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'Baby Veronica' birth father freed after surrendering

By Heide Brandes

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - The biological father of "Baby Veronica," a Native American girl at the heart of a protracted custody battle, surrendered to Oklahoma police on Thursday to be extradited to South Carolina where he faces felony charges for interfering with her adoption.

An hour later a local judge - to the surprise of Oklahoma's governor - released him on bail.

It was the latest twist in the case that has drawn the governors of two states, the Supreme Court and the Cherokee Nation into the clash between Native Americans trying to stop children from being adopted outside their tribes and U.S. legal safeguards for adoptive parents.

On Wednesday, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed an order to have Dusten Brown extradited to South Carolina to face charges of interfering with the parental rights of Matt and Melanie Capobianco, the adoptive parents of the 3-year-old girl.

Brown, a member of the Cherokee Nation who has custody of the girl, turned himself in to authorities in Sequoyah County, Oklahoma, on Thursday morning, said Sheriff Ron Lockhart.

Shortly after, a local judge ordered Brown released from jail and set the next hearing in the case for October 3, Lockhart said. It was not immediately clear why the judge freed Brown.

"I thought he was going to be extradited," said Lockhart. "I've never seen anything like this."

A spokesman for Fallin said the governor did not know why the judge released Brown on bail.

"It's a very unusual move by the court," said spokesman Alex Weintz. "Our office is now a spectator in the process. This will be decided in the courts."

"As an office, including the governor, we were surprised," Weintz said.

ADOPTION SAGA

Veronica's birth mother, who is not Native American, arranged with the Capobiancos of Charleston, South Carolina, to adopt the girl after she was born in 2009.

Brown intervened in 2010 before the adoption process was final, and a South Carolina family court ordered that Veronica be turned over to him in December 2011.

Brown has said that when he gave up parental rights to the girl's birth mother, to whom he was not married, he did not realize she would put the child up for adoption.

He argued that the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 allowed him to have custody of Veronica, who is 3/256ths Cherokee.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the family court ruling and decided the act did not apply in Veronica's situation. The adoption by the Capobiancos was finalized in South Carolina in July.

Brown, however, has not given the girl back to the South Carolina couple. Veronica has been staying with relatives on Cherokee tribal land in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Cherokee Nation courts have also been involved in the custody battle.

Fallin and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley have been drawn into the dispute and tried to get the two families to work out a compromise.

Sheriff Lockhart said he was in communication with the governor's office and he had also talked with officials in South Carolina, who were disappointed by the new delay.

"There will be no extradition today that I am aware of," Lockhart said, adding that a person subject to an extradition order usually is jailed until a court hearing.

The Cherokee Nation, which has sided with Brown in the dispute, issued a statement late on Wednesday criticizing Fallin for signing the extradition order.

"We urge those who support father's rights and tribal rights, to contact the governor's office to voice their displeasure with this unnecessary overreach in authority," the statement by the tribe's Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr said.

(Adds comment fron governor's office)

(Additional Reporting by Harriet McLeod in Charleston, South Carolina; Writing by Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou)

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