Tahlequah Daily Press

August 19, 2013

‘Baby Veronica’ case in court

Both families at odds over custody were in town today

By JOSH NEWTON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — jnewton@tahlequahdailypress.com

Two families at odds over the custody of “Baby Veronica” spent much of the day in Tahlequah courts Friday, but when the dust had settled, few new details were released to the public.

And despite reports that the 3-year-old child was in court, she never actually appeared in view of those who waited outside the courthouse.

Dusten and Robin Brown appeared at the Cherokee County Courthouse Friday at 9 a.m. in front of Special Judge Holli Wells. Matt and Melanie Capobianco, the South Carolina couple fighting to take back adoptive custody of Baby Veronica, requested the hearing and also showed up at the courthouse.

Both families arrived with an entourage of Cherokee Nation marshals, attorneys and others, but Friday morning’s hearing in Cherokee County District Court was closed to local, state and national media.

All media representatives were prevented from going to the third floor of the courthouse, where two main courtrooms and several public offices are located.

A gag order was also issued to prevent all parties involved in the dispute from sharing “confidential” or “sensitive” information about Veronica, including her location and her activity schedule.

Those involved in the case were ordered to make nothing but “general statements” to media sources under threat of being in contempt of the court.

The Capobiancos filed a writ of habeas corpus in Cherokee County District Court Thursday, asking that the Browns – including Alice and Tommy Brown, Dusten’s parents – bring Baby Veronica to the court Friday.

In a statement released by the Capobiancos, the couple said they filed the motion after they and the child’s birth mother were “intentionally excluded” from a guardianship hearing scheduled in tribal court Friday.

Court documents show Cherokee Nation Marshal Shannon Buhl served Dusten and Robin Brown with the district court summons on Thursday at a facility on the Sequoyah Schools campus, where the Browns have reportedly been staying.

The Capobiancos’ petition alleges Dusten Brown, along with associates, refuses to relinquish custody of Baby Veronica, despite a South Carolina court’s order that custody be transferred to the Capobiancos.

That order was made after the U.S. Supreme Court recently said the matter was in the South Carolina court’s jurisdiction. A warrant was eventually issued out of South Carolina for Dusten Brown’s arrest. Dusten Brown tried to turn himself into authorities in Cherokee County last Monday, but a judge refused to take on the case, so the Browns and Cherokee Nation officials turned to Sequoyah County.

Dusten Brown was then given a $10,000 bond and released.

After about three hours inside district court Friday, the Browns and Capobiancos left through separate exits, still under the protection of Cherokee Nation marshals and other local and state authorities.

Aside from Dusten Brown’s giving a couple of his supporters his thanks, nothing was said outside the county courthouse. Veronica’s grandmother, Alice, left the courthouse in tears.

The parties then arrived at the Cherokee Nation Courthouse, for an appearance before District Judge John T. Cripps for a second hearing. The proceedings lasted about three hours, and media members were prevented from entering the building.

Dusten and Robin left the building escorted by marshals, and made no comment.

Alice and Tommy Brown were visibly shaken when they left. Alice was crying, and when a reporter for a  metro newspaper asked if it was good news, Tommy shook his head “no.”

The Capobiancos left with a large entourage of CN marshals, and did not speak to the media. Protesters supporting Brown jeered the couple, screaming “Cherokee children are not for sale!” and “Shame, shame, shame!”

According to reports, records show a mediation agreement has been filed, but the records are under seal. No determination was issued by tribal court as of press time.

Teddye Snell contributed to this report.