The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

August 14, 2013

S.C. family seeks deal in Cherokee custody case

By Kristi Eaton and Meg Kinnard
Associated Press

TULSA, Okla. — A South Carolina couple whose attempt to adopt a Cherokee girl already has reached the U.S. Supreme Court suggested Wednesday a compromise between them and the 3-year-old's biological family would make her the "most-loved" child in the world.

Matt and Melanie Capobianco traveled to Oklahoma and said during a news conference that they were willing to make a deal that would allow them to regain custody of Veronica. A South Carolina judge finalized the child's adoption July 31, but a Cherokee Nation court has given custody to the family of the girl's biological father, Dusten Brown.

"We made the trip to Oklahoma to get our daughter," Matt Capobianco said. "Veronica will be coming home, but if there is going to be some thoughtful solution that continues to involve all who love her, then this is the time."

A handful of protesters shouted "Keep Veronica home" and "You're trying to break laws in Oklahoma" at the Capobianos as they emerged from a hotel after meeting with reporters. Some held signs reading "Keep Veronica Home" and others that were written in the Cherokee language.

Under the Indian Child Welfare Act, the tribe has a vested interest in the child and, if invoked at the right time, the law allows the Cherokee Nation to take over the adoption proceedings.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that South Carolina courts should decide who gets to adopt Veronica. South Carolina courts had originally said the federal Indian Child Welfare Act favored her living with her father and Brown took custody in 2011.

Veronica's biological mother is not Native American. Brown had never met his daughter, but when he discovered that Veronica was going to be adopted, he objected and said the ICWA favored the girl living with him and growing up learning tribal traditions.

Veronica remains in the care of her paternal grandparents and Brown's wife.

Lawyer Troy Dunn, an Oklahoma attorney who has been discussing the case with the adoptive parents, said he is willing to meet with Brown to develop a plan that would involve both families in the girl's upbringing.

"There is but one solution which takes Veronica's short-term and long-term needs into account: compromise," Dunn said.

The Capobiancos said they believed the court fights should be over, as the case already has been to the U.S. Supreme Court and a South Carolina court has declared them to be Veronica's true custodians.

"We don't seek victory. What we seek is peace for our daughter," Melanie Capobianco said.

Dunn said he wanted to meet with Brown "structure an arrangement, or more appropriately a relationship, that would let Veronica be the most-loved" child in the world.

"Only one side has been deemed the rightful parents," Dunn said. "Possession is not nine-tenths of the law."

Meanwhile, Brown's lawyers have requested a hearing in a family court in South Carolina concerning the adoption. South Carolina officials have charged Brown with custodial interference after he failed to show up at a meeting earlier this month.

Brown was serving with the Oklahoma National Guard at the time, and his parents had custody of Veronica through the Cherokee court system. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said Tuesday she will not consider sending Brown to South Carolina pending a hearing.

Following the press conference, though, Fallin said the Capobiancos deserve the opportunity to meet with Veronica and Brown "to end this conflict."

"If Mr. Brown is unwilling to cooperate with these reasonable expectations, then I will be forced to expedite his extradition request and let the issue be settled in court," she said in a statement.

Cherokee Nation Chief Bill J. Baker said Brown has a right to have his arguments heard before an Oklahoma court and a tribal court. Baker said in a statement that the tribe will continue "to stand by Dusten and his biological daughter, Veronica, and for what is right."

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Kinnard reported from Columbia, S.C.