Dad accused of kidnapping son removes billboard after DA files new criminal charge

A Modesto father accused of abducting his 6-year-old son has removed a billboard sign after Stanislaus County prosecutors filed a new criminal charge accusing him of violating a court order that directed him not to try to communicate with the boy while out on bail.

John Christopher Cosso, 41, has been charged with kidnapping and burglary in connection with the abduction of his son, Jayce Cosso. The alleged abduction occurred on Sept. 24, 2018. Jayce was found with his father the next day at a hotel in Dublin, and the boy was reunited with his mother.

The father purchased billboard space near downtown Modesto. Cosso has told The Bee that the billboard was intended to express his love for his child and bring awareness to fathers’ custody rights.

Last week, Chief Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees, who is prosecuting Cosso, filed an amended criminal complaint that now includes a misdemeanor charge of contempt of court. Prosecutors allege Cosso violated the court order from Aug. 25 through Sept. 30.

The billboard at Tuolumne Boulevard and Seventh Street featured a picture of Cosso and Jayce and the message, “I’m always here for you Jayce, Daddy loves you!” A different photo of Cosso and his son appeared with the same message on a banner posted at the father’s College Avenue area home.

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A sign paid for by John Cosso with a photo of him and his son has been removed from this billboard pictured Tuesday Oct. 8, 2019, near Tuolumne Boulevard and Seventh Street in Modesto, California. Rosalio Ahumada

The boy’s mother became aware of the billboard and the banner, and she then contacted Modesto police.

The billboard sign was gone earlier this week. Cosso announced Sunday on his Facebook page Justice for Jayce that he also decided to take down the banner posted in his front yard.

“If it causes the other party stress, then that causes my little one stress.” Cosso said in his Facebook Live video. “The reasons I did these things is out of love; to express my love for my little one, and it’s meant to be a positive thing.”

The boy’s mother, Kimberly Valente, has said Cosso and others took Jayce from her arms after they smashed the window of the vehicle in which she was trying to flee with the child. Before the alleged abduction, Valente and Cosso were involved in a custody dispute that started when Jayce was about 2 years old.

Hans Hjertonsson, Cosso’s attorney, told The Bee this week that there’s a long history between Cosso and Valente that will be addressed in court as this criminal case progresses.

“Mr. Cosso is doing everything he can to comply with the court’s order regarding the conditions of his bail,” Hjertonsson said. “He is not having any contact with Ms. Valente or their child in common.”

Valente has told The Bee that Cosso’s billboard, banner and social media accounts are “attention seeking, abusive and exploitative and based on lies.”

Cosso, who remains free on $300,000 bail, returned to court Oct. 2, when the amended criminal complaint was filed. At that hearing, Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova reminded Cosso of the conditions of his release on bail.

The court has ordered Cosso to stay 100 yards away from his son, the boy’s mother and the rest of her family. Cosso also was ordered not to try to communicate with the boy and his family by phone, in writing or electronically, which includes a third party, except his attorney.

“The billboard was an attempt to raise awareness; nevertheless, in order to avoid any perception of violating the court’s order, Mr. Cosso removed the billboard shortly after last week’s court hearing,” Hjertonsson said in an e-mail Thursday.

Cosso referred to the court order in his Oct. 6 Facebook Live video. His video, as of Thursday afternoon, was no longer available on the Justice for Jayce Facebook page.

“They think it is in some way, they think it’s, you know, talking to my little one,” Cosso said about the billboard and the banner. “I wouldn’t have put that up if I would’ve thought that in any way it would’ve upset anybody.”

But he said he decided on his own to take down the billboard and the banner. Nobody made him do it, Cosso said in the video, not even his lawyer.

In connection with the alleged kidnapping, Cosso also is charged with permitting a child to suffer under circumstances likely to cause great bodily injury, battery on a spouse and vandalism stemming from a damaged vehicle window.

Cosso’s preliminary hearing, to determine whether there’s enough evidence for him to stand trial, initially was scheduled to begin earlier this week. After the new criminal charge was filed, that hearing was canceled and has not been rescheduled. Cosso is scheduled to return to court Nov. 14 for a pretrial hearing.

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Rosalio Ahumada writes news stories about criminal court cases in Stanislaus County for The Modesto Bee, issues related to immigration and immigrant communities and breaking news related to crime and public safety. From time to time, he covers the Modesto City Council meetings. He has worked as a news reporter in the Northern San Joaquin Valley since 2004.