A Bucks County judge this morning granted Bonnie Sweeten's request to convert her prison sentence to house arrest - after she has served six months.
In a hearing, Judge Jeffrey L. Finley said Sweeten's demeanor on the stand had convinced him that she was a changed person.
In May, Sweeten, a mother of three, faked her abduction and fled to Disney World with her 9-year-old daughter. She pleaded guilty to charges of false reports and identity theft, both misdemeanors, and in August, Finley sentenced her to nine to 24 months in prison.
"I sense a different attitude today than when you were here in August," Finley said this morning.
Sweeten, 38, appeared in court wearing an orange jumpsuit and blue parka. She will remain in prison until Feb. 27, when she will be released to house arrest.
That will entail telephone monitoring and her wearing an ankle bracelet, Finley said, for the balance of her sentence. After that, she will be on parole.
Both the prosecution and defense claimed victory after the ruling in a Doylestown courtroom.
Louis Busico, Sweeten's attorney, said Finley acknowledged in his ruling that "she's a changed woman from the person he sentenced in August. She's a model prisoner, has extended courtesy to new inmates, and has participated in prison programs."
Bucks County District Attorney Michelle A. Henry put a different spin on Finley's ruling.
"We are certainly pleased that the judge granted our petition today and she's going to remain incarcerated," Henry said.
Henry argued in court that Sweeten had told police in Florida that she planned to put her daughter on a plane to Pennsylvania and then "disappear."
Sweeten is under federal investigation for mishandling funds she presided over as a legal assistant for a Bucks County attorney. Those alleged indiscretions involved more than $280,000, Henry testified in court. Henry said after the hearing that she could not characterize the progress of that investigation.