Adoptive parents fight for custody of 9-year-old Sonya
DICKSON, Tennessee (CNN) — The last time Sonya’s adoptive parents heard her voice, the girl was begging to return to the only home she’d ever known.
“What did you say, baby doll?” asks Kim Hodgin, in a recording of the phone call.
“I want to you to come and get me,” responds Sonya.
She describes her biological father’s home as dirty, with mold and cigarettes everywhere. The girl complains he doesn’t have clean water, but says he’s being nice to her.
Her adoptive father tells Sonya everything is going to be OK. “You just stay strong,” says Dave Hodgin.
‘He’s a total stranger’
That call took place January 30, one day after Sonya was removed from the Hodgins’ home in Tennessee.
Sonya, now 9, had been in the Hodgins’ care since before she was 2, and was adopted by the family in 2008.
Before the adoption was finalized, her birth father pleaded guilty to transporting firearms — a felony — and was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.
Under Tennessee law, his parental rights were automatically terminated because state law does not allow anyone incarcerated for more than 10 years to have rights to a child under the age of 8.
However, her birth father later cut a deal using information he had about a homicide. His sentence was reduced to just 7½ years, allowing John McCaul to assert his parental rights and fight to reverse the adoption.
“She’s never laid eyes on this man. He’s a total stranger,” said Kim Hodgin.
Nevertheless, a court reversed Sonya’s adoption in November 2009. The girl continued to live with the Hodgins as both sides fought for custody.
Nearly five years later, a judge ruled Sonya should return to her biological father. Three hours after the ruling, she was gone.
“Sonya’s crying her eyes out. Screaming bloody murder, ‘Please don’t let them do this, Daddy, please, Mama, don’t let ’em take me,'” said Dave Hodgin.
“They took her bags, and that’s the last that I’ve seen her,” said Kim Hodgin.
A father’s fight
Sonya now lives in Omaha, Nebraska — a world away from the 40-acre farm she called home in Tennessee. CNN went to Omaha, hoping