TAMPA -- Their week-long odyssey started in Tampa Bay, spanned the Gulf of Mexico to the shores of Cuba, and landed them in the Hillsborough County Jail. The couple accused of kidnapping their young sons will start a new journey Thursday — one that could end with life in prison.
Joshua Hakken, 35, and Sharyn Hakken, 34, are scheduled to appear at 8:30 a.m. for their first appearance in court. The charges against them will be detailed, and a judge will decide whether to allow them bail.
Hillsborough County authorities said that early April 3, Joshua Hakken barged into his mother-in-law’s home north of Tampa, bound her with zip ties and kidnapped his boys.
Just the day before, a court notified Joshua and Sharyn Hakken that it had terminated their parental rights after a string of incidents in Louisiana.
Ignoring the 30-day window to appeal the ruling, authorities said, the Hakkens instead took the children from their maternal grandparents’ home and sailed on a 25-foot boat to Cuba.
Cuban officials spotted the Hakkens in Hemingway Harbor near Havana. They informed U.S. authorities, who flew the four back to Florida.
U.S. federal officials informed the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office that the Cuban government had seized an assault-style rifle and semi-automatic handgun from the boat.
Because weapons were involved, the Hakkens could face multiple charges carrying life sentences. Kidnapping for the purpose of committing a felony and burglary with battery are both felonies punishable by life in prison, Tampa lawyer Rick Terrana said.
The couple faces state charges including burglary with assault or battery, false imprisonment, grand theft of a vehicle, interference with custody, child neglect and kidnapping. They do not face federal charges, FBI spokesman Dave Couvertier said.
Joshua Hakken was already being held on $154,000 bail, but authorities have placed a hold on him. Sharyn Hakken was being held without bail. The bails were set by separate judges, and could be changed at Thursday’s hearing.
“The main consideration that a judge has on whether or not to set bail in any case is whether the defendant presents a flight risk,” Terrana said. “And what greater flight risk is there than two people who have already grabbed the kids and fled to Cuba via water?”
The boys, Cole, 4, and Chase, 2, were medically checked out during the return flight. They were with their grandparents, Patricia and Robert Hauser, along with the family dog, Nati, authorities said. A sheriff’s deputy’s car sat outside their home Wednesday. The Hausers were expected to hold a press conference at the house Thursday.
Though the Hakkens currently face counts of interference with child custody, Tampa lawyer Anthony Marchese, who specializes in family and adoption law, suspects prosecutors could drop that charge, which applies when one parent takes a child away from another parent.
Because of the court ruling terminating their parental rights, neither of the Hakkens is a parent in the eyes of the law.
“They are literally legal strangers to the children,” Marchese said. “Therefore it is straight-up kidnapping. They will have a very difficult time in the criminal arena. You’ll never be able to tell a biological parent, ‘You are no longer the parent.’ They don’t understand that.”