Crime & Courts

Lucas' stepmom is a person of interest and a witness in his disappearance, DA says

Emily Glass received a "not guilty" verdict from jurors in a case alleging she endangered her 1-year-old daughter by driving to a Wichita restaurant for dinner while she was high on marijuana. But she remains part of the focus of a mystery that's plagued the city for the past three months:

Where is her 5-year-old stepson, Lucas Hernandez?

She is a person of interest in his disappearance, Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said Wednesday, speaking outside of his office at the downtown courthouse where Glass' trial was held just moments after jurors voted to acquit her of one count of child endangerment.

They deliberated for less than an hour before delivering the verdict.

Glass also is a witness, Bennett said Wednesday, to whatever happened to the Beech Elementary pre-kindergartner after he was last seen in February.

“I’m not saying anything the Police Department hasn’t already said: They identified her, I believe, as a person of interest. She’s certainly a witness in that case," Bennett told reporters. He did not call her a suspect in the case.

"The point is we'll take evidence wherever it takes us and will continue to investigate this disappearance of Lucas Hernandez," he said.

Asked what's next in the search for the boy, Bennett said that Wichita police investigators chase leads as they come in.

“They’re working on the case as we speak. ... They’re going to look at every other angle they can think of, take tips from the public, continue to search if and when applicable or appropriate, if they got some place to search," he said.

"It's been obviously an exhaustive investigation to date and will continue to be so."

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Glass' attorney accompanied her as she was escorted by sheriff's deputies out of the courtroom after the verdict was announced. She did not speak with reporters.

Glass, 26, had been on trial this week for reportedly smoking three bowls of marijuana in her garage at the rental home she shared with her daughter, Lucas and the children's father, Jonathan Hernandez, on South Edgemoor; then driving to the Olive Garden at Central and Rock with the girl in her car on Feb. 16.

Bennett called the misdemeanor charge "a collateral matter" that turned up during the larger investigation into Lucas' whereabouts.

The trial did not touch on where the boy might be or why he vanished.

Glass reported Lucas missing on Feb. 17 — about 24 hours after the Olive Garden trip. She says Lucas was playing in his bedroom that day when she showered and laid down for a nap. When she awoke a few hours later, she told police, he was gone.

Police have said there is no evidence Lucas was abducted, and they doubt he walked away from home. Law enforcement and public searches for the boy have turned up nothing.

Many fear him dead.

No one has been criminally charged in connection with his disappearance.

Glass has also told police that she left Lucas at home when she took her 1-year-old to Olive Garden. Lucas was sleeping then, according to Glass. His father was out of town working.

Asking for a conviction during closing arguments Wednesday, prosecutor Monika Hoyt reminded jurors that Glass admitted to ingesting the drug during law enforcement interviews. Testimony on Tuesday from a jail inmate who said Glass described smoking pot to her that day corroborated the account.

But, as Glass' defense attorney, Julia Leth-Perez argued, there was no physical evidence — such as blood or hair follicle tests or drug paraphernalia — found that proves Glass smoked pot or that it affected her driving.

And, Leth-Perez pointed out to jurors, Glass was not charged with driving under the influence or any drug-related crime.

Glass had been held in the Sedgwick County Jail since her arrest on the child endangerment charge on Feb. 21. Wednesday's acquittal ensured her release.

But it's unclear whether Glass will return home to her daughter who was the subject of the child endangerment case.

Glass lost custody of the girl in April after a juvenile court judge found the 1-year-old to be a child in need of care. The designation put the girl in the custody of the secretary for the Kansas Department for Children and Families; she had already been placed in police protective custody and had been living at the Wichita Children's Home.

The child-in-need-of-care petition filed for Glass' daughter says Glass failed to provide a "safe and stable living environment," had admitted to smoking marijuana and drove with the girl, left Lucas alone at home, had a history of violence with the children's father and had poor judgment and substance abuse issues.

Child-in-need-of-care proceedings are different from criminal court proceedings.

Wednesday's verdict brought quiet reactions from those in the courtroom gallery.

A few people there on Lucas' behalf shed tears.

"I'm just very disappointed in the verdict. I was hoping she (Glass) would be found guilty," Robin Taylor, the boy's maternal grandmother, said outside the Sedgwick County Courthouse after the jury's decision was handed down.

She said she had hoped the endangerment case would lend clues to Lucas' location.

Now, Taylor said, "I'm hoping for more evidence to be gathered, and I want the searchers to continue searching (for him)."

Amy Renee Leiker: 316-268-6644, @amyreneeleiker