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Sheriff: No timeline on arrival of Capobiancos, Veronica in Lowcountry

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TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (WCIV) – Two years. That's how long it's been since Matt and Melanie Capobianco have been able to tell their adopted daughter they were headed home.

Now that clock has been reset.

On Monday night, after seeking custody and closure for the better part of two years, rulings by the Oklahoma Supreme Court and the Nowata County District Court presented both. Cherokee Nation officials said Dusten Brown, Veronica's biological father, acting under court order peacefully surrendered the girl to Cherokee County and Cherokee Nation authorities who took the girl to the Capobiancos.

"Veronica is safe and secure and with her parents and heading for South Carolina," said James Fletcher Thompson, the attorney representing Matt and Melanie Capobianco Monday night after the girl was handed over to her adoptive parents.

Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree called the handover dignified, adding that while the tribe is saddened by the court's decision, they are still hopeful for the future.

Jessica Munday, the woman who has been by the Capobiancos' side acting as a spokeswoman through the years of court hearings and press conferences, said that while Veronica was safely with the Capobiancos, they were still mindful of the hurt in the Brown household and with the Cherokee Nation.

"Our prayers are with everyone involved this evening. There is no happy ending in this travesty, only closure," she said in a statement.

Thompson described the transition as smooth and child-focused, saying it was made easier because the family has known for several weeks that this was the ultimate goal.

"It's been a main concern all along to get the grown-ups to see this conflict through the eyes of a child. And that is our most important goal and I think we accomplished that tonight," Thompson said.

Cherokee County Undersheriff Jason Chennault said the transition was as easy as it could be. He said his deputies met with Cherokee Nation marshals and then met with the Browns who asked for some time to say goodbye and gather Veronica's things.

Hembree said Brown and his wife, Robin, packed two bags for Veronica. One was packed with clothes; the other full of toys.

"Dusten told Veronica how much he and the rest of the family love her, and that he would see her again. Following their emotional goodbyes, Veronica was transported from her home by a Cherokee Nation attorney, to a location approximately a quarter mile away where the Capobiancos were waiting," Hembree said.

Two hours later, officials escorted Veronica out of the home on tribal land. Chennault said Veronica took the transition in stride. Hembree said the Capobiancos were waiting a quarter-mile away for marshals and deputies to arrive with their daughter.

"From what I could see, she seemed fine. She didn't seem upset, happy to see the Capobiancos," Chennault said. "Everything went peacefully."

The Capobiancos, he said, were not at the Browns' house at the time of the transition.

Now nothing stands in the way of the Capobiancos taking their adopted daughter back to their James Island home.

An official with the Charleston County Sheriff's Department confirmed that two deputies and an agent with the State Law Enforcement Division are escorting the Capobiancos home but would not say how they were traveling or when they would arrive.

 

Six justices. That's how many members of the Oklahoma Supreme Court sided with the Capobiancos on Monday and lifted the writ of prohibition that had been granted weeks earlier.

In a 6-3 vote, Oklahoma's highest court voted to dissolve the stay. The stay was lifted around 2:30 p.m. local time. By 5 p.m., Cherokee County deputies had their order to collect Veronica and deliver her to the Capobiancos, Chennault said.

"With today's decision of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, the Capobianco family's long legal nightmare finally has come to an end. Matt and Melanie cannot wait to bring Veronica home and begin the healing process as a reunited family," said Jessica Munday, the family's spokeswoman, in a statement Monday evening. "Their hope now is that the Brown family and Cherokee Nation will return Veronica peacefully and voluntarily, rather than following through with their previous threats to continue to ignore court orders and place Veronica in a dangerous and traumatic situation."

The stay had been in place since Aug. 30 when her biological father filed a writ of prohibition with the high court hours after a Nowata County district judge ruled in the Capobiancos' favor and ordered the handover of the girl.

Brown and the Cherokee Nation have filed a response to the state Supreme Court's order to vacate the stay, but details of that response have not been released.

"Dusten tried in every way to reason with the Capobiancos and their legal team of Washington, D.C., and local lawyers. We have spent the past five days trying to forge an agreement, to no avail," said Brown's attorney, Clark Brewster.

Tribal leaders vowed to continue fighting for Veronica's best interests, which they argue lie with Brown, the Cherokee Nation and her heritage.

