Prime suspect in missing mom case given custody of kids; Lake Ellenor search ends

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ORLANDO, Fla.,None - The prime suspect in the case of missing mother Michelle Parker was given custody of their two children on Wednesday, as the search for Parker in Lake Ellenor and in a wooded area ended for the day. The search was near Oakridge Road, which was the site of Parker's last cell phone 'ping' two weeks ago.

During an emergency hearing on Wednesday, a judge ruled that Dale Smith Jr. will keep custody of the two 3-year-old twins.

Tuesday, the Department of Children and Families took the children into protective custody. However, on Wednesday, the judge said there wasn't enough evidence to remove the children from Smith's care, but if more evidence comes forward, the court will revisit the issue.

However, DCF argued that the children are at risk with Smith because of his violent criminal history.         

DCF said Parker accused Smith of bruising her arm several years ago and that her 11-year-old son accused him of hitting her in front of them.

 "He is who he is. His behavior defines him in this case," said DCF attorney Joe Iuzzolino.

Smith knocked an ABC photographer to the ground on Wednesday. Court records show that kind of behavior is not new for Smith.

According to the records, in 1996, Smith pleaded to a lesser charge after being accused of throwing a chair at someone's head from behind, causing serious injury to the person. He took another plea on an attempted aggravated battery charge, involving a murder case in 1992.

Since Parker's disappearance, the children have been staying with Smith, her ex-fiance. Parker also has an 11-year-old son who is not Smith's child.

The 33-year-old mother of three disappeared on Nov. 17 after she appeared on a taped episode of "The People's Court" with Smith in a dispute over her lost engagement ring. During the episode Parker also accused Smith of being so physical she once tried to get a restraining order against him.

A few hours after the episode aired, Parker dropped off her twins at Smith's condo. Parker's SUV was found the day after she vanished.

On Wednesday,  an investigator with a camera and another with crime scene tape headed into a wooded area near Oakridge Road and appeared to be focusing on a particular spot.

Hours later, crime scene investigators went into a wooded area with a black garbage bag and a brown paper bag.

"So far we've found nothing," said Sgt. Vince Ogburn of the Orlando Police Department.

Police said there was no clue, tip, or statement that led them to search Lake Ellenor.

"This just happened to be the area that was chosen today," said Ogburn.

It also happened to be the first time in Parker's nearly two-week disappearance that boats and dive teams were used in the search.

"We have to have the boats for the water," said Ogburn.

Lake Ellenor is about a mile and a half from Smith's parents' house.

Smith's father shoved WFTV's photographer as he was being questioned about his son's alibi.

Police said Smith is the only suspect at this point. Detectives said Smith refused to take a polygraph.

Smith's attorney, Mark NeJame, said he does not want Smith to take a lie detector test because they aren't reliable. NeJame said Smith has been cooperative with detectives and talked to them three times without an attorney.

NeJame said Smith has been falsely accused. He claims Smith left his home with the twins at the same time Parker left, and said he arrived at his parents' house an hour and 12 minutes later.

"Get in your car and run that track and see if you can do it, and in between you've killed and gotten rid of, disposed of a body," said NeJame.

WFTV made that drive two times Tuesday night and each time clocked the commute at 25 minutes.

The search for Parker could soon get some high-profile help.

NeJame told WFTV they've asked Texas Equusearch to come to Orlando.

Equusearch leader Tim Miller said he was contacted on Tuesday. He also said Smith deserves help, and Miller may come to Orlando as soon as Wednesday to meet with police.

"He is reaching out for help, so I've got to go in there with an open mind," said Miller. "Help him. Help the family."

Miller said EquuSearch was hesitant to return to Orlando because of its pending lawsuit against Casey Anthony.

EquuSearch is suing for the money it spent searching, since Casey knew her daughter was already dead.

Police urge anyone with information about Parker's whereabouts to call 1-800-423-8477.

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