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September 24, 2013

Cherokee child handed over to adoptive parents

OKLAHOMA CITY — A South Carolina couple who vowed last month to not leave Oklahoma unless they went home with a 4-year-old Cherokee girl they have been trying to adopt since her birth were given custody of the girl Monday night after the Oklahoma Supreme Court said it didn’t have jurisdiction over the child.

“She’s safely in her parents’ arms,” said Jessica Munday, a spokeswoman for Matt and Melanie Capobianco of Charleston, S.C.

Cherokee Nation spokeswoman Amanda Clinton confirmed that Veronica was handed over to the Capobiancos hours after the Oklahoma Supreme Court dissolved a temporary court order leaving the child with her father and his family. Until the Monday night transfer, the Cherokee Nation had insisted the girl would remain with the tribe.

The Capobiancos and the girl’s father, Dusten Brown, had fought over custody of the girl for years. The dispute has raised questions about jurisdictions, tribal sovereignty and a federal law meant to help keep Native American tribes together.

Veronica, whose father is a member of the Cherokee Nation, had lived with the Capobiancos from birth until she was 27 months old, when Brown was awarded custody under the Indiana Child Welfare Act. But a U.S. Supreme Court decision later went against Brown, and a South Carolina court finalized the Capobiancos’ adoption of her earlier this year. Brown had then turned to Oklahoma’s courts. It wasn’t known if there were any conditions attached to the Capobiancos gaining custody.

Munday was not sure when the couple planned to return to South Carolina with Veronica but said she felt they were now free to do that. She said Veronica has spent some time with the couple recently and remembered them.

“It was smooth. There wasn’t any danger. ... Hopefully everyone can focus on healing now,” Munday said.

When the Oklahoma justices bowed out, it left in place a South Carolina court order validating the Capobiancos’ adoption and a Cherokee Nation tribal court directive that said the girl could remain with family members of Brown while he was undergoing National Guard training.

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