CORNELIUS, N.C. — The stepfather of missing Cornelius girl Madalina Cojocari was released on bond Friday afternoon.
Christopher Palmiter was given a lower bond in court Thursday, which he posted the next day. His attorney argued that his bond should be lowered, saying it was Madalina’s mom, Diana, who hid her away to keep her safe.
He also argued that there have been possible sightings of Madalina that would prove she was alive, including one reported at a Lowe’s near Sugar Mountain. Channel 9 learned of that reported sighting in court documents last month.
But Cornelius police released a statement afterward, saying they’ve investigated several tips of reported sightings and none of them have been Madalina.
Both Palmiter and Diana Cojocari pleaded not guilty to her disappearance on Thursday.
Palmiter was charged with failure to report the disappearance of a child to law enforcement. His wife faces the same charge.
On Thursday, a judge set bond for him at $25,000 secured. That lowered it significantly from the $200,000 bond he was given initially. A day later, Palmiter was released.
He faced reporters late Friday afternoon when he left the Mecklenburg County Jail and didnt’ respond when asked how Madalina is doing or where she is.
Palmiter got into a black pickup truck that sped from the scene.
The judge said Palmiter had to be electronically monitored after making bond.
Mother pleads not guilty
Madalina’s mother pleaded not guilty in court earlier Thursday.
Diana has been in jail since December 2022 in connection to her daughter’s disappearance.
Madalina was last seen walking off a school bus on Nov. 21, 2022. Her mother said she last saw her at their Cornelius home on Nov. 23 but didn’t report her missing until about three weeks later, on Dec. 15.
In court Thursday, Diana Cojocari pleaded not guilty. The state did not offer her a plea deal.
She remains in jail on a $250,000 bond.
Madalina’s grandmother speaks: ‘I love her very much’
Madalina’s maternal grandmother, Rodica, spoke to Channel 9′s Hannah Goetz outside the courthouse on Thursday. She spoke to Goetz in Russian.
Goetz asked her if she has a message she wants to give Madalina.
“I want her to know I love her very much,” she said, crying. “So much. And Diana -- love them so much.”
She said she is concerned Madalina may have been trafficked.
“We need to stop them.... the sooner the better,” Rodica said. “Thank you very much for everything, but I know that our Madalina is alive. Alive, not dead. Alive, but she was stolen and sold.”
It’s a theory we first heard last month. Channel 9 obtained warrants from the case on July 18 and learned investigators recorded a jail call between Diana and her mother. In that call, the women talked about a bag with cash in it and the possibility Madalina was sold.
But on Thursday afternoon, Palmiter’s attorney shared a different theory in court -- that it was Diana Cojocari who sent Madalina away because she was afraid for her daughter’s safety.
“He believes she is being cared for by someone who mom assigned,” the attorney said.
Palmiter’s attorney’s story is a new twist and is one that isn’t supported by the investigative documents we’ve obtained so far.
While it became clear Thursday that the two sides of the family don’t agree on how Madalina disappeared, they do share the hope that the 12-year-old is still alive.
“My Madalina is alive and I hope that the FBI, the detectives, will find my granddaughter and we all get back together -- together with Diana and Madalina,” Rodica said.
The FBI is asking anyone with information about Madalina to call 1-800-CALL FBI or the Cornelius Police Department at 704-892-7773.
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- Records show why judge sealed search warrants in Madalina Cojocari case, what authorities seek
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