Veronica's adoptive parents hold on to hope as difficult birthday, appeal approach

Dusten Brown plays with his daughter Veronica in this photo provided by Brown’s attorney, Shannon Phillips Jones.

Matt and Melanie Capobianco will celebrate their adopted daughter’s third birthday without her Saturday as their lawyers prepare to take their fight to regain custody of little Veronica to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The James Island couple plans to appeal a ruling by the S.C. Supreme Court in July that upheld Veronica’s forced return to her biological father in Oklahoma. Her father, a member of the Cherokee Nation, successfully challenged the adoption using a federal law aimed at preserving American Indian families.

The Capobiancos have had no contact with Veronica since a family court ruling relinquished the girl to her father on New Year’s Eve.

They plan to gather with friends and family to commemorate her birthday while supporters across the country release purple balloons to mark the occasion. Purple is Veronica’s favorite color.

“We’re trying to hang in there, and having hope helps,” Melanie Capobianco said. “But we really miss our daughter, so that’s hard. … It’s been an extremely painful and surreal experience.”

The couple recently got a boost with news that Washington, D.C., attorney Lisa Blatt has joined their legal team to help with the Supreme Court appeal. Washingtonian Magazine named Blatt a “superstar” lawyer and one of the “100 Most Powerful Women in Washington.”

Mark Fiddler, a Minnesota lawyer also working on the couple’s behalf, said the Capobiancos’ appeal will be submitted for consideration by the high court as soon as possible.

Charleston lawyer Shannon Jones, who represents Veronica’s biological father, Dusten Brown, said she was disappointed to learn of the Capobiancos’ appeal. She had hoped both sides could move on with their lives and begin to heal. Instead, the appeal and the ongoing “Save Veronica” campaign waged by the Capobiancos’ supporters is prolonging the hurt and turmoil, she said.

“Veronica does not need to be saved,” she said. “She is with her father. She has a large family that love her and provide for her in every way. She is a happy child who does not deserve to be the center of such contention and anger. It is time to let go and let everyone heal.”

Jones said the Capobiancos recently sent a package of belongings to Veronica in which they had secreted photos of themselves. Brown found this very disconcerting, while Veronica didn’t seem to even recognize her adoptive parents, she said.

His family also is troubled by the tenor of online comments made by the Capobiancos’ supporters, Jones said. Some have indicated they would be willing to go retrieve Veronica for the couple, she said. Brown’s family is now scared to leave their house, and their county sheriff’s office is on high alert, she said.

“All this hype is placing the very child they are fighting for in threat of harm,” Jones said.

Jessica Munday, a spokeswoman for the Capobiancos, said Jones’ comments were “complete nonsense.” She said every comment on the Save Veronica website is monitored and “we would never allow anyone to threaten the family or put Veronica in any harm.”

Melanie Capobianco agreed. “We absolutely want to protect her and we certainly don’t want anyone to take anything out on them,” she said.

Before Veronica was born in September 2009 in Oklahoma, her biological parents canceled their engagement and went separate ways. The Capobiancos met Veronica’s mother through an adoption agency and adopted the baby at birth.

Brown, however, sought custody of the girl after learning of the adoption in January 2010.

At issue in the case was the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, a federal law that gives American Indian parents preference in custody disputes. Though Brown did not support the girl’s mother during pregnancy, his rights as a parent should not be stripped, the state Supreme Court confirmed.

The federal law has been reviewed only once at the highest level. In 1989, Justice William Brennan sided with Mississippi’s Choctaw tribe, which challenged an adoption of twins.

Fiddler said Veronica’s case raises new and serious questions about the federal law, which gave Brown more rights than any other father would have simply because he is Native American.

“We think this is the first case that is challenging the idea that just because you are a native father you can delay and sit on your hands and not step forward in a timely way and assume responsibility,” he said.

Jones, however, maintains that the law worked just fine, helping to reunite an Indian girl with her loving father and preserve their culture.

Veronica has been given the name “Little Star” by the Cherokee and has attended stomp dances and other Native American rituals with her father and others, Jones said.“Her culture is central to who she is and being with her father has ensured her ability to fully appreciate her history,” she said.

Melanie Capobianco said she doesn’t believe at all that Veronica has forgotten her or her husband and they will continue to fight to get her back. “We are doing whatever we can do to do what’s best for our daughter.”

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