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Oklahoma governor orders father of 'Baby Veronica' extradited

September 05, 2013|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske | This post has been updated. See note below for details.

In the latest twist in the high-profile custody battle over "Baby Veronica," Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has ordered the girl's biological father extradited to South Carolina to face felony charges for interfering with the custody of her adoptive parents.

Fallin said she signed the extradition order after the father, Dusten Brown, failed to negotiate in good faith with the adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, over the fate of the 3-year-old girl.

Veronica's birth mother was pregnant when she put the girl up for adoption. The Capobiancos of South Carolina have been trying to adopt Veronica since she was born, while her biological father, Brown, has been fighting them for custody.

“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 in a statement.

Fallin's office sent the extradition order to the Sequoyah County Sheriff's Office in eastern Oklahoma late Wednesday, according to spokesman Alex Weintz.

“Our hope is that Dusten Brown will turn himself in,” Weintz said.

Weintz said the governor's general counsel also notified Brown’s attorneys of the extradition order late Wednesday.

Brown's attorney did not immediately return calls Thursday.

The Sequoyah County sheriff's jail staff said Thursday that Brown had not turned himself in.

[Updated, 4:52 p.m. PDT Sept. 5: Brown turned himself in to the Sheriff's Office on Thursday and appeared before a local judge who released him on a preexisting bond, according to his Tulsa-based attorney, Clark Brewster.

Brown is scheduled to return for a hearing before District Judge Jeff Payton on Oct. 3, Brewster said. The lawyer took issue with the governor's assertions that Brown defied the courts.

“He’s been totally compliant with every order that’s ever been entered,” Brewster said.]

“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,” Fallin said in her Wednesday statement.

She also noted: “It has become clear that Dusten Brown is not acting in good faith. He has disobeyed an Oklahoma court order to allow the Capobiancos to visit their adopted daughter and continues to deny visitation. He is acting in open violation of both Oklahoma and South Carolina courts, which have granted custody of Veronica to the Capobiancos. Finally, he has cut off negotiations with the Capobiancos and shown no interest in pursuing any other course than yet another lengthy legal battle.

“As a mother, I believe it is in the best interests of Veronica to help end this controversy and find her a permanent home. For both of these reasons, I have signed the extradition order to send Mr. Brown to South Carolina,” Fallin said.

Earlier on Wednesday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called on the Oklahoma Supreme Court to return the girl to the Capobiancos, having requested Brown's extradition last month.

"This matter should come to an end, now," Haley said in a document prepared for the Oklahoma high court and provided to The Times by her office.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court last week issued an emergency stay, postponing Veronica’s transfer, despite other court orders requiring Brown to give the child to the South Carolina couple.

"Under the laws of South Carolina and Oklahoma, the minor child should be immediately returned to the Capobiancos' physical custody and care," Haley said.

Haley said Brown, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation, is "criminally withholding" Veronica from her adoptive parents in "willful defiance" of previous orders and "does not intend to comply with any order of the Oklahoma state courts."

Brown became involved before the adoption was finalized, arguing that due to their shared Native American ancestry, the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 allowed him to keep Veronica. A South Carolina family court initially ruled in his favor, but in June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ruling and decided the act did not apply, allowing the adoption to be finalized.

The case now rests with the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which issued the emergency stay, allowing Veronica’s father to keep her while arguments were heard in the case. A court referee is expected to recommend whether the full court should rule on which entity has jurisdiction in the case—South Carolina, Oklahoma or the Cherokee Nation.

The hearings have been closed, with a gag order preventing comment by either side.

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