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Odd case ends with sentencing

DALLAS — Last week's trial in the strange case of the mother who disappeared with her infant daughter 18 years ago ended as expected.

Tara Wilson

Tara Wilson

November 05, 2013

DALLAS — Last week's trial in the strange case of the mother who disappeared with her infant daughter 18 years ago ended as expected.

No one involved was happy about it, though.

Tara Wilson was found guilty on one count of second-degree custodial interference, the result of her arrest in May after returning to Dallas with her now-adult daughter, Ashlyn Wilson.

She was sentenced to 75 days in jail and 240 hours of community service.

Oct. 29 was the first time Ashlyn’s father, Dan Wilson, had seen his daughter.

“Today is the first time they have been in the same room together in 18 years," Polk county District Attorney Aaron Felton said.

But it wasn't a happy occasion for either.

Dan Wilson testified he believed the sentence was unfit for the crime.

"She (Tara) opted to stay the course and stay hidden until my daughter was 18 years old and custody didn't matter, and fall on this very small penalty," he said, later adding: "There was intention to keep her (Ashlyn) from me always. I don't think 75 days is enough."

He described having a romantic relationship with Tara Wilson — one in which they planned to be married — until Tara's family found out about her pregnancy with Ashlyn. Tara left Iowa, where she met Dan, and returned to Dallas with her family. He said she wrote him letters, encouraging him not to give up the relationship, but eventually she cut ties with him.

In Oct. 1994, Dan received a restraining order, accusing him of raping Tara, a charge that was later set aside when Tara didn't show up to defend her case. Due to Tara's absence for hearings in a separate custody case, Dan Wilson was awarded full custody of Ashlyn in 1995. Shortly after that, Tara and Ashlyn Wilson disappeared. They reappeared in Dallas in May 2013.

Ashlyn Wilson also spoke at the trial — in support of her mother. She said she had a happy childhood and good education while living with her mother.

"She (Tara) was very unselfish," Ashlyn said in her statement. "She gave her whole life to do what she thought was best — to keep me safe."

Tara declined to speak, but her attorney, Tim Park, said his client took full responsibility for her actions — and still maintained that Dan Wilson sexually assaulted her.

Polk County Circuit Court Judge Monte Campbell said he didn't think the sentence was fair either, but no laws addressed this particular situation.

"I can't even understand what you have gone through," he said to Dan. "My heart goes out to you."

Dan said that he wasn't happy with the sentence, but glad to finally see Ashlyn.

"But it's sad that she wouldn't look at me and still thinks that I'm this evil man," he said.

Ashlyn was also wishing for a different conclusion.

"I wish my mom would have been set free," she said. "I think there is a difference between what is legal and what is right. And I think she did what was right and I think the law should have room for people who do what is right."

A civil case also concluded last week, with Tara conceding, which granted Dan $18 million in damages. Dan said the money — which he doesn't expect to receive — wasn't the point.

"I was looking to make a symbolic statement of how wrong this is," he said.

He has returned to Iowa, where he will launch a website displaying all the cards and letters Tara sent him, items Ashlyn didn't see during last week's hearings.

"They will be up there for her — or for anybody else — if she wants to see them someday," he said.

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