Infant's Estate Spurs Feud
DOTHAN, Ala. - When 4-month-old Phoenix Jordan 'Cody' Parrish was murdered, all he had was one pacifier, a few diapers, some clothes and two sippy cups. Now, a Dothan attorney appointed to represent Cody's 4-year-old sister is asking a court to rule she is the rightful heir to a portion of an $800,000 settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit filed on Cody's behalf against a Florida child services agency. In late 2004, Cody Parrish and his older sister, Jewell, were temporarily taken away from parents Tierra Capri Gobble and Samuel David Hunter because of concerns about abuse. Hillsborough Kids, a Tampa-based nonprofit agency that handles foster care, placed the children in the custody of a great-uncle, Edgar Parrish. He moved them from Florida to Dothan in December 2004. Hunter and Gobble followed Parrish to Dothan.Authorities found Cody dead Dec. 15 and charged Gobble with murder. She was convicted in 2005 and sentenced to death. Hunter pleaded guilty to manslaughter and is serving time in prison. Parrish pleaded guilty to aggravated child abuse and also is serving time. Since then, Jewell was adopted by a local family. Hillsborough Kids Chided A 2005 report conducted by the Florida Department of Children & Families criticized Hillsborough Kids for failing to properly monitor the children after they were taken from the parents and given to Parrish. The report did not, however, say the breakdown in procedure directly led to Cody's death. Two months after the report was made public, however, Hillsborough Kids was sued on behalf of Cody's estate, claiming the agency bore some responsibility for his death. The case was assigned to a mediator and settled out of court for $800,000, according to court documents filed this year in connection with Cody's estate. Renu Parker, counsel for Hillsborough Kids, said confidentiality requirements barred her from speaking about the details of the settlement. 'Any time there is a death, we are very, very saddened. We are in the business of child welfare and we take every measure possible to care for our children,' Parker said Tuesday. Dothan attorney Kathleen Nemish, appointed to represent Cody's sister, claims the girl is the rightful recipient of the money from the settlement. She was adopted by an Alabama family and her name has been changed. Nemish has filed motions in Houston County Circuit Court, asking a judge to make the sister the rightful heir. Settlement proceeds in the amount of $379,000 - $800,000 minus $41,000 in litigation costs and a 50 percent attorney's fee - have been placed in an interest-bearing account for the girl. Accused Mom Stakes Claim Lawyers with the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization that often represents prisoners, filed a motion on behalf of Gobble, claiming the proceedings are unlawful. Attorney Marc Shapiro submitted a motion to suspend the proceedings because Cody's parents had not been told their son's estate might have assets. 'Members of the Gobble family were unaware that there was a need for them to assert their statutory right of preference to serve as administrator of Phoenix Parrish's estate,' Shapiro wrote. Shapiro stated that Gobble's parental rights should be recognized until her appeals have been exhausted. Shapiro did not return a call seeking comment. Nemish counters that because both parents have been convicted of crimes relating to their son's death, they are precluded from profiting from their crime, according to Alabama's 'Slayer Statute.' The case is still pending.
Lance Griffin is a staff writer for the Dothan (Ala.) Eagle.