CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia woman whose husband is accused of torturing her for nearly a decade said Friday that authorities are pushing the case over her objections, and she claims their overzealous prosecution has resulted in her losing custody of her child and being forced to live in her car.
Stephanie Lizon accused workers from the state Department of Health and Human Resources of using threats and intimidation after she testified last year at a preliminary hearing that accusations against her husband, Peter Lizon, were false. He remains free on bond on a malicious wounding charge and hasn't been indicted.
A DHHR spokeswoman declined comment, citing state-mandated confidentiality in child protective services cases. Jackson County Prosecutor Kenny Skeen did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
"We were intimidated — the whole family — into agreeing to conditions of the guardianship that were completely extreme and unnecessary just under threat of having our son taken into state custody," Lizon told The Associated Press, referring to the decision to give permanent custody of her 2-year-old son, Mojmir, to her parents in Alexandria, Va.
She said the couple only agreed to the custody arrangement because they thought the case was going to be closed "within a matter of weeks."
"It's been a year now since the alleged incidents took place."
Lizon also criticized prosecutors.
"By refusing to either indict or dismiss, they're promoting the situation. ... As long as the criminal matter is pending, it makes it very, very, very difficult to resolve the family court matter," she said.
The AP obtained an interview with Lizon after her comments were first reported Friday in The Charleston Gazette.
It was July 2, 2012, when Stephanie Lizon fled from her husband while at an equipment rental company, looking gaunt and limping while telling staff she was trying to get away from her husband, who was in a different part of the store. An employee at the shop gave Stephanie the number for a domestic violence shelter and cash for a cab ride there.
At the shelter, Stephanie Lizon told of being held captive for the better part of a decade — beaten, burned and even shackled during childbirth — by her husband, a native of the Czech Republic, according to a criminal complaint filed in the case.
The complaint said she had "mutilated and swollen" feet and said that her husband had smashed her foot with a piece of farm equipment. Dozens of photographs showed burns on her back and breasts from irons and frying pans and scars on her wrists and ankles.
The complaint also said she had delivered a fully developed, stillborn child while in shackles, and that her husband buried the corpse on their farm. Another child survived a similar delivery, but Stephanie Lizon said the child had never received medical attention.
Stephanie Lizon later testified in court that her husband never beat her and that the allegations were no more than false, sensational stories told by people who don't know her or her husband.
She said the state began efforts to seize her son soon after her court testimony. Instead, the Lizons agreed to give permanent custody to Stephanie's parents.
"I think the message is loud and clear that I'm supposed to denounce my husband and corroborate the accusations or else I don't get to be with my son," Lizon said.
In April, Stephanie Lizon was arrested and charged with felony child concealment after police said she took her son without permission. She was jailed for a month but freed when nobody showed up in court to testify against her.
While she was in jail, people she and her husband had entrusted to feed her dogs and goats allegedly stole items from her home and then burned down the house on May 2. Three people have been charged with arson.
Stephanie Lizon is now eight months pregnant, living mostly out of her car, although she said "this isn't a matter of me being destitute."
"It isn't that I don't have the money to stay in a motel, but a motel isn't a home," she said.
Lizon said she is frustrated the case is still ongoing.
"The accusations against my husband are false. I never made them," she said. "This isn't a situation where I made statements that I later recanted. These were never my statements. This is third-party hearsay from people that don't even know me or know my husband or have ever seen us together or have ever seen our property or have ever seen us with our son."
She said her immediate future depends on what happens with a Jackson County grand jury, which will decide whether to indict Peter Lizon. The grand jury's term begins next week and runs through October.
If her husband is indicted, she said, she'll have to find a place to live long enough to give birth, pursue the return of her son and wait for her husband's trial.
"I have to give birth in August," she said. "Baby won't wait. I'm sure the court would like to tell the baby to wait, too. That won't work."