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Custody Hearing for 'Boy Genius' Is Postponed

Court: The Colorado child, 8, was taken from his mother after he attempted suicide.

April 13, 2002|JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BROOMFIELD, Colo. — The fate of an 8-year-old boy whose IQ test scores earned him the label "Boy Genius" remained unclear Friday, when a hearing to decide his custody was continued until next month.

Elizabeth Chapman, the boy's mother, attended the closed hearing at Broomfield District Court, about 40 miles north of Denver. She has admitted she falsified records that established her son Justin's remarkable mental abilities and confessed she coached the boy on an IQ test in which he scored 298-plus, the highest mark ever recorded.

That test and other intelligence assessments led to Justin's being hailed as "the greatest genius to ever grace the Earth" by an expert in Denver who specializes in identifying profoundly gifted children.

The Chapmans, who moved here from New York state last summer, became celebrities in the world of hyper-intelligent children. Justin had already taken college classes, been the subject of a BBC documentary and, at age 7, scored a perfect 800 on the math section of the SAT and 650 on the verbal section.

Chapman told the Rocky Mountain News that she began to rig tests in order to boost Justin's reputation. In the case of the SAT, Chapman said she copied the score from the test of a neighbor's son. She also admitted she made up IQ results from a test Justin took at age 3 and that he studied a test booklet for the IQ test on which he scored 298.

The facade surrounding the boy's gifted status began to crumble after he was hospitalized in November following an apparent suicide attempt. Officials from Broomfield County's children's services office removed Justin from his mother's home, and she was charged with neglect.

A psychological evaluation conducted at the time of his hospitalization concluded that Justin's "recent suicidal gesture exemplifies his inability to continue the existence that has been assigned by his mother, the gifted community and most likely by himself."

Chapman, 29, arrived at the courthouse for the early-morning hearing. She was hustled into the closed session and the courtroom door and corridor were guarded by police.

After the hourlong proceeding, a court officer announced that the case had been continued until May 10.

Jennifer Hoffman, director of court services, would not disclose what took place during the hearing but said the boy's grandparents had been listed as interested parties in the case. Hoffman also said the boy's father, James Maurer, who lives in North Carolina, admitted to creating an "injurious environment" for his son, identical to the admission Chapman made in court last month. Justin's parents were never married and they did not live together after his birth.

Chapman and her attorney Paul Dugas declined to comment after the hearing. The boy remains in foster care, Hoffman said.

According to Ed Lederman, a Denver divorce lawyer, Friday's developments put Justin's future more in control of social services.

"Now they've got control over the father," Lederman said of Maurer's concession. "Once that admission is made, the father has essentially ceded control to the state. Otherwise, the father could ask for custody immediately. The upshot is he's taking responsibility for the environment in which the child was raised."

Justin's maternal grandparents had previously indicated they would seek custody of him. Friday's proceedings do not automatically mean the grandparents are seeking custody but could simply indicate they are seeking legal standing in the court to be able to attend hearings and obtain court materials.

"It could be that the grandparents are just keeping in the loop," Lederman said. "Or it could be that social services wants the child to reside with a family member. We don't know if the grandparents intervened or social services contacted them. But once the injurious circumstances are found, the court places the child using the standard of best interest of the child."

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