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Mother Seeks Custody of Slain Daughter's Sons

With her daughter's live-in boyfriend charged with her murder, Catherine Peters heads to court on Thursday to petition for custody and visitation rights for her grandsons.

The mother of a slain woman is heading to court on Thursday to seek custody of her daughter’s young sons.

Catherine Peters has had but one brief visit with her 18-month-old grandson, Alex, since her daughter, Michelle, was found fatally shot in the face in her Chicago Heights home on March 6.

Chicago Heights police initially questioned Michele Peters’ live-in boyfriend, George Kleopa, 33, in the hours following the shooting. He was eventually released without being charged pending state crime lab results of forensic evidence gathered at the scene.

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He was arrested on July 24 and has since been charged with first-degree murder. According to prosecutors, Kleopa told police conflicting stories as to how Michele came to be shot.

Friends and family members allege that Michele, 30, suffered in silence after years of psychological abuse from Kleopa. She was said to be planning to move back to Hometown with Alex and the couple’s other son, Georgie, 7, at the time of her death.

Neighbors told police that they heard the couple arguing and then a gunshot, court records show.

Kleopa has pleaded not guilty to six counts of first-degree murder. He is free on a $200,000 bond.

“We’re going before a judge,” Catherine Peters said, who has been going to court through the summer trying to get visitation rights. “My main plan is to ask for full custody and get the kids back with us. If not, I’ll have to settle for visitation.”

The boys did not attend their mother’s funeral at Our Lady of Loretto Church in Hometown. Peters said Georgie has been living with his father’s relatives in California.

“I’ve never seen Georgie,” Peters said. “They whisked him to California without even a goodbye. A week after Michele’s funeral I saw [Alex] at George’s mother’s house in Oak Forest.”

Peters said she is not even sure if Georgie is aware that his mother is dead. Chicago Heights police assured her that the boy was asleep when they found his mother was shot inside the house.

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“The detective who was one of the first on the scene said Georgie was sound asleep when police got there,” Peters said.

Georgie was removed from the house with a blanket over his head so he would not see his mother’s blood pooling on the living room floor, his grandmother said. Alex was awake in his playpen in the dining room when police arrived.

“Michele had a hard time getting him to sleep,” Peters said. “She would let Alex play for awhile and then she’d put him back to bed. It will never be in his mind even if he saw [the shooting].”

Peters has had three brief phone conversations with Georgie in California since her daughter’s death, each lasting a few minutes.

Her attorney, J. Samuel Worley, would not speak on the specifics of her petition, except to say that if there was ever a case for grandparents’ custodial and guardianship rights, it is Catherine Peters’.

“First and foremost, my understanding in general is grandparents don’t have custodial rights per se over the children,” Worley said. “The standard in which the issue of custody comes before the court is what is in the best interest of the child. It’s the court’s and attorney’s job to show the totality of circumstances that are in the best interest of the child.”

Illinois state statues concerning grandparent visitation rights were declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Legislation was passed in 2005 and 2007 giving grandparents legal rights to visitation under certain circumstances, according to The New York Times Co.-run website, about.com.

Such circumstances include parents not living with one another, an absent parent, a deceased parent or a parent joining the grandparents’ petition for custody.

In Illinois, when parents surrender the child to any party other than foster care or the Illinois Department of Family and Children Services, the burden falls upon grandparents or other petitioners to prove that “the parent’s decision to bar visitation is harmful to the child’s mental, physical or emotional health.”

For Peters, who was intimately involved in the daily lives of her grandsons while her daughter was alive, the past few weeks with the start of school and the prospect of upcoming holidays like Halloween and Christmas, have been painful.

She says she has $122 left for attorney fees but is in it for the long haul. Friends have set up a fund to help Peters with legal costs.

“I don’t even know if [Kleopa’s family] are keeping her memory alive,” she said. “It makes me nauseous. It’s my biggest fear. At my house there are videos, pictures, her voice.”

Thursday's status hearing is set 9 a.m. in Room 1602 at the Daley Center at 118 N. Clark St.

The family of Michele Peters is accepting donations to help pay legal costs for custody and visitation of Michele's sons. Checks made payable to "Miracles for Michele" may be dropped off at  any Archer Bank in Illinois for the "Miracles for Michele" fund.

For more information about the fund, contact Catherine Peters by email at  catiepeters@yahoo.com.

 

michelle west September 19, 2012 at 12:43 PM
Prayers are with you and your family.. think of you and those boys everyday.. michelle west
dave bird September 19, 2012 at 01:18 PM
i for one would like to know if anyone has ever heard of the family of the killer getting custody.me and cathey have been together for 12 years,we were at the hospital before michele for the birth of both boys.we have been model grandparents to both.the kleopa family had very little contact with them.in the last years they did very little for them.we used to walk georgie to school on his first day every year.never once did they ever show up for anything but now they take the kids away and say its catheys fault micheles dead.i was the only grandpa dave they knew,the kleopa family in its whole never had much to do with the boys as for his sisters never! and now they have the boys. michele made it very clear she never wanted her boys with that family and is GOD is my witness we will do everything in our power to get the boys .we used to walk georgie to the first day of school every year and i have pictures to prove it but you never saw his dad do that or for that matter anyone in his family we took the kids everywhere and did all we could do with them.the kleopas blame cathey for everything that happened and they have no respect for anyone.they have refused to return to us michele personal property so i guess we have to take him to court for that. by the way today is catheys birthday and i wish i could give her the boys back for a gift but some people are trying to make sure that does not happen.from me and the boys HAPPY BIRTHDAY GRANDMA WE LOVE YOU and miss you GEORGIE & ALEX
Justice for Michele September 19, 2012 at 02:26 PM
My heart breaks for your family. I pray every day that those boys are returned to you and that justice will be served for Michele. Prayers do work and if you can keep the faith God does listen. He is merciful. My love to the family and I will continue to pray for a miracle.
Julie zuidema September 19, 2012 at 06:38 PM
I have to believe that the love of Michele will give her boys justice.. May God Bless them and bring them home were they belong so Michele can rest in peace..
jenniefer September 19, 2012 at 07:49 PM
my heart breaks for your family and Michele boys. my prayers are with you and her family and friend to get those boys back where they belong! God does listen keep the prayer and keep strong!
H. Carter September 19, 2012 at 09:50 PM
I am so glad that the Patch keeps this story alive till justice is done. I wish Michele was still with us to give us that special smile. I hope the court will see that you should have those boys. First that is what your daughter would have wanted. Second, you were their family. For that family to wisk the oldest boy to CA, without a good bye and keep him away, to me points to some guilt. Hopefully the court will fine for the boys to have a happy life with the grandparents Michele would have wanted them to be with Catherine & Dave. Keep the faith and hopefully this nightmare will be over for you and the boys soon!
Krista Wilkinson September 20, 2012 at 01:53 PM
These boys lost their wonderful mother, they don't deserve to lose their grandmother, grandfather, Uncle Brian, and that whole side of the family. They also lost the neighborhood they grew up in, their home, school and friends, including Georgie's best friend cousin. They have lost enough! Their mom's memory shouldn't be destroyed by this man who murdered her in the same house as his own children and a family to denies this despite the evidence! Bring them HOME FOR GOOD! Let them continue the life their mother, their main caretaker, wanted for them. It's time to plan a benefit to help out with all the costs and help justice find its way in the BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILDREN.

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