Grandparents plead guilty to abduction

They say they took the boy to Costa Rica to give him a stable home

BY SUE LINDSEY
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

VIRGINIA BEACH – A couple who fled with their 6-year-old grandson to
Costa Rica and stayed there for 11 years pleaded guilty yesterday to one
count each of parental abduction.

Under a plea agreement, Orpheus L. Woodbury, 71, and his wife, Sonja, 59,
will receive no more than six months in jail at their sentencing July 13
in Virginia Beach Circuit Court.

Several charges against the Woodburys were dropped in return for the
guilty pleas.

The Woodburys twice were awarded custody of their daughter’s son. In
1988, the boy’s parents agreed to give custody to the Woodburys,
according to court documents.

The young parents later married and took custody of their son, but a
court again awarded the Woodburys custody when the couple divorced in
1992.

The boy’s father, Clayton Mark Saunders, petitioned for custody of his
6-year-old son later that year, the court documents said, and at a
hearing in December 1992 a judge said he would award custody to Saunders.

The Woodburys and the child left the United States a month later and
stayed on a coffee farm in Costa Rica, where Orpheus Woodbury had lived
as a child. The couple said they fled the U.S. to find a stable home life
for the boy.

Courts in both countries eventually ordered the Woodburys to return the
child to his father, and the couple was jailed briefly. The matter was
handed to the Costa Rican courts at the request of Saunders, the
Woodburys said, and they won custody there on appeal.

The grandson, Clayton Mark Saunders II, is now 18 and attending college.

The Woodburys’ attorney, Mark Del Duca, said he would call a number of
witnesses at the sentencing hearing, including their grandson.

The Woodburys decided to return to Virginia in January 2004 after
negotiating with the U.S. government. They were handcuffed when their
plane touched down, jailed for several days and later freed on $200,000
bond each.

Sonja Woodbury said upon their return, “We did what we thought was in the
best interests of the child.”

The couple said they returned to Virginia to see their 11 other
grandchildren. They also wanted to get the former Navy commander’s
military pension, which he lost in the mid-1990s when the couple failed
to comply with Virginia court orders. Their lawyer is negotiating to get
the pension restored. Saunders’ parents have said previously that their
son “was brainwashed” and that they wanted the Woodburys prosecuted.

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