"We all vow to hold the Capobiancos to their promise to include her father and her family in her life. We vow to call on our legislators to change the laws on fathers' rights to prevent another case like this from occurring," said Shannon Jones, one of Brown's attorneys.

"Children are not commodities and we cannot condone selling children. We will not stop until we make a difference in the name of Veronica."

Many in the Cherokee Nation expressed heartache at the news Monday night.

"Our hearts are heavy at this course of events. Any other child would have had her or his best interest considered in a court of law. The legal system has failed this child and American Indians as well. Our prayers are with everyone concerned, but most of all with Veronica," said Terry Cross, the executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association.

According to Tulsa World, Veronica's grandfather was having a medical emergency at the home where she was being kept shortly before the handover happened.

Now that they stay has been vacated and Veronica is back in the custody of the Capobiancos, it is unclear when the next steps will be taken by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

"This long ordeal is finally over. The rule of law has finally been respected. That is something that has been in short supply for several weeks now," Thompson said.

 

Six weeks. That's how long it's been since the Capobiancos have seen their James Island home and walked past the hallway and their daughter's room, left untouched since she was removed under court order on Dec. 31, 2011.

For six weeks, much like the last two years, the lives of the Capobiancos have been on hold as they shuffled in and out of court hearings, mediation appointments with the Browns, and visitations with Veronica.

For the last six weeks, the Capobiancos have been in Oklahoma, seeking visitation and custody of the little girl after a court-ordered transitional meeting was missed in Charleston.

The girl has met with the Capobiancos several times since they arrived in Oklahoma. Family spokeswoman Jessica Munday released several photos of Veronica spending time with the Capobiancos, showing the girl playing and reading on an iPad.

Last week the Capobiancos and the Browns spent their days moving in and out of mediation hearings without any new information being released of what was happening in the custody battle.

The mediation however did not yield any solid results and the case is headed back to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Before they landed in Tulsa, the Capobiancos had said they were interested in having Brown and the Cherokee Nation remain a part of her life so she can learn about her heritage. However, details of a compromise have not been released by either side.

Brown, in the past, has said he would comply with court orders to hand over his biological daughter if it came to that, but not before exhausting every legal avenue available to him.

At this point, a South Carolina family court, an Oklahoma District Court, and supreme courts in the Palmetto State and Washington D.C. have ultimately sided with the Capobiancos.

It is expected that the Oklahoma Supreme Court will decide which court will have the final say in the case -- Oklahoma's, South Carolina's or the Cherokee Tribal Court -- but it is unclear when that decision might happen.

 

SPECIAL SECTION: The Baby Veronica Case

 

Three high courts. That's how many Supreme Courts the Capobiancos and Browns have argued their cases in during Veronica's short life, twice in South Carolina's high court with an appeal that landed them in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The fight for custody of Veronica began shortly after her birth in 2009 when the Capobiancos worked out a private adoption with Brown's ex-fiancée, Christinna Maldonado.

Brown has argued that he was tricked into giving away his parental rights, but a South Carolina Supreme Court ruling decided that due to the Indian Child Welfare Act, Veronica belonged with Brown and the Cherokee Nation.

In December 2011, Brown took custody of then-2-year-old Veronica.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled over the summer that South Carolina's high court incorrectly applied ICWA to the case and ordered it to reconsider the case without taking into account the federal law.

In a decision handed down in June, Justice Alito said the girl's classification as an Indian because she is 3/256ths Cherokee was not grounds enough for her to be taken "from the only parents she had ever known and handed over to her biological father, who had attempted to relinquish his parental rights and who had no prior contact with the child."

Alito said in his majority opinion that the involuntary termination of parental custody law does not apply when the parent never had custody.

"Finally, we clarify that §1915(a), which provides placement preferences for the adoption of Indian children, does not bar a non-Indian family like Adoptive Couple from adopting an Indian child when no other eligible candidates have sought to adopt the child," Alito penned.

Alito, joined by Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas and Breyer, said three provisions of the ICWA law applied to the case, but said that because of the biological father's text message consenting to give up his parental rights, the ICWA claim was rendered moot.

After Veronica's birth, the Capobiancos served the biological father with a notice of intent to adopt. He claimed in filings that he was unclear on what he was surrendering his rights, the birth mother or the Capobiancos, which triggered the custody battle in South Carolina state courts.

That's when the ICWA first came into question.

