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Tamia's saga may end today


Strange custody case returns to court, where a judge could decide Baby Tamia's fate

Jonathan Lipman

Daily Southtown

Baby Tamia will remain in the custody of the state of Utah, not with her would-be adoptive parents, as her natural mother in Harvey continues to fight for her return.

Utah child welfare authorities took the baby Thursday when the adoptive parents were arrested on drug charges in Salt Lake County.

A Utah judge ruled Tuesday to keep the baby in the temporary custody of Utah's Division of Child and Family Services pending the outcome of the custody dispute in Cook County, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Carmen McDonald, 20, of Harvey, has been fighting in Cook County Circuit Court to get her baby back.

Presiding Judge Michael Murphy ruled last week the adoption was illegal because A Cherished Child, the Utah-based adoption agency, moved too fast and did not properly notify state officials.

The agency bought McDonald a ticket, flew her to Utah, had her sign away her parental rights in a motel room and flew her back within 24 hours.

A Cherished Child has now revoked the adoption. In Utah, adoptions aren't final until six months after the baby is placed and a juvenile judge signs off on a post-placement review of the family, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

"We have felt nothing but a wall of pain since this all started," said the prospective adoptive father, Stephen Kusaba, as he left the Matheson Courthouse on Tuesday.

He and his wife, Lenna Habbeshaw, had had custody of the child since Dec. 4.

"We wanted to give her the perfect life," Habbeshaw said. "We will miss her dearly."

The couple were charged Thursday with felony possession of cocaine, marijuana and drug paraphernalia. They refused to discuss the drug charges.

Utah's child protection agency took charge of Tamia, accusing the adoptive parents of abuse and neglect.

Utah Assistant Attorney General Carolyn Nichols, who is handling the case, said Utah officials are likely to comply with whatever Murphy orders in a hearing today.

"We'll await further orders from the Chicago court," Nichols said. "That seems to be what the statutory scheme envisions."

Lawyers for A Cherished Child also are awaiting today's hearing in Chicago.

"We believe the (Illinois) judge will order the child returned to Chicago. Given the circumstances, we believe that's in the best interests of the child," said Richard VanWagoner, an attorney for A Cherished Child. "The question is whether the child should go back to the birth mother or be placed in Illinois custody and adopted."

Carmen's mother, Maria McDonald, who is also part of the lawsuit, said Tuesday she was taken aback when her attorney informed her of the situation in Utah.

"They tried to paint such an ugly picture of me, and they painted this pretty picture of this family, that she was happy and adjusted," said Maria McDonald, 43, of Chicago's Riverdale community.

"I'm just hoping she's not hurt, that nothing's broken, that none of her legs are broken. When they talk about allegations of abuse and neglect, your mind can go anywhere."

Maria McDonald hasn't seen her granddaughter since Dec. 2, when Tamia was 3 months old.

Tamia and Carmen McDonald flew to Utah on a ticket bought by the adoption agency.

In Utah, Carmen McDonald was running a 102-degree fever, suffering severe post-partum depression and crying uncontrollably, her attorneys say. When she told the agency she changed her mind on the adoption, the agency's director allegedly threatened to leave her stranded in Utah.

Attorneys for Cherished Child dispute that McDonald was mentally ill and say she was never coerced into signing the adoption forms.

Attorneys will return today to argue over what should happen to the baby now that the adoption was ruled illegal.

McDonald's attorneys say Tamia should come back to Chicago immediately. Attorneys for the adoption agency said earlier that they wanted to focus on what is in the best interest of the child.

Contributing: The Salt Lake Tribune

2005 Mar 23