One terrible morning in 2004, Peter Spitz's wife, Teresa, took their infant son to a friend's house, then shot Spitz in the face, blinding him, and killed his mother. Last week, after years of rehab and legal battles, the ex-Marine got a precious piece of his life back, when a judge granted him custody of the now seven-year-old boy -- and abruptly terminated an unusual, court-ordered arrangement under which Spitz's assailant had more access to their son than he did.
"That was one of the best days in a long time," Spitz says. "I was scared out of my mind waiting for the decision. But I'm definitely busy now, planning for school and meals and everything."
Spitz's ordeal was the subject of last December's feature "Blindsided." Shot in the head three times, he awoke in a hospital bed to discover that his sight was gone, his mother was dead, his wife was in jail, and his son was in the care of his wife's friends, Don and Sheila Reynolds, who became the boy's guardians. At trial, Teresa was found not guilty by reason of insanity -- in part because Spitz testified in her defense, convinced that she couldn't possibly have known what she was doing.
Ordered to treatment at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo (CMHIP), Teresa divorced Spitz and changed her name to Teresa Lynn. Four months ago, Arapahoe County District Judge Michael Spear granted her doctors' request to give Lynn a conditional release from the state hospital, based on her progress there. The ex-couple have become bitter adversaries in guardianship and custody proceedings, with Spitz expressing concern that Lynn was moving too quickly through CMHIP's program and may pose a threat to their son, whom she admitted once trying to harm. On the other hand, Lynn and the Reynolds have questioned Spitz's ability to take care of his son.
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In recent months, Lynn has had supervised visits with her son while Spitz has had very limited ability to spend time with him. At one point, his visits were cut off entirely, based on a therapist's recommendation that the move was in the best interest of the child. But that therapist never observed Spitz's interactions with the boy -- an omission that was sharply criticized by Arapahoe County District Judge Timothy Fasing last week when he dissolved the guardianship and granted full custody to Spitz.
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"Judge Fasing said the Reynolds had exercised poor judgment in letting [our son] spend time with Teresa while preventing him from bonding with me," Spitz says. "That's what I'd been saying all along."
The decision was hailed on the website of Fathers and Families, a fathers' rights organization that has taken a strong interest in the case. Spitz is now preparing his son for the end of the summer vacation and preparing himself for another round in Denver family court, as he and Lynn work out other aspects of the custody battle. He's relieved to have his son home, he says -- and so is his service dog Jersey.
"She's beside herself with joy," he says.
More from our News archive: "Video: Peter Spitz tells how his wife shot him in the face while he was asleep."