The birth mother of Veronica, a 2-year-old girl caught in a cross-country custody battle, said she chose adoption after realizing that the girl's father would support them only if she married him.
An attorney for that man, 30-year-old Dusten Brown, instead said Brown backed away in hopes of saving the relationship.
Saturday evening Brown and his parents left Charleston in a blue pickup truck and headed back to Oklahoma with Veronica in a child seat. A James Island couple, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, had raised the girl from birth.
A silence fills their home, where Veronica's toys sit neatly on the floor and her photos decorate every wall.
Brown filed for paternity and custody four months after Veronica's birth and, as an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, argued his case under the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, which aims to preserve Native American families.
He won the lawsuit in November, and an appellate court judge on Friday also sided with him and ordered the Capobiancos to turn over the child.
Christy Maldonado, a 29-year-old woman from Bartlesville, Okla., said she met Brown in high school when they were 16 and that they dated again briefly in 2009. When she learned that she was pregnant, she asked him about money.
"He pretty much let me know that he wouldn't help me unless we got married," Maldonado said. "The way I was raised, you don't marry for money."
After her decision not to wed Brown, Maldonado said the two stopped talking, and communicated only through text messages. She said she started picking up 14- and 16-hour shifts at the casino where she worked to pay the bills and to prepare for the baby.
She has two other children, an 11-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter, from a previous relationship.
Once, she said, Brown sent her a text message asking if she wanted him to visit. She said she hadn't heard from him in weeks at that point and, after working a double shift while enduring the nausea of pregnancy, she told him no.
Maldonado said she stopped giving Brown updates from her doctor appointments for the final two months of her pregnancy, a test to see if he would attempt to reach her.
"He didn't," she said.
Brown's attorney, Shannon Jones, said her client had been stationed a four-hour drive away from Maldonado, preparing for an Army mission to Iraq. He received permission to leave and went to Maldonado's house, Jones said, but Maldonado never answered the door.
By late June 2009, the third trimester of her pregnancy, Maldonado said she began worrying about the baby's future and connected with an adoption attorney. She began talking with Matt and Melanie Capobianco weekly, and Matt even cut the umbilical cord in the delivery room.
"We would adopt her and her two kids if we could," Matt said this week.
The Capobiancos send Maldonado's other children Christmas presents. The adoptive parents remained in close contact with their daughter's birth mother and sent her photos of Veronica as she began walking and sprouting more dark, curly hair.
"Whenever I made the decision, I knew it was in the best interest for her," Maldonado said. "(Brown) had nine whole months to get ahold of me. He didn't show any interest at all."
Jones said her client gave up custody of Veronica only because he believed he was turning her over to Maldonado, with whom he hoped to reunite. Court records allege that Maldonado concealed her adoption plans, and that any calls or visits to her hospital room required her approval.
"How can I be hiding from him if he wasn't trying?" Maldonado asked. "He didn't call."
Instead, Jones said her client's mother advised her son to give Maldonado space. Brown's mother kept calling Maldonado, Jones said, even driving to a store to use a pay phone in hopes that Maldonado would answer a call from an unknown number.
"He did, eventually, give up," Jones said.
Maldonado said she didn't hear from Brown in September, the month he knew their daughter would be born. She said she was shocked when, four months later, she learned about the lawsuit.
"Whenever I decided to give her up for adoption, I never saw it as giving her up or giving her away," Maldonado said. "I just saw it as making my family a whole lot larger by adding Matt and Melanie to it."
Now, Maldonado said, she doesn't know Brown's new address or phone number. She doesn't know where her daughter is.
"I'm unable to contact her," Maldonado said. "They didn't just take her from them. They took her from my family as well."
Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or on Twitter at @allysonjbird.
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