An Oklahoma court has filed a mediation agreement after the first of two hearings on Friday in the cross-country custody battle involving "Baby Veronica."
In the first hearing, the biological and adoptive parents involved in the custody battle for the girl met in the Cherokee County courthouse for more than three hours, before moving on to a second hearing in Cherokee Nation tribal court. The court filed a mediation agreement after the first hearing, although details are sealed, court clerk Shelly Kissinger told NBC News.
Veronica's adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, and the girl's biological father, Dusten Brown, would not comment after attending the initial hearing in Tahlequah, Okla., at 9 a.m. on Friday. There was also no sign of Veronica, and when asked if she would be seen today, Matt Capobianco told NBC News, "No."
The Capobiancos spoke out against the lengthy legal ordeal after learning late on Thursday that a hearing originally scheduled for September was being pushed up to Friday at 11 a.m. They filed an emergency action in a Cherokee County court, requiring that the person at the center of the case — Veronica — be brought to court, though she did not ultimately appear.
“After 19 long months of trying this case in local family courts, state courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, Brown has determined yet again his intent to continue to drag this unfortunate situation out further,’’ the couple said in a statement released by spokeseperson Jessica Munday. “Veronica does not need nor deserve any more court hearings. Veronica deserves for this to be over!”
The ordeal began back in 2009, when Veronica’s birth parents split up. The child's biological mother, Christy Maldonado, asked Brown to give her custody of the baby. He agreed, first in a text message that read, “I think I will just sign my rites away,” and then later in a legal document that he signed.
Brown says that he was about to deploy to Iraq at the time and never realized that his daughter might be put up for adoption. The child lived with the Capobiancos for the first 27 months of her life before Brown gained custody via a court ruling in 2011. The adoptive couple fought the decision all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled nearly two months ago that Veronica be returned to their custody.
The case has caused a debate about how adoptions involving Native Americans should be handled. In the midst of the scheduled hearings on Friday, there were protesters outside the courthouse with signs reading: "Cherokee Children — Not for Sale."
Brown's South Carolina attorney, John Nichols, told NBC News Friday that "Veronica and Mr. Brown deserve the same rights as anyone else, and those rights should not be trampled by these heavy-handed means."
"These tactics are just outrageous," Nichols said. "When did we decide not to follow due process?"
Brown turned himself in to Sequoyah County authorities in Oklahoma on Monday after being charged with custodial interference for failing to appear at a court-ordered meeting in South Carolina on Aug. 4 to return the child. He posted a $10,000 bond and was released, and the Capobiancos came to Oklahoma on Tuesday with the hope that Veronica, 3, would be returned to them.
By Friday they had still not been able to visit with Veronica, who has been with Brown’s family at an undisclosed location.