In the Summer of 2011, Jan Hunt received a request from a guardian ad litem, Jo Prowell, working on a custody case in South Carolina. Hunt, who lives in Oregon, had been asked to write a letter on “attachment and bonding” in a contested adoption in which the biological father was seeking to reclaim his daughter.
Apart from the fact that the father was Native American, Ms. Hunt was given no other names or identifying details in the case—only that he had “come out of nowhere to overturn an adoption” after the child had lived with her adoptive parents for two years. From the beginning, the guardian ad litem operated on absolute secrecy and insisted on numerous rewrites of Hunt's work.
Hunt is a family counselor with a focus on attachment parenting and child advocacy. With a master's degree in counseling psychology, she is the author of three books on parenting. Additionally, she operates the website www.naturalchild.org.
Prowell, who is not a lawyer, has worked as guardian ad litem in numerous adoptions for attorney Raymond Godwin and Nightlight Christian Adoptions based in Greenville, South Carolina. In this capacity, she testified in favor of the Capobiancos at family court that Veronica should stay with Godwin's clients.
“He was a loser and a terrible person to the birth mother, that's how she presented it. [Prowell] told me [Dusten Brown's] family was out of their minds and that this poor adoptive couple [the Capobiancos] were being treated terribly,” says Hunt. “But she wouldn't give me any of the names, or the name of the attorney she was working with or even the name of the baby. And as I was working on my letter [regarding attachment], whenever I asked about the father, she said that he 'was out of the picture,' and that the only reason he was contesting the adoption was because his tribe had put him up to it. She said that his mother would probably be the one raising the child because he didn't really want her.”
Hunt fell for Prowell's story hook, line and sinker, believing what the guardian had told her in maligning Dusten Brown's character and his family's and tribe's intentions toward Veronica.
“Jo Prowell said it was about money,” says Hunt. “And everything she said about the tribe was very negative. She said that the only motivation [the Cherokee Nation] had toward the child was money—that 'they get money for every tribal member they have.'”
So for approximately two weeks, she and Prowell revised and edited her letter to the South Carolina Family Court in favor of the Capobianco's position as the adoptive parents of Veronica and her bonding with them over the previous two years.
“She kept asking me to reorganize my paragraphs in a very specific way and was very persistent and demanding,” says Hunt. “I've written lots of letters to judges, but I was just so motivated to help this baby. My son and I were on vacation scanning and faxing the letter and she just kept changing it to the point where I thought it was really strange. No one had ever done that before.”
In truth, Dusten Brown had tried numerous times to reach out to his ex-fiancee, who had cut off all contact and refused his financial help, which is a common tactic in South Carolina adoption law in terminating the parental rights of unmarried fathers. Additionally, he had been fighting virtually from the beginning of his daughter's life for custody, and the adoption had never been finalized—the Capobiancos were at that time still in pre-adoptive placement. All of which had been left out of the discussion with Hunt.
In his brief to the Supreme Court that was filed in January, Dusten Brown made it clear that Prowell had not acted objectively in her role as an officer of the court, and had asked for her removal after she visited his parent's home in Oklahoma for their homestudy.
During that homestudy visit, Brown's mother, Alice, later testified that Prowell was dismissive and not interested in seeing the room they had decorated for Veronica or any of the things they had bought for her.
In fact, Prowell asked the Browns “if they prayed.” The Browns replied that, yes, they did. Prowell then remarked that they should “get down on their knees and pray that they make the right decision” in keeping Veronica with the Capobiancos.
It was only recently that Hunt says she realized just exactly who she had written the letter about and the enormous implications in being involved in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, perhaps the most important American Indian legal case in three decades.
“I was duped and lied to,” says Hunt. “And I am shocked and angry to have learned the truth about this case. [Dusten Brown] had been lied to and tried since the child was born to reclaim her—not two years afterward, which is what I was told. And he's not some terrible ogre or deadbeat, as I had been led to believe, but a father sincerely trying to be with his daughter.”
Several weeks after Hunt had sent the final version of the letter to Prowell, she received an odd phone call.
“As soon as I picked up, she said, 'Don't say anything. You are not to talk to anybody but me. You cannot talk to anyone about this letter,'” says Hunt. “It was all very mysterious and very strange.”
Hunt said the human impact of the story hit home when she saw pictures of Dusten and Veronica together in the media. It was then that she put two and two together in realizing the truth.
“I literally felt ill when I realized who this letter was for,” says Hunt. “I never had any idea that Veronica was the child in the letter, I just knew it was a child in South Carolina. I have felt angry with myself for not pushing and asking more questions, but [Prowell] kept it from me for a reason. How could anybody think that taking this child from her biological father who obviously loves her very much is a good idea?”
More coverage of the "Baby Veronica case"