Couple forced to give up daughter
A court battle over 2-year-old Veronica began when she was just 4 months old and ended on New Year's Eve, with her in a car seat headed to Oklahoma and the adoptive parents who raised her walking away childless.
James Island residents Matt and Melanie Capobianco had tried in-vitro fertilization seven times unsuccessfully. They turned to an adoption attorney and finally found a birth mother in Oklahoma in 2009.
Matt works for Boeing and Melanie is a developmental psychologist, and Veronica's biological mother liked them. She even let Matt cut the umbilical cord when the baby was born on Sept. 15, 2009, and they took her home.
Four months later the couple received a call from their attorney that Veronica's biological father, a 30-year-old man named Dusten Brown, had filed for paternity and custody. They knew he had served in the Army in Iraq and lived at home with his parents, and that he had another daughter but did not have custody of her.
Several months later, the Cherokee Nation became involved in the case with a claim that the adoption failed to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act, a 1978 law designed to preserve Native American families.
Stepping outside of a law office after handing over his daughter Saturday evening, Matt Capobianco said, "Instead, it's tearing apart families like ours."
Court records note that Brown is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, making Veronica an "Indian child," and that the child's adoption would qualify as a "breakup of the Indian family."
Brown's attorneys also argued that the biological mother, Christina Maldonado, concealed her plans to put their daughter up for adoption, and that she required that she approve of any calls or visits to her hospital room.
Court records show that the Cherokee Nation initially denied Brown's membership, because Maldonado's attorney misspelled his name and provided an incorrect date of birth.
An attorney for the Capobiancos argued that Maldonado, who had been engaged to Brown, said he never spoke of his Native American heritage, never invited her to tribe events and never exposed her to Cherokee food or folklore.
One filing on behalf of the Capobiancos says Brown testified that he would give up his rights to Veronica to Maldonado so long as he "would not be responsible in any way for child support or anything else as far as the child's concerned."
Brown's attorney, Shannon Jones, said her client never made that statement. Jones said Brown thought that Maldonado planned to raise their daughter, and he thought he had signed away his rights to her.
"In his mind, he thought that would make her happy, and she would come back and marry him," Jones said. As soon as Brown learned of the adoption, she said, he fought it.
In November, family court Judge Deborah Ann Malphrus, of Jasper County, ordered that the Capobiancos turn over Veronica by Dec. 28. The Capobiancos appealed and bought some time with an emergency petition.
Friday, an appellate court judge in Columbia also sided with Brown, and the Capobiancos learned midday Saturday that they would have to turn over their daughter at 5 p.m.
The two families arranged to meet at the Charleston Place Hotel, but Brown requested that they move the setting around the corner to Jones' law office, after reporters and photographers arrived at the hotel.
With a police escort, the Capobiancos walked their daughter to the office, while New Year's Eve revelers asked what celebrity warranted so much attention from media and law enforcement.
Inside the office, the Capobiancos introduced Veronica to her biological father and grandparents, and they colored together. Melanie said Brown's mother referred to Brown as "Daddy" a few times, something that seemed to confuse Veronica.
The families stayed inside the office for more than two hours, before the Capobiancos stepped out alone.
"When it was time to leave she got very upset," Melanie said. "I knew she's going to be asking for us on that long car ride home."
Minutes later, an attorney moved the Brown family's blue pickup truck around Market Street in front of Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., again to avoid reporters and photographers.
Stepping out from the restaurant, Brown and his parents said "No comment" as they put Veronica in a car seat and loaded three bags filled with her belongings into the truck.
The Browns pulled down Market Street bound for Oklahoma. The Capobiancos plan to see them again at the S.C. Supreme Court, where they will appeal to have Veronica returned to them.