Michigan couple finally yield girl, 2 1/2 Justice Stevens won't intervene

July 28, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Jan and Roberta DeBoer have given up their long and bitter court fight and told 2 1/2 -year-old Jessica she is going away.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens refused Monday to block a Michigan Supreme Court order that the girl be returned next week to her birth parents, Daniel and Cara Schmidt of Blairstown, Iowa.

"Jessica said, 'No, I'm not going' and started crying,' " Suellyn Scarnecchia, the DeBoers' attorney, said yesterday. "It's what you'd expect her to do.

"They tell her she is going with Dan and Cara. It's not something they could have started telling her much earlier. A 2-year-old has a different sense of time."

For the Ann Arbor couple, time has run out.

Yesterday, they ended their legal fight to keep Jessica, whom they have raised since infancy and had tried to adopt. Ms. Scarnecchia said the DeBoers concluded that they had little chance of winning any further appeals.

The DeBoers began trying to adopt the toddler when she was born Feb. 8, 1991. Cara Schmidt, then unmarried, signed a custody release two days after the birth and named another man as the father. Within days she changed her mind, told Mr. Schmidt he was the father, and they began fighting to get their child back. The Schmidts married last year and had another daughter, Chloe, a month ago.

The DeBoers have kept Jessica through a series of appeals in Iowa and Michigan. Last year the Iowa Supreme Court awarded the child to Mr. Schmidt, and this month the Michigan Supreme Court upheld that decision.

All that is left for the DeBoers is the packing, the goodbyes and the tears.

Ms. Scarnecchia said the DeBoers will send Jessica's belongings -- her Barney stuffed animal, her toy telephones, her frilly summer dresses and her bed -- to the Schmidts.

"It's impossible to imagine what this is like," Ms. Scarnecchia said. "It's taking everything we have to get ready for Aug. 2. The DeBoers are trying to have some private time with Jessica -- just staying around the house."

Although the DeBoers have abandoned their legal battle, Birmingham, Mich., attorney Richard Victor, who represents Jessica herself, vowed to fight on.

Mr. Victor said he would file another emergency request with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun today. Justice Blackmun last year denied a stay of an Iowa Supreme Court order returning the child to the Schmidts.

Mr. Victor said he hopes Justice Blackmun will treat the request as a question of children's rights and what is in Jessica's best interests.

He said if Justice Blackmun denies the stay, "We're done."

Cara Schmidt released a statement yesterday that said the couple was "relieved and pleased" by Justice Stevens' decision.

"Justice Stevens' firm denial of the stay concurs with the findings of 22 other judges who were presented all the facts and confirms our daughter's God-given and constitutionally protected right to be raised with and by her natural family," the statement said.

"We are praying for our daughter's safety and anxiously awaiting the final transfer."

The Schmidts' attorney, Marian Faupel, said she expects Jessica will be handed over to them through an intermediary Monday. Neither she nor Ms. Scarnecchia will discuss details.

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