncle: 'They are pathetically deluded'

Fagan disappeared in October 1979 with his daughters, then ages 2 and 5.

He hid the true identities of the girls and himself and, over the past two decades, passed himself off variously as a law professor, a psychiatrist and a CIA agent.

Fagan maintains he was trying to protect the girls from their mother, who denies his claim she was a neglectful alcoholic.

Kurth has said she only appeared to be drunk because she suffered from narcolepsy, an illness that causes sudden, deep sleep. She said Fagan knew about her medical condition.

Kurth is now a biologist at the University of Virginia.

She has said she hopes the plea agreement will facilitate a reunion with her daughters.

Her brother, Peter Kurth, suggested his nieces had been brainwashed by Fagan.

"They are pathetically deluded and they are going to pay for it the rest of their lives," he said. "We wish them well; they're going to need it."

Rachel Martin rejected any notion of mind control and turned aside questions about whether she and her sister plan to talk to their mother.

"We clearly are not brainwashed," she said at a news conference following the sentencing, accompanied by her lawyer and her public relations consultant. "We have been raised and lived our lives as independent women. And our relationship with her (their mother) will remain between Lisa and I and her and not come out in a public forum."

Life as a socialite

After the court proceeding was over, Fagan said his daughters "have become role models for me."

"Rachel and Lisa are extraordinary women. I am so proud of them," he said, and thanked his current wife for standing by him and his daughters "throughout this ordeal."

While hiding out in Florida, Fagan reinvented himself, taking the name Dr. William Martin.

He married into a wealthy family and lived in a Palm Beach mansion, drove expensive cars and was a member of some of the most exclusive clubs in Palm Beach until his arrest last year after a relative tipped off authorities.

Friday's successful plea bargain was Fagan's second attempt. The judge rejected a proposed settlement in February as too lenient.

Boston Bureau Chief Bill Delaney andReuters contributed to this report.

Daughters praise father accused of kidnapping them
April 27, 1998
Man accused of kidnapping daughters released on cash bond
April 22, 1998

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