Children's crusade

Legal wrangling stalls a Muslim couple's battle for their children

Sahar Ayad cried when she first learned about the plight of Sam and Kathy Krasniqi, the Albanian Muslim couple from North Dallas who lost their children to the state amid child-abuse charges ("Tell Mama Why You Cry," Observer, Nov. 17, 1994). Sam was ultimately acquitted of those charges, but the children nonetheless were adopted by another couple and converted to Christianity.

An Egyptian-born mother of three daughters and a devout Muslim, Ayad closely identified with the Krasniqis--so much so, that after watching an ABC-TV "20/20" segment on the Krasniqis in late August, she felt compelled to act.

Ayad founded a group called the Muslim Organization of Mothers who, with the assistance of the Dallas Muslim Council and the Islamic Association of North Texas, among other groups, helped organize protest marches on the Dallas office of Child Protective Services and on State District Judge Hal Gaither, who presided over the hearing terminating the Krasniqis' parental rights.

For the last two months, Ayad and other representatives of the Krasniqi Task Force have regularly met to coordinate their efforts to get the Krasniqi children returned to their biological parents.

Ayad is among hundreds of people--including the second-grade teacher of the Krasniqi son, Tim--who called, wrote, and pledged support to the Krasniqis after learning of their ordeal. Though Ayad is still committed to the Krasniqis' cause, she admits she is growing frustrated as the Task Force faces dwindling options, uncertainty at what to do next, and a legal strategy that seems to be lost in chaos. "It's all just a dead end," says Ayad. "I committed myself to this and it's breaking my heart. I have the energy and I'll do anything, but there's not a damn thing I can do. It's killing me and it's killing [the Krasniqis.]"

Sam Krasniqi agrees. "I don't know what to do," he says. "I don't know what to say. A lot of people with interest calling and calling but nobody doing nothing."

In the summer of 1989, Sam Krasniqi, a native of the Albanian region of southern Yugoslavia, was charged with sexually molesting his 4 1/2-year-old daughter, Lima, in the bleachers at a karate tournament in a Plano gym where his nine-year-old son, Tim, was competing.

Several witnesses claim they saw Sam rub his daughter's genitals under her underpants while he sat in the front row. Sam has claimed all along that his actions were affectionate--reflecting his Albanian culture--and not sexual.

Child Protective Services forbade Sam from seeing his children for the next six months, while the family was given counseling at CPS headquarters. CPS removed the children from Kathy Krasniqi and recommended that parental rights be terminated when Kathy allowed her children to see their father on a Saturday afternoon at a pizza parlor the family owned in North Dallas. Kathy, whose English was very poor at the time, maintains she misunderstood her caseworker, who allowed Sam, under supervision, to visit the children.

A jury terminated the Krasniqis' parental rights after a three-day trial in April 1990. But two years later, a judge acquitted Sam of molestation charges, after an expert in the peasant culture of Sam's homeland testified that Sam's actions in the gym that day were accepted in his culture.

By then the Krasniqi children had been living with a foster family for several years, where they were made to wear crosses, attend church and eat pork, which is against their Muslim religion. CPS refused to consider placing the children with either of Kathy's two brothers, who expressed an interest in taking them.

The Krasniqis appealed the parental rights termination case, but the appeals court never heard it because an attorney representing Sam missed a filing deadline.

Calls and letters from around the nation flooded the Krasniqi home after their story appeared on "20/20," renewing their hopes that a public outcry, coupled with a redoubled legal effort, might help them win back their children, who were formally adopted by their foster family a year ago.

But two months later, the Krasniqis' hopes are again fading. Gary Noble, the last attorney to represent them, told the Observer in early September that he hoped to capitalize on the groundswell of public support for his clients by filing the only legal option he deemed available--a bill of review, asking the appeals court to order a new trial.

Noble never filed the bill of review, he says, because he needs to spend 100 hours on it "to put a brief together that will win." He told Sam he needed $15,000 in order to devote that much time to it.

Sam Krasniqi does not have the money. A year ago he paid Noble $8,500--money Noble says has long ago been spent on research and a motion to overturn the adoption, which Judge Gaither denied.

"Sam told me he doesn't trust lawyers and I should do it for free," Noble says. "I will do it for free, but it's going to take a lot longer."

Their desperation has taken the Krasniqis in some strange turns. In what Noble describes as a carnival sideshow aspect to the case, a wealthy oil man from Canada who saw the "20/20" show recently came to Dallas to offer the Krasniqis assistance. A native of the same Yugoslavian region as Sam, the man showed up at Noble's house with an entertainment promoter in tow at 1:30 a.m. to talk about how to raise money in connection with the case. When Noble told him he needed $15,000, the man backed out. "He would only give the money if Gary would guarantee we get the children back," Sam says.

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