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SC: Veronica's adoptive parents frustrated after winning legal fights, not seeing results

August 8, 2013

The Post and Carrier - Andrew Knapp


Matt and Melanie Capobianco waited in a Charleston attorney’s office Sunday and thought about what it was like when their role was reversed with the man whose daughter they were trying to adopt.


Key moments

April 2009: Engagement between Veronica’s birth parents in Oklahoma ends. Dusten Brown denies financial support.

July 2009: Struggling to provide for two children, mother finds Matt and Melanie Capobianco through adoption agency.

September 2009: Veronica is born, taken to South Carolina as Capobiancos file for adoption.

January 2010: Brown files for custody.

July 2011: Family Court in Charleston says Indian Child Welfare Act applies.

September 2011: Court hears case.

December 2011: Court rules ICWA demands that Veronica live with Brown.

July 2012: S.C. Supreme Court rules 3-2 to affirm decision.

April 16: U.S. Supreme Court hears case.

June 25: Justices rule 5-4 that ICWA didn’t apply, send case back to S.C. court.

July 9: Brown’s parents, Tommy and Alice Brown, file to adopt Veronica under the ICWA.

July 17: Cherokee Nation courts name Brown’s wife and parents as temporary guardians.

July 17: S.C. Supreme Court orders Charleston judge to finalize adoption.

July 24: S.C. Supreme Court denies rehearing, asks sides to respect decision.

July 31: Family Court Judge Daniel Martin completes adoption, five-day transition plan.

Aug. 2: U.S. Supreme Court denies Brown’s request to stay adoption judgment under due-process concerns because court didn’t have best-interest hearing.

Sunday: Brown and Veronica don’t appear for scheduled visit with Capobiancos in Charleston.

Monday: Martin orders immediate transfer, asks prosecutors to consider law enforcement measures.

In late 2011, a judge had told the James Island couple to give Veronica to her birth father. The Cherokee Nation member had won custody through the federal Indian Child Welfare Act.

The thought of ignoring the decree had crossed their minds. But they questioned themselves. Where would they go? What would their lives be like? Would Veronica recover after the authorities eventually caught up to them?

It was illegal, and it wouldn’t work, they realized. Their only chance was to give in, then ask judges to rule that the court order was faulty.

That’s what they did, and they prevailed. The U.S. Supreme Court said the ICWA didn’t apply to Dusten Brown, and the adoption was finalized in South Carolina.

On Sunday, the Capobiancos thought Brown was in the same shoes they once filled.

The couple sat in the attorney’s office where they expected to see Veronica for the first time in 19 months. They had toys at the ready: new ones they had just bought and old ones Veronica had once played with. They brought presents Veronica never got to unwrap.

Seconds ticked by. Minutes passed. Their wait stretched into hours. They eyed the doorway for the nearly 4-year-old girl with a mop of dark, curly hair. They had talked themselves into believing she would actually walk in.

“I was hoping they would do the right thing and do what we didn’t want to do back then,” Matt Capobianco said during an interview with The Post and Courier. “We know better than anybody what they’re going through.”

But four hours came and went. No one else showed up.

Now, frustration reigns on the married duo’s faces. Their legal victories have put them close to regaining custody, but Brown’s resistance has kept Veronica more than 1,000 miles away in Nowata, Okla.

The dispute that inflamed passions long ago has become even more fiery. Brown’s tribe has prodded Oklahoma politicians to step up and speak out as the Capobiancos’ supporters have called for law enforcement measures.

The adoptive parents don’t want it to end with sheriff’s deputies prying Veronica away from her relatives. But they’re ready to book a flight at short notice if South Carolina authorities mount such an endeavor.

Brown vowed not to relinquish custody as his lawyers wage a challenge in Oklahoma.

His attorneys also will appear in a Charleston courtroom Wednesday afternoon to argue motions. Because the case is sealed, it’s not known whether the Family Court hearing is anything more than a standard procedure.

