Local News

Woman Accused of Changing Gender Acquitted in Custody Dispute

Posted January 31, 2007 1:12 p.m. EST
Updated January 31, 2007 3:42 p.m. EST

— A woman who authorities said passed herself off as a man for three years after taking her children from Arizona to Roanoke Rapids has been found not guilty of custodial interference charges.

Shellie White was arrested last March in Roanoke Rapids by U.S. Marshals, and her children, 9-year-old Erica and 7-year-old Dusty, were returned to Arizona to live with their father, Ernest Karnes.

White and Karnes had joint custody of the children when White and the children disappeared in 2003, authorities said.

When she was arrested, authorities said, White was acting as a man. She had her children call her "Daddy" and had used various male aliases, including her ex-husband's name, authorities said.

"How I looked when I was arrested was how I looked for some time," White told WRAL.com in a telephone interview Wednesday. "I wasn't traipsing all over the country trying to hide my children."

White said she showed the jury that Karnes gave her permission to take the children out of state and waited more than two years before he appealed to authorities to find them. During the time they were in Connecticut and North Carolina, she said, she and the children would routinely talk to her ex-husband on the phone and send him birthday and holiday cards.

"She had the kids lawfully, and this really should not have been prosecuted," White's attorney, Anna Ortiz, told WRAL.

The children remain in Karnes' custody in Globe, which is about 90 miles east of Phoenix. White said she meets with them for an hour every other Friday, and she plans to seek a renewal of the joint custody arrangement now that she has been acquitted.

Karnes's wife, Melissa Karnes, told WRAL that White hasn't spoken to the children since Christmas and that the children don't want to associate with their mother anymore.

“They know the truth, and for them to now know that she got away with it, what does that teach them about being honest?” Melissa Karnes said. “The kids are doing well. This is where they want to be. Ernest is upset, to say the least."

White lives and works for a construction company in Clifton, Ariz., a mining town near the New Mexico border about two hours southeast of Globe. She said she hopes the jury verdict will restore her reputation and that of her family.

"This is a relief for my kids, a relief for me and a relief for my family," she said. "There were a lot of people involved in this."