Niveen Ismail headed into a Santa Ana courtroom last week facing the possibility of a three-year prison sentence for allegedly asking a private investigator to kidnap her 7-year-old son from his foster parents.
But, after three hours of deliberations, the jury found the Newport Beach 45-year-old not guilty, and based on the press accounts from the trial, it's easy to see why.
Ismail, who lost parental rights to her son in 2005 when officers found him home alone, contacted and met P.I. Robert Young in November 2009. According to the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA), Ismail
proposed paying Young a large sum of money to kidnap her son from his
foster family in Lake Forest and take him to Tijuana. From there, prosecutors alleged, Ismail planned to take her son to Europe or her native Egypt.
But the investigator later contacted the Newport Beach Police Department, and another meeting was set up on Dec. 4, 2009, that had Ismail
joined by the P.I. and an undercover cop she believed was working with her point person. At that meeting, the OCDA claimed, Ismail discussed obtaining passports for her and her
son, asking again for her son to be kidnapped in
exchange for money. She was then arrested, and when trial began Dec. 7 Ismail was facing one felony count of solicitation to commit kidnapping.
What blew the case for prosecutors were the secretly recorded tapes from Ismail's meeting with Young and the undercover, according to Jon Cassidy's coverage in the Orange County Register. Young testified that Ismail threw out the kidnapping idea as a “what if” at the first meeting, but while she is heard discussing such a plot at the follow-up meeting, she did not actually request it, Cassidy reports. Instead, Ismail is heard continually trying to steer the conversation back to another idea: spying on the foster family, according to Cassidy, who adds it was the investigators who were heard repeatedly bringing up the kidnapping.
Ismail was told a kidnapping would cost $5,000 versus $500 for surveillance on the foster family. After initially providing Young and his fake partner with a photo of her son–and indication she was in on the kidnapping–she later changed her mind and only paid $500, Cassidy reports.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Beth Costello presented circumstantial
evidence that Ismail had begun applying for an Egyptian passport and looked online for driving directions to the Mexican border and flight information from Mexico to
Europe, but that obviously was not enough for the jury to buy that the mom had, as the charges suggest, solicited to commit a kidnapping.
“We had an intelligent jury that sifted through rumor, innuendo and
distraction thrown at them by the prosecution,” Ismail's attorney, Ann
Cunningham, reportedly told Cassidy. “The case was all on tape.”
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.