'Good Morning America' shines light on 'Baby Sam' case

Date: 2000-12-01
Source: sptimes.com

By COLLINS CONNER

TAMPA -- Chris Vietri figured Thursday was his chance.

For four years, as he battled for custody of his son, he was viewed by some as an interloper.

On Thursday, weeks after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that he was the rightful father to "Baby Sam," the New Port Richey man sat before television cameras, eager to show his critics his real self.

He was so nervous, he could hardly lift his head.

"Look at the camera! Look at the camera!" Vietri's attorney whispered as he watched from a distance.

But Vietri didn't need to make eye contact to get his feelings across.

"I have been fighting for my son since before he was born," Vietri told Diane Sawyer of ABC's Good Morning America. "I'm Sam's father, and I love him very much. He's my child."

Thursday's broadcast introduced a national audience to the long saga of "Baby Sam," the infant adopted by an Alabama couple in 1996. The baby's mother, Vietri's then-girlfriend, told Vietri his son was stillborn. She told a Tampa adoption agency that the father's identity was unknown.

Though Vietri soon unraveled the deception, the adoptive parents, Mark and Tracy Johnson of Tuscaloosa, refused to relinquish the infant, choosing instead to take the matter to court in Alabama. In November, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled against them, giving Vietri custody of Sam, who will turn 5 in March.

On Thursday, the Johnsons vowed to continue their fight to keep Sam. "We can't see our little boy hurt," Tracy Johnson told Sawyer.

According to Mrs. Johnson, Vietri never attempted to see Sam -- a contention Vietri quickly rebutted. He said the Johnsons blocked his contacts, telling him he couldn't visit unless he gave up his parental rights.

A date for the transfer hasn't been set. Vietri said he wants Sam's arrival to be a peaceful one.

"The only thing I can show Sam is pure love and to be there for him," he told Sawyer. "I know there's going to be hard times, but he'll grow out of them.

"Sam needs to come home."

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