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Case against Joshua Tree homeless couple accused of child abuse is dismissed

Los Angeles Times logo Los Angeles Times 12/21/2018 Paloma Esquivel
a man holding a sign: Daniel Panico and wife Mona Kirk appear at the Joshua Tree courthouse on March 2. © Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times Daniel Panico and wife Mona Kirk appear at the Joshua Tree courthouse on March 2.

A homeless Joshua Tree couple accused of child abuse after they were found living with their children in a shack in the desert earlier this year no longer faces criminal charges in the case.

Daniel Panico, 73, and Mona Kirk, 51, had been charged in March with three felony counts of child abuse after San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies said the couple had been living for years with their three children in a desert shack without access to running water, bathrooms or sufficient food.

The children — ages 11, 13 and 14 — were taken into custody by the county’s Department of Children and Family Services.

After the arrests, friends of the family came to their defense, at times holding rallies outside the courthouse, because they believed the couple was being prosecuted for being homeless.

In May, county prosecutors dropped felony charges against the couple, but they still faced misdemeanor charges of willful cruelty to a child and failure to address truancy. Panico and Kirk were reunited with their children later that month.

On Friday, during a pretrial hearing at the Joshua Tree courthouse, prosecutors asked for the remaining charges to be dropped, and Judge Joel Agron dismissed the case, according to online court records.

Officials with the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about why the charges were dismissed.

a group of people standing in a room: Mona Kirk, left, and Daniel Panico, a homeless Joshua Tree couple accused of child abuse in March, appear in court in San Bernardino County, Calif., on May 2, 2018. © Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS Mona Kirk, left, and Daniel Panico, a homeless Joshua Tree couple accused of child abuse in March, appear in court in San Bernardino County, Calif., on May 2, 2018.

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

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