Fathers of Girls in Mesquite Stabbing Fight for Custody

Fathers of Girls in Mesquite Stabbing Fight for Custody

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LAS VEGAS (AP) -- The fathers of two little girls attacked with butcher knives in a trailer outside a Mesquite casino are challenging the girls' mother for custody.

A dispute between David Cowan and Tamara Bergeron has a funeral for one of the girls, 3-year-old Kristyanna Cowan, on hold at Desert Memorial Cremation & Memorial Society in Las Vegas.

Kristyanna was slain in the attack just before 2 a.m. Jan. 22 in a trailer parked outside the CasaBlanca hotel-casino. Her funeral had been scheduled for Tuesday.

Dave Walters, an official at the mortuary, said he expected a judge will be asked to decide whether David Cowan should get custody the girl's body for burial near his home in Banning, Calif., or whether Tamara Bergeron can have her buried in Las Vegas.

Walters told The Associated Press on Wednesday that no court filing had been made.

The father of 10-year-old Brittney Bergeron also is involved in a custody dispute with Tamara Bergeron, whom he divorced in 2001.

Kevin Bergeron, of Beaumont, Calif., told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that his ex-wife had temporary custody of their daughter and should not have left her and her half-sister, Kristyanna, alone to go inside the CasaBlanca casino.

"If she wouldn't have put her in that position, none of this would've happened," Kevin Bergeron said.

The Las Vegas Sun reported that a mediator in Riverside County, Calif., awarded Kevin Bergeron custody of Brittney in January 2002 and permitted his mother, Grace Bergeron, to care for the girl while Kevin Bergeron worked. In April, Tamara Bergeron gained custody and Kevin Bergeron got visitation rights.

Tamara Bergeron, 34, and her boyfriend, Robert Schmidt, 33, have said they left the children sleeping while they went to the casino to eat. They said they also played a slot machine and that Schmidt scuffled with one of the girls' accused killers in the casino minutes before the knife attack.

The slaying suspects -- Beau Santino Maestas, 19, and his 16-year-old sister, Monique Maestas -- are fighting extradition from Utah to Nevada, where prosecutors say they could face the death penalty.

Beau Maestas told police that he and his sister panicked and attacked the girls when they went to the trailer to recover money he said he lost to Bergeron in a drug sale rip-off.

Maestas told police that Tamara Bergeron and Schmidt sold him $125 worth of a substance he thought was methamphetamine, but that turned out to be common table salt.

A Mesquite woman told the Review-Journal that she introduced Beau Maestas and Schmidt and she handed what she thought was a bag of methamphetamine from Schmidt to Maestas.

Bergeron has a criminal record in Riverside County, Calif., where she was given probation after pleading guilty to drug possession in August 2000. She and Schmidt, who are unemployed, deny the attack had anything to do with drugs. They said the attack came during a robbery attempt.

Brittney Bergeron told police that a man knocked on the door of the trailer, told her that her mother had been hurt and that he would take the girls to her, then covered her mouth and started stabbing her.

Police have recovered knives and bloody clothing and are continuing to investigate the attack.

Nevada authorities have said Tamara Bergeron and Schmidt could face felony child endangerment charges, and also could be charged with misrepresenting and selling a substance as an illegal drug.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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