On Thursday, he told the Tulsa World in Oklahoma that he would obey a final order to relinquish custody, but he wants a chance in courts there to stop that.

He plans to challenge South Carolina’s jurisdiction over the adoption. That will include asking a Cherokee Nation court to take control because he and Veronica are members.

“I’m never going to give up if I have any chance left at all,” Brown told the Tulsa World as he served a 30-day National Guard training mission in Iowa. “I love her too much to give up.”


‘Our daughter’

When they let Veronica go on New Year’s Eve in 2011, the Capobiancos asked Brown if they could visit.

“Anytime,” he said, according to the Capobiancos.

So for the first half of 2012, Melanie Capobianco penned letters asking Brown to afford her a telephone chat with the child.

“I do not doubt she is safe and loved,” she wrote. “We just wish we could be there to comfort her if there is a time she is scared.”

Her attempts went unanswered. That’s because, Brown’s attorney in Charleston said, the couple appeared on CNN in a campaign to sway public opinion.

Still, she called Brown’s home at 5 p.m. every Thursday. She wrote notes to Veronica, hoping the child’s new family would read them aloud. She sent toys.

“We miss you so much and think about you every day,” Melanie Capobianco wrote. “We hope we get to see you real soon and hope you don’t think we just left you.”

After six months of calls and letters, the Capobiancos said they were threatened with a restraining order. They stopped.

Brown’s first offer did not come until July 22 — 569 days after he got Veronica and five days after the S.C. Supreme Court cleared the way for the Capobiancos’ adoption.

His proposal would have meant that he would still be Veronica’s primary caretaker, but the toddler would visit the Capobiancos in the summer and on some holidays. It demanded that they move to Oklahoma.

“She’s our daughter, and we want her home, just like any other parent would,” Melanie Capobianco said. “It’s hard to agree to something like that when we’ve been fighting so hard.”


‘Still not home’

A week after the Capobiancos rejected the deal, the state’s high court reiterated its earlier order for the adoption to go through.

The justices said it was in Veronica’s best interests. Custody had been given to Veronica’s father in 2011 only because of the ICWA, they explained, but the U.S. Supreme Court said the act had been wrongly applied.

At last, the Capobiancos had reached solid legal ground, they thought. This time, the adoption was really happening.

They decided that Veronica’s room needed updating.

They bought a new, big-girl bed.

On the ceiling, they dangled a fairy figurine from a string. It once hung above her crib.

On the door, they tacked a sign with Veronica’s name and depictions of flowers and ladybugs.

On the walls, they used stencils to paint birds, butterflies and dragonflies. The three little birds painted above a closet paid tribute to a Bob Marley song: “Everything is going to be all right,” Matt Capobianco said.

“But we still don’t have her here,” he said. “She’s still not home.”

Brown’s supporters said it was impossible for him to show up at the scheduled meeting Sunday. He was on a military training mission that ends Aug. 21.

But his attorneys didn’t challenge the visitation plan’s details, according to the Capobiancos. Later, because no one from Brown’s family showed up, the judge ordered an immediate transfer.

The Capobiancos still hope to avoid a forceful transfer. They’re motivated by the toddler’s abrupt departure in 2011, when they said their pleas for a three-day transition were ignored.

“I’d go out there right now if they gave me a call that it was happening,” Melanie Capobianco said. “But I don’t want it to go down that road.”

A transition proposal from the couple’s expert called for the Capobiancos to stay in Oklahoma during a gradual reintroduction to Veronica over seven days. But Family Court Judge Daniel Martin shortened that to five days and moved the visits to Charleston, where he could attempt to enforce compliance, Melanie Capobianco said.

The Capobiancos want to avoid further litigation in Oklahoma. Brown has 20 days to challenge the adoption’s enforcement there, according to his attorneys.

They want their last court appearance to be the one last week, when they were declared Veronica’s adoptive parents. They recalled their elation that day, then Matt Capobianco looked toward Veronica’s empty chair in his living room, and he shook his head.

He grew silent as his wife spoke: “This can’t go on forever.”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or



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