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Air Force reservist accused in starving death of 13-month-old daughter seeks return to military job

Robert Rice

By CHRISTOPHER HARRESS | Alabama Media Group | Published: July 10, 2019

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Tribune News Service) — A father whose 13-month-old daughter was found starved to death in a Robertsdale, Alabama, trailer more than a year ago has had his bond reduced by a Baldwin County court and is requesting to return to his military job in Florida.

Robert Rice, whose wife Jordan is facing capital murder charges in the death of their daughter Violet Rice, filed a motion Monday to Circuit Court Judge Scott P. Taylor requesting that if he does make his reduced $50,000 bond he also be allowed to return to Fort Walton Beach, Florida, where he serves in the Air Force Reserves and is also an Air Force contractor, according to court documents.

“According to Attorney-Advisor (General) Daniel J. Watson of the United States Air Force, Defendant is currently on leave of absence without pay from his employment,” wrote attorney Robert Stankoski in a motion to Judge Taylor. “Defendant’s status will not remain indefinite, but Defendant must report to his employer.”

He added: “Defendant also runs the risk of losing his status as a member of the United States Air Force reserve without being able to report to his unit in the State of Florida. Defendant maintains no residence in the State of Alabama, but can return to his rental residence located at 741 Sailfish Drive, Ft. Walton Beach, Florida, where he can continue living with his roommate."

Robert, 30, was initially charged with aggravated child abuse and manslaughter in Violet’s death in late May. That was around a year after his daughter was found slumped in a bouncer chair at the home he occasionally shared with his wife when he wasn’t working in Florida.

His $200,000 bond was reduced at the end of June, according to court documents. His attorney said the amount was excessive in the filed motion.

“My client is outraged,” attorney Robert Stankoski told AL.com last month. “He wasn’t living in this area at the time of this event. The fact that he would be charged with manslaughter, meaning he did something to cause the death of his child, is outrageous.”

The newest motion also asked that he not be forced to wear an ankle monitor should he return to his job in Florida.

Violet, who was 9 pounds when she was born and died weighing 10 pounds, was found dead in the trailer she shared with her mother and two brothers. Jordan Rice was immediately taken into custody and charged with aggravated child abuse. At the time, Baldwin County Sheriff Hoss Mack said it was one of the most shocking cases of “child abuse” he had ever encountered in 30 years of law enforcement.

In May of this year, Baldwin County prosecutors increased Jordan’s charges to capital murder, meaning she could face the death penalty if convicted in Violet’s death.

The case has been made more complex by the revelation that a baseball-sized tumor was found on Jordan’s temporal lobe just above her eyes, according to a motion filed by Mobile attorney Shane Taylor. AL.com spoke to Jordan last month and she confirmed that she is now mostly blind and was suffering from the tumor before Violet died. She also said that the tumor led to severe fatigue and memory problems, among other issues. After complaining to Baldwin County jail guards about feeling unwell she was eventually taken for emergency surgery and has been undergoing treatment ever since.

In January, before the capital murder charges were brought, Jordan filed a motion to have her $100,000 bond reduced and asked for permission to live with a friend in Robertsdale. This request, which was made with the knowledge of the tumor at that time, was denied by Circuit Court Judge William Scully, who told AL.com that he was unable to speak about ongoing cases.

Aggravated child abuse cases usually attract a bond of between $5,000 and $30,000, according to state guidelines. Jordan’s bond was more in line with a murder charge. Her capital murder charge means she is no longer eligible for bail.

The couple’s two other children, ages 6 and 3 at the time, were also severely malnourished when law enforcement arrived at the scene last May. Both are now with the Department of Human Resources and have been fostered.

Jordan’s Texas-based father, Jack Gandesbury, whom she was estranged from and who only found out about the case from an AL.com reporter, has repeatedly tried to bring the two children to Rockport, Texas, to live at an RV park he owns. The RV park, known as the Good Samaritan, predominately hosts women and children who have been fallen on hard times or suffered abuse, according to one woman who lives at the park.

Gandesbury said that his daughter spent most of her youth helping those in need.

“When she was a child she used to go on missions to support women and children who were suffering in broken homes and dangerous environments,” he added. "Fighting against abuse and neglect was part of what we did. Jordan was so dedicated to the cause that she even turned up with a cast on her leg to help children that needed fostered.”

Despite obtaining the necessary permissions from authorities in Texas to take custody of both boys, Gandesbery claims he’s been left in the dark.

“I had to have a lawyer here write to a judge in Alabama and threaten to sue,” said Gandesbury. “Suddenly they said, maybe you can have the babies. That’s why it’s taken so long.”

“I have no idea if the kids are healthy. Three separate people have been looking over them so far. The turn over rate is so high, people are not in control. I don’t know if they are receiving the packages we’ve sent out or not.”

Robert’s motion to allow him to leave Alabama and return to Florida has not yet been decided.


©2019 Alabama Media Group, Birmingham

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