A central Alabama woman who has been unlawfully incarcerated for almost five months was released this afternoon from the Chilton County Jail.
Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt had been held since July 26 because of a property-related debt from her divorce case. We have shown in a series of posts that her incarceration was unlawful, and the case recently drew the attention of examiner.com.
A Motion to Reconsider Incarceration in the Wyatt case was on the 9 a.m. docket today at the Chilton County Courthouse. Ms. Wyatt's release was not finalized until late afternoon.
Details of any agreement related to the alleged debt are not available at this time. A source told Legal Schnauzer that Ms. Wyatt likely will have to sell her house in an expedited fashion. It remains unclear if she is subject to re-arrest.
A court document ordering Ms. Wyatt's arrest found that she owed $165,000 to Harold Jay Wyatt, her ex husband, for his equity in the marital home. The order was based on a handwritten settlement agreement that did not appear to be formal or finalized, and the court file appeared to include little documentation to prove such an amount was owed.
Bonnie Wyatt owned the house before her marriage to Harold Wyatt, and the couple lived together as man and wife for only about 10 months. At the time of the marriage, Ms. Wyatt was recovering from a fire that destroyed her home and was investigated as arson. The fire hit shortly after her divorce was finalized from Bobby Knox, president of Shelby Concrete.
Harold Wyatt claimed that he spent a substantial sum to help complete the interior of the home, but it remains unclear exactly how much he spent, whether Ms. Wyatt authorized the expenditures, and why the work was not fully covered by homeowner's insurance.
When Ms. Wyatt failed to pay the $165,000 allegedly owed, Chilton County Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds held her in contempt and ordered her arrest. Reynolds made that ruling, even though Alabama case law states that a party cannot be subject to contempt, and incarceration, for failure to pay a property-related debt from the dissolution of a marriage. Such remedies are available only if the debt involves spousal sustenance and support, such as alimony.
We will continue to follow the story, which now primarily shifts to the contents of a possible agreement and any legal avenues Ms. Wyatt might have for gross violations of her civil rights.
Our research indicates' Ms. Wyatt's incarceration probably was driven by factors that have nothing to do with an alleged debt to Harold Wyatt. What is the real reason that Bonnie Wyatt was unlawfully jailed for almost five months, and who needs to be held accountable for it? We will continue to ask that question, and others, related to this peculiar case.