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Bright children to remain in foster care

Rich Cholodofsky
| Monday, May 14, 2012, 5:19 a.m.

The two surviving children of John and Annette Bright will remain in the custody of the Westmoreland County Children's Bureau, a judge ruled this week.

The Brights, of Monessen, had their children taken from them Aug. 7, three weeks after their 8-year-old daughter, Annette, was shot and killed by a man police say was a family friend.

Charles Koschalk, 35, is awaiting trial on a charge of first-degree murder in connection with the July 15 shooting.

John Bright said Friday that Westmoreland County Family Court Judge Rita Hathaway this week issued an order that keeps the family's two surviving children, 13-year-old Marcia and 7-year-old John Jr., in foster care.

The Brights have repeatedly tried to regain custody of the children.

"They tried to say we were guilty by omission because my daughter was molested. I had no idea what was going on. I was at work," John Bright said.

No criminal charges have ever been filed against anyone with regard to allegations made involving Koschalk's dealings with Marcia Bright in the days weeks and months that preceded the shooting of Annette Bright.

Authorities say Koschalk shot Annette Bright one time in the head, then buried her body in a shallow grave in nearby Rostraver Township.

Koschalk told police the shooting was an accident. In a statement he made to authorities, he said he took the girl to the woods on a hunting trip and that his gun accidentally discharged as he tried to relieve a cramp in his leg.

The day Koschalk was arrested police found letters he wrote that were addressed to the Bright's oldest daughter, Marcia. In those letters, Koschalk threatened Marcia Bright's life, as well as the lives of her parents and siblings, because she was not spending enough time with him, according to testimony at Koschalk's preliminary hearing last month.

According to sources, Hathaway's order gives custody of the children to the Children's Bureau, based on evidence she heard during three days of testimony before her earlier this year.

Hathaway was unavailable for comment yesterday.

During the custody hearings, witnesses testified that Marcia Bright had engaged in a relationship with Koschalk with the permission of her parents.

One witness against the Brights was Mary Koschalk, the sister-in-law of the man accused of young Annette Bright's murder. She told reporters that Charles Koschalk had a relationship with Marcia Bright and that her parents refused to keep them apart because he showered the family with gifts.

Charles Koschalk was seen with Marcia Bright about a month before the shooting. A county probation officer spotted Charles Koschalk and Marcia Bright in May at the Target store in the Hempfield Square shopping center in Hempfield Township.

County probation officials eventually filed a probation violation against Koschalk as a result of that incident, although the paperwork didn't make it through the court system until after Annette Bright's shooting.

At the time, Koschalk was on probation for a 1999 conviction on a charge of corrupting the morals of a minor in connection with his keeping Marcia Bright out all night away from the family home.

He was sentenced to probation and ordered to stay away from the Bright children.

The Brights were at the Westmoreland County Courthouse Friday for one of their two monthly supervised visits with the children. John Bright said he believes Hathaway ordered the children to stay in the county's care in part to coach their testimony in future court proceedings.

Hathaway's latest custody order is not permanent and Bright suggested he and his wife might someday regain parental responsibility for the children.

Jerry Sopko, director of the Children's Bureau, said review petitions must be filed every six months with the court in cases in which the county takes custody of children.

Sopko could not comment on the Bright case specifically.

But John Bright said Hathaway ordered him and his wife to undergo parental counseling classes as a prerequisite to regaining custody of their children. Bright said they have started to attend those classes.

"I'll play their stupid silly games to get my kids back," Bright said.

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