The e-mails started three days after Cheryl Ann Brown was arrested and charged with forcing two of her children to take turns riding in the trunk of her rented Nissan Sentra during an eight-hour trip from Alabama to Loudoun County.
"Mommy doesn't know what Daddy has been telling you, but because of him, Mommy went to jail," she wrote July 11, in one of several e-mails sent to two of her daughters, who live with their father in Aldie.
"Ask yourself, is this something Mommy would do?" she wrote a few days later, according to court testimony yesterday. "I love you, no matter what is said or done."
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Nicole Wittmann told a Loudoun judge yesterday that the e-mails were a "veiled message" of intimidation to the girls, who probably will have to testify against their mother. The e-mails, she said, should be grounds for revoking Brown's bond and forcing her to await trial in jail.
Wittmann read the e-mails in court yesterday, saying they went to Brown's older daughters, who have told authorities about the July 1 trip from Alabama. Authorities say that Brown rotated the 10-year-old and her 8-year-old sister in and out of the trunk during the long car ride because the Sentra was too cramped. The 12-year-old daughter, a 12-year-old family friend, an infant daughter in a car seat and a dog also were in the car with Brown and the two younger girls.
Loudoun Juvenile and Domestic Relations Judge Pamela Grizzle allowed Brown to remain free but told her she found the e-mails "disturbing." She ordered Brown to stop writing to the children and said she couldn't have any more unsupervised contact with them.
"They are minor children, and I know that you love them, but they are not to be in the middle of this," Grizzle told Brown.
Eric Strom, Brown's attorney, argued in court that the e-mails were simply indications of Brown's affection for her daughters and were written before any court order prohibited contact. There also was no evidence, he said, that the children felt intimidated by the e-mails.
"The commonwealth's actually trying to say that because Cheryl said 'I love you' to her daughter, that is seen as invidious and a veiled message," he said.
Strom and Brown declined to comment outside the courtroom.
Brown, who has been charged with abuse and cruelty to children, was released from jail July 8 on a $5,000 bond by a magistrate in Stafford, where she lives.
Authorities have said that Brown, 38, was returning from visiting relatives in Fort Payne, Ala., bringing the children to the home of her ex-husband, Curtis Schoonmaker. Schoonmaker, the father of the three oldest daughters, has said that the girls told him about riding in the trunk the next day, and he alerted the Loudoun sheriff's office. The children were not injured.
Wittmann told Grizzle that the e-mails implied to the children that their statements to police were getting their mother in trouble.
In the e-mails, Brown pledges to her daughters that she will not leave them but wrote that their father had been saying "evil" things about her and keeping them from her.
"This is going to get worse, not better. . . . Be prepared to go on the witness stand," she wrote in one e-mail.
In others, she instructed the girls to trust in God and to pray for her. "I will always love you," she wrote.
Also yesterday, Grizzle denied a defense motion that would have allowed Brown to leave the state before her trial. Brown, who works as a flight attendant for a charter airline, has been on maternity leave but plans to return to work, her attorney said, and will need to travel when she does.
Strom said Brown's schedule is unpredictable -- she does not know when she will return to work, how often she would be traveling, to where and for how long. He acknowledged that her employer, World Airways, flies military personnel overseas, and her work schedule could require international trips. Grizzle said she could not grant the request without those kinds of details.