Impoverished Joshua Tree Pair Arrested For Living With Children In Hovel Released

The Joshua Tree couple arrested and jailed last week amid much fanfare suggesting they had been abusing three of their children after the family was found living in squalor on a trash-and-debris strewn property on February 28 has been freed.
Daniel Panico, 73, and Mona Kirk, 51, were released after their $300,000 bail was deemed inappropriate in the face of arguments by their attorneys that neither was a flight risk and the facts did not support the elements contained in the charges against them.
Indeed, once the initial flurry of publicity attending the case which suggested that the San Bernardino County pair’s action mirrored the case of David Turpin and Louise Turpin in neighboring Riverside County subsided, a reassessment of the circumstances resulted in a widespread conclusion that Panico and Kirk were the victims of financial misfortune and in no way were maliciously abusing their children.
The cases against Panico and Kirk, however, consisting of three separate charges of child abuse against both of them, remain on track. They are scheduled for a pre-preliminary hearing on March 13 and a preliminary hearing on the Ides of March.
In the case of the Turpins, they were involved in the shackling, beating and deliberate starvation of their 12 children within the confines of a home in a typical residential neighborhood in Perris, despite their possession of the monetary means that allowed them to license and operate a home school which they had manipulated to prevent the outside world from witnessing their depredations.
While Panico and Kirk were housing their children in a makeshift desert shack with no running water or heating, they had been driven to extremity by financial perdition.
Two days after Panico and Kirk’s arrest, Joshua Tree Superior Court Judge Bert Swift on March 2 had assented to the imposition of $300,000 bail on each of them and they had been transported to West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga. On Tuesday, Elizabeth Crabtree, Mona Kirk’s attorney, and Michael Kennedy, Daniel Panico’s attorney, convinced Judge Joel Agron to release them both on their own recognizance.
Crabtree and Kennedy are now angling to have the cases in their entirety dropped.
Panico had been living with his family in a home in Joshua Tree but was obliged to leave there after the house’s owner died and the deceased man’s family evicted Panico, Kirk and the children. Panico moved with his family into an eight-foot wide, 24-foot long Prowler trailer on property within the 7000 block of Sun Fair Road in Joshua Tree, less than three-quarters of a mile as the crow flies from Highway 62, which is also known as 29 Palms Highway.
Initially, the family had been staying in the trailer, but at some point left it to take up quarters in a structure Panico had fashioned from plywood and tarps. Though unheated, it was insulation from the ground by means of mattresses and blankets. At least 30 cats which the family had adopted were living on the property, as well. Panico had allowed the cats, one of his acquaintances said, to live out of the trailer to shelter them from marauding coyotes, feral dogs and other predators.
The property upon which the family was living was barely visible to the outside world, as it is covered in creosote and sparse desert vegetation which hides the debris and trash-strewn parcel from the few passers-by traversing the area.
The sheriff’s department came across the family and their circumstance when deputies came onto property ostensibly to check on the Prowler, which they believed might have been abandoned.
The children were not enrolled within the Morongo Unified School District. They were not malnourished, however, and residents of the area say that Panico frequently sojourned into town to purchase food for his family.
Panico and Kirk reportedly intended to construct a more elaborate home on the property, but did not have the means to undertake that project.

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