Appealing: Driving breast-feeder blames self

Yet another twist in the case of the former Charlottesvillian– the one who couldn't coach soccer because of his intransigence on background checks– who dictates his wife's actions. –editor


A woman convicted of violating child-restraint and other laws because she breast-fed her baby while driving didn't get effective legal help, even though she acted as her own attorney, according to two appeals filed by her husband.

Catherine Nicole Donkers, 29, said her husband, Brad Lee Barnhill, ordered her by cell phone to breast-feed their seven-month-old daughter to save time while she drove on the Ohio Turnpike from Pennsylvania to Michigan on May 8.

Donkers was found guilty last month of violating child-restraint laws, driving without a valid driver's license, and fleeing police. She was found innocent of child endangerment. No sentencing date has been set.

In two appeals filed in mid-September in the 11th District Court of Appeals in Warren, Ohio, Barnhill argues that the fleeing and license convictions should be thrown out, partly because his wife was denied effective legal help. Donkers acted as her own attorney after refusing to be represented by a public defender.

"We had a certain way we wanted to defend the case, and they refused to do this, saying it couldn't be done,'' Barnhill said.

Donkers said in court that she did nothing wrong because the couple's religious beliefs require Barnhill to be responsible for directing her decisions and whether she should be punished.

The couple belongs to the First Christian Fellowship for Eternal Sovereignty, which has a history of challenging the government.

For part of the trial, Donkers would not stand or speak as she defended herself in Portage County Municipal Court until her husband gave her permission from the first row of the audience.

Barnhill argues the judge stepped outside the bounds of the failure-to-comply statute for the fleeing charge and that the court had no jurisdiction on the license charge.

Police stopped Donkers after a trucker called 911 to report he had seen a woman driver holding a baby on her lap. Donkers refused to pull over for three miles as a state trooper pursued her.

The couple says Donkers did not stop immediately because she didn't realize right away she was being followed and she wanted to stop at a public place because she had been assaulted by police before.

Phone listings for Barnhill and Donkers could not be found by deadline to seek further comment about the appeals.

Donkers argued at the trial that as a Michigan resident, she was entitled under that state's child restraint law to breast-feed while driving, even though she was driving in Ohio. Child restraint laws in Michigan exempt nursing babies.

Prosecutors recommended Donkers be sentenced to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine instead of the maximum one year in jail and $2,000 fine.

Brad Barnhill, his daughter, and wife, Catherine Donkers, outside their home near Pittsburgh.