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Judge hears custody dispute in slaying case; One issue is role of Hmong culture in two girls' lives

Heron Marquez Estrada - October 19, 2000, Thursday

The legal battle over custody of two children whose father is charged with killing their mother continued Wednesday in Dakota County District Court as the father's relatives sought to remove the girls from the care of their 18-year-old sister.      

Fu Joseph Heu and relatives claimed Wednesday that Stephanie, 8, and Jennifer, 13, should be placed with the father's family to preserve their connection to Hmong culture, but their sister claimed that the culture was a frequent point of contention between their parents.    

"Although my father's family is Hmong . . . my mother's family is from Spain and France," Amanda Heu, 18, argued in court filings. "Sadly, our father had great difficulty understanding and accepting our mother's desire that we be taught to cherish the diversity of our multi-cultural heritage."       

The suspect, who goes by his middle name, Joseph, remains in the Dakota County jail pending a hearing in court next month. He is charged with fatally shooting Marie Heu, an office manager at the St. Paul Police Department's homicide unit, in the family's home in Eagan on Aug. 22.      

Amanda Heu, the oldest daughter, was granted temporary custody of her sisters after their mother's death, but her father's relatives quickly challenged the ruling.     

The Heu relatives declined to comment after the hearing, but in court documents they have contended that Amanda Heu is too young and too Americanized to raise the girls properly. "Amanda has completely cut off the Hmong tradition," said attorney Penny Deluce-Taylor, who represents the relatives.      

Judge Robert Carolan took the issue under advisement after Wednesday's hearing and doesn't expect to issue a ruling until at least next week. He has up to 90 days to decide.      

"All I really want is that there be peace in the family," Amanda Heu said after the hearing. "I think what's most important is that we lost both our parents."      

Heron Marquez Estrada can be reached at hme@startribune.com