Suspect in case of kids left in canal due in court

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) - The children's bodies were found in separate bags in a Delray Beach canal last week...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A man boasted of his parenting skills to a judge more than two years before being investigated in the killings of two young children whose bodies were found stuffed in luggage and dumped into a canal and in the death of their mother.

Clem Beauchamp’s testimony and that of his then-girlfriend, whose body was found months before those of her son and daughter, was enough to convince a judge to allow his children from a previous relationship to live with him, before changing his mind a year later.

Now those children are in the state’s hands as authorities work toward charging Beauchamp in the deaths of 25-year-old Felicia Brown, and her children, 10-year-old Jermaine McNeil and 6-year-old Ju’tyra Allen.

He was due in court Wednesday on an unrelated firearms charge, which authorities are using to keep him in custody while they wrap up their investigation into the slayings.

The children’s bodies were found in separate bags in a Delray Beach canal last week. Their mother’s body was found last August in a landfill, but was unidentified until last week.

Years before, in an Aug. 26, 2008, hearing in West Palm Beach, Beauchamp, now 34, described himself as a hard-working, involved father who dropped his children off at school and helped them with their education.

“I’m there to make sure they do their homework, to give them the proper guidance that they would need to succeed in life,” he told the judge. “Being a father means more than just making the kid. You actually got to be there for them. And I’m prepared to do all that.”

Beauchamp described his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Michelle Dent, as irresponsible, saying she often went missing, used drugs, and concocted a mental disability for a son to take advantage of Social Security benefits. Dent denied all the accusations.

“I’ve been nothing but a good father to my kids,” he said.

Brown, too, talked highly of Beauchamp when he called her as a witness.

“He gave you chance after chance, you know, to change and do things better,” Brown told Dent at the hearing.

She continued: “He was tired of them being outside all times of night. Tired of him trying to take them home and no one is there. Tired of them crying and complaining about they’re hungry.”

The judge agreed, saying the children should live with Beauchamp, and ordered that he no longer pay Dent child support.

But after about a year, when he failed to follow the order to allow the children to see their mother on the weekends, the court reversed its decision, saying they should live with their mother.

In an order on July 22, the court said Beauchamp was “willing to manipulate the stability of his children” and was not acting “in the best interest of his children rather than acting upon his need to be able to control whatever situation he wants to control.”

The order didn’t last long. Brown soon disappeared — Beauchamp told neighbors she was in jail — and neighbors said Dent began staying at his home with their children and Brown’s children. Dent’s children are now in state custody.

Hundreds of pages of testimony and other documents from the custody battle offer morsels of other information about Beauchamp, his complicated web of relationships and the series of crimes both he and the women in his life were accused of committing.

Beauchamp told the judge he worked an overnight shift for about four years at a Walmart, but was fired in February 2006 after falling asleep in his car while on a break. He said he later worked as a landscaper and car detailer.

He was just 16 when his son was born and Dent was only 13. They broke up in 2004, but “we still was sneaking and seeing each other,” Dent said. He considered himself the disciplinarian, concerned by his daughter’s provocative dancing and short skirts and the prospects of his son, who he said was on the path to being a drug dealer.

He sometimes fell behind on child support payments for months, Dent said. And she accused him of using drugs, despite his denials, saying “he smoke weed and it be everywhere in his house.”

Still, neighbors said he appeared to be a good dad, often seen tossing a football with his son in the street. And even the woman he was fighting for custody didn’t deny his love for his children.

“I never kept my kids away from him because I know he love them and they love him, too,” Dent said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.