The South Carolina Supreme Court sided with the Capobiancos and sent the case back to Charleston family court with the recommendation to finalize the adoption. 

The court's order nearly ended the saga between the James Island couple and Veronica's biological father, who has tried to claim rights on the Indian Child Welfare Act. 

"We are grateful. Grateful. Grateful. This is finally over," the Capobiancos said Wednesday. "She is coming home."

But that was a little premature.

While a transition plan was put in place, it was one that, depending on the side being heard, was either ignored or impossible to respect.

For four hours, the Capobiancos sat in their Charleston attorney's office waiting on Veronica, Brown or members of the tribe to show up. It was the first of several steps designed to easily and comfortably transition Veronica from her Tulsa home to her home on James Island.

That meeting never happened, which led to charges being filed by Charleston County deputies for custodial interference.

In fact, that part of the case still hangs over Brown's head. He has to head back to court on Oct. 3 to find out if he will be sent back to Charleston County to face those charges.

Until now, Brown has effectively avoided being taken into the custody of Charleston County deputies, even though they have been in Oklahoma for almost as long as the Capobiancos.

 

Two governors. That's who has been pulled into this case as the two sides and their supporters sought a bigger, more high-profile champion to fight for their cause.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's office lauded Monday night's handover.

"After years of legal struggles and uncertainty, Governor Haley is extremely happy and thankful to know that baby Veronica has finally been returned to her parents and will be coming back to her home in South Carolina. The governor and the first gentleman wish Matt, Melanie, and Veronica many years of love, happiness, and memories," said Haley spokesman Doug Mayer.

"The custody of Baby Veronica is now a matter for the court's to decide," said Alex Weintz with Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin's office. "The governor hopes the courts act quickly to provide closure to both families and to restore stability to Veronica's life. "

Gov. Fallin has in recent months been heavily solicited by parties supporting Brown and the Cherokee Nation to step in and stop the Capobiancos.

After urging Brown to seek mediation and to work out an agreement with the Capobiancos that would not trigger more lawsuits and arrest warrants, Fallin signed a warrant for Brown's arrest, saying he was no longer acting in good faith.

"My goal in the Baby Veronica case has been to encourage both Mr. Brown and the Capobianco family to reach a quick settlement and come to an agreement that protects Veronica's best interests," Fallin said. "I said previously that I was willing to delay Mr. Brown's extradition to South Carolina as long as all parties were working together in good faith to pursue such a settlement. I also outlined parameters for what I believe to be acting in ‘good faith:' both Mr. Brown and the Capobianco family should be able to see Veronica; both parties should continue meeting to pursue a resolution outside of court; and both parties must obey the courts and the rule of law."

The Cherokee Nation cried foul, saying Fallin's act violated Brown's and Veronica's civil rights. The statement, issued by the Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin, Jr., says the tribe is "unspeakably saddened" by Fallin's signing of the extradition warrant. 

"We feel that the governor has failed in her duty to protect our most vulnerable citizens, which is exactly what Veronica Brown is – a minor child and citizen of the great state of Oklahoma and the Cherokee Nation," Hoskin said. "Dusten has the right to due process, and the right to object to the unethical adoption that already took his daughter away once. The events of today, and the events that have unfolded over the past four years should frighten every parent, and more specifically, every single father in Oklahoma."

Hoskin claims that Fallin provided false information about Brown in her statement, but did not explain the allegation.

"This is unacceptable and Oklahomans will not forget," Hoskin said. 

Both governors face re-election next year.

 

One biological mother's wishes.

Outside the legal wrangling of attorneys in courtrooms, Veronica's birth mother, Christy Maldonado is preparing for an interview on the Dr. Phil show. Speaking to Troy Dunn, a mediator who has worked for the Capobiancos, Maldonado described the text conversation she had with Brown when she was six months pregnant.

According to her, Brown told her he talked it over with his family and they collectively decided it was in his best interests to sign away his rights to his then-unborn daughter.

"It broke my heart -- I had no idea how to handle that or how to take it," she said in the interview. "It pretty much just broke me."

But then she met the Capobiancos through a private adoption and said they welcomed her and made her feel loved, so she could only imagine seeing her daughter live happily with them.

"Let her live a normal, happy life that I chose for her, that I had to choose for her," she said when asked what she would like to tell Brown.

The air date for that episode has not been released. 

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