Did this mother want to protect her daughters, or use them to hurt her ex-husband?
Sandra Grazzini-Rucki had broken the law. And she said she’d done it for one reason and one reason only – to protect her daughters. Except now that her case had come to court, would the jury believe her?
The crime with which Sandra Grazzini-Rucki had been charged was the deprivation of paternal rights. In other words, she’d gone out of her way to keep her husband David Rucki from seeing their daughters. And she wasn’t denying it.
In April 2013, Sandra, of Elko, Minnesota, had taken her daughters Gianna, 13, and Samantha, 14, and hidden them from David. She’d hidden them so well, in fact, David had no idea where they were for two and a half long years.
For him, they were missing. Not hidden.
Sandra claimed she’d had no choice. That she’d had to do it. For her daughters’ safety. For their well-being. Because their dad was abusing them.
‘We’d lock ourselves in the bedroom because we were scared. We just didn’t know how his behaviour was going to be from one day to the next,’ she later told the Press.
Two years before taking the girls, in April 2011, Sandra had asked her husband David for a divorce.
For 20 years, David had abused Sandra, she claimed. And now, she’d had enough. And she issued him with divorce papers.
The papers gave Sandra full custody of the couple’s children. But then David decided he wanted to share custody of the kids.
So he took Sandra to court. And Sandra had to act – and act fast. If David won any custody rights, her daughters would be in danger, she said. So, as a mother, she did the only thing she could. She took them to a remote farm run by her friends.
The couple were worried that Sandra and her kids would be let down by the family- court system. They wanted to help, so they hid the two teens.
Shortly after going into hiding, Gianna and Samantha wrote to the family court.
We were afraid for our lives…our father had abused us… the letter read.
And then, from their hiding place on that remote farm, they even did an interview for TV.
‘Our dad was abusive, emotionally, verbally,’ the sisters said into the camera. ‘Our mom was always our protector…’
That, also, was Sandra’s version of events.
For two and a half years, the authorities searched for David’s missing daughters – or Sandra’s hidden daughters. And eventually, they found them.
A friend of a friend of Sandra’s had given the game away, and told investigators he’d heard rumours about where the girls were…
Full custody of the girls was given to David Rucki.
Meanwhile, Sandra was arrested and charged with deprivation of paternal rights.
Now, in court, she insisted she’d done it to protect her daughters from their abusive dad.
Except, the lawyers in that Minnesota courtroom disagreed with Sandra’s story. They were ready to argue back.
Sandra claimed that David had abused her. But there was no proof. Not one incident of abuse during the couple’s 20-year marriage could be proved by the court.
Sandra, the lawyers claimed, was lying.And to make their point, they invited Sandra’s daughter Samantha to the witness stand.
When she was 13, Samantha had written to the court and told TV journalists that her dad had abused her.
But now she was 16, she’d changed her story.
This time, she told the jury her dad had never hit her – and that she’d never seen him hit anyone else, either.
During the two-and-a-half years her daughters were in hiding on that remote farm, Sandra had not visited them once. Why would she do that if she loved them so much?
The lawyers claimed Sandra hadn’t acted out of love for her kids, out of a need to protect them. Instead, she’d acted out of spite.
Her marriage was over, and she’d decided to punish David by first denying him access to the kids, and then hiding them from him.
David claimed he’d been tricked into signing the divorce papers that gave Sandra full custody. And when his solicitor had approached her to resolve the issue, Sandra had
When family-court officials intervened, experts and psychologists found Sandra had brainwashed her children against their dad. That she’d told them lies about him, so they’d hate him.
Those same psychologists also said Sandra seemed to have some sort of personality or mood disorder.
Sandra, they said, had done what she’d done because she’d wanted to hurt David in the worst way possible, by alienating him from his children.
Her disorders would mean it was hard for her to be reasonable about the situation.
The time had come for the jury to decide. Had Sandra hidden her children to get back at her husband. Or had she done it to protect them?
Sandra Grazzini-Rucki was found guilty of six counts of deprivation of parental rights. She was initially sentenced to 34 days in jail plus six years probation, although she chose a 233-day prison sentence instead. She was also fined.
A trial date is pending for the couple who helped hide the children – they are also charged with deprivation of parental rights.
Samantha and Gianna returned to live with their father. But in a TV interview, Samantha said her father was an abuser – she was too scared of him to say so in court.
The same show also revealed David Rucki had a history of violence – including multiple convictions. These hadn’t been allowed as evidence.