Judicial authorities in Australia have ordered a former Isle of Palms woman accused of abducting her infant daughter in 1994 and eventually resettling in that country to be extradited and tried on federal charges in South Carolina, attorneys said Thursday.
Dorothy Lee Barnett, 53, faces a count of international parental kidnapping and two counts of falsifying U.S. passport applications, which are punishable with more than 30 years in prison.
Her former husband, Benjamin Harris Todd III of Johns Island, had custody of their infant daughter Savanna in April 1994, when Barnett left her beachside home with the girl during a supervised visit and fled oversees, according to the allegations.
Authorities looked but never found Barnett until late last year, when she was arrested in Australia.
The Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported on Thursday that Barnett had lost a final bid to prevent her extradition to the U.S. Australian Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan told the news agency in a statement that he decided last month to have Barnett sent to South Carolina after "careful consideration of the provisions of Australia's extradition law" and of the attorneys' arguments.
Locally, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams, who is prosecuting the federal case in Charleston, said Keenan had asked authorities here to keep the extradition process confidential "to ensure the safety of those involved." Citing that request, Williams said Thursday that he could not further comment.
The extradition decision came during the same month when a federal judge in Charleston blocked an attempt by Barnett's Myrtle Beach attorney, Russell W. Mace III, to dismiss the kidnapping charge by citing a statute of limitations and to throw out the two passport counts by arguing that the government lacked jurisdiction.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said in an Aug. 12 ruling that it would be "premature to address the motion" to drop the charges until "the defendant has actually appeared in court" here.
Jury selection, which was scheduled to start next week in downtown Charleston, also has been postponed, court documents stated.
"Once Barnett is brought to South Carolina, her case should proceed along the normal criminal docket timeline," Williams said Thursday.
But when Barnett would return to South Carolina remained uncertain.
"It could be anywhere from next week to two months," her attorney, Mace, said.
Mace declined to comment further until his client's case is taken up by the court here. He still intends to mount legal challenges to her charges, he said.
He had argued in court documents that while a warrant was issued for Barnett's arrest on April 28, 1994, for the alleged kidnapping offense that month, the filing was then "terminated" on Oct. 28, 2010.
The authorities also had not obtained the indictment within a five-year period of the supposed offense, according to Mace's motion.
A formal indictment wasn't returned until April 11, 2012, and by then, a six-month period in which prosecutors could refile a warrant under statute-of-limitations requirements also had passed, Mace said.
The kidnapping charge should then be dismissed, Mace argued, "due to the nearly 18-year delay in the filing of the instant indictment."
The judge sided with Williams' response to Mace's proposal.
Williams wrote in an Aug. 5 filing that it would be too early to rule on such actions, especially since "there is no certainty when, or even if, she will be extradited to the United States."
The prosecutor also deflected Mace's argument about the statute of limitations, saying that keeping Savanna outside the country until her 16th birthday was illegal. By getting an indictment within five years of her 16th birthday, the authorities fulfilled the requirement.
After leaving the U.S. with her daughter in 1994, Barnett floated between foreign countries, remarried and established a new life under aliases, including Alexandria Geldenhuys, according to federal authorities.
After a tip fielded by Barnett's ex-husband, Australian police and FBI agents caught up with her in November in Queensland, where she has been jailed ever since.
Todd, Savanna's father, has since contacted his daughter, now a 21-year-old college student known as Samantha Geldenhuys. She has voiced support for her mother.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.
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