KANSAS CITY, Mo (Reuters) - A former lawyer for the parents of a missing Kansas City baby said on Monday she quit in a dispute with a rival New York lawyer, the latest twist in a case that some critics see as a legal and media circus.
Within days after 11-month-old Lisa Irwin mysteriously disappeared from her parent’s home on October 3, questions were raised about how a family living in a modest house could afford a New York lawyer, Joe Tacopina, and a New York private investigator, Bill Stanton.
Stanton has said a wealthy unnamed individual is paying for his services and putting up a $100,000 reward in the case. Tacopina has not said who is paying his fee.
The parents of Lisa, Jeremy Irwin and Deborah Bradley, have followed an aggressive media strategy, appearing repeatedly on national media. They have accused the police of jumping to conclusions about the involvement of Bradley in the baby’s disappearance.
“I think the whole case has been a media circus since the beginning,” said Jeff Lanza, a retired Kansas City FBI agent who is now a security and communications consultant. “It’s distracted from the investigation.”
Some also wonder why the parents focused so heavily on national media interviews while refusing local media interviews, if they wanted to find the baby.
“Local reporters are complaining bitterly about it,” said Michael Mahoney, a veteran reporter with KMBC-TV in Kansas City. “They think the family has opted to take this story nationally when local reporters believe they have the best chance of finding this infant by getting the word out.”
A Kansas City police spokesman, Darin Snapp, said the department had no comment on how the case had developed other than, “people have a right to counsel.”
The story of the baby’s disappearance told by Bradley has changed in the weeks since she went missing. In the early days, Bradley told several breakfast television shows that she believed that the police thought she killed the baby.
Later, the mother admitted in a national TV interview that she was drunk the night of the baby’s disappearance. A police sniffer dog found the scent of a dead body in one room of the house, though no body has been found.
At first, the couple cooperated with police, then said they were no longer cooperating, then softened their stance again.
Last week police interviews with young half-brothers of baby Lisa were scheduled and then canceled by the family at the last minute without explanation.
A press tour of the Irwin home scheduled for Friday and a press conference with local reporters after were canceled.
The lawyer who quit, Cyndy Short, told reporters on Monday she and Tacopina had very different “goals and approaches” in working with the media and investigators in the disappearance of Lisa nearly a month ago.
“I was told the family had made a decision to stay with Joe and my decision was that I could not stay with Joe,” Short said in a news conference outside her office.
Bradley and Irwin said in a statement later Monday that they let Short go.
“One of the reasons we relieved Mrs. Short was because she was holding her own press conferences, making statements to the media, and giving tours of the home that we were finding out about after the fact,” the couple said. In addition, they said the FBI informed them Short was not being productive.
Tacopina in a telephone interview, said Short’s involvement in the case “was too much about media and not enough about the ultimate goal” of finding Lisa. A new Kansas City-based lawyer will be added to the case later Monday, he said.
Tacopina is an ex-prosecutor who has become a defense attorney for highly-publicized clients such as Joran Van der Sloot, a Dutch man suspected in the 2005 disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba.
Stanton, a former New York police officer known as “Wild Bill,” has appeared frequently on network television to talk about high-profile crime cases. A profile of him in New York magazine said he worked on “explosive, sensitive, headline-producing cases” such as the divorce of business mogul Carl and Liba Icahn.
Short said she and the parents are convinced that someone came into the Irwin house and stole Lisa. Bradley has said she put Lisa to bed the evening of October 3 and Irwin has said she was missing when he returned from work early the next morning.
Editing by Greg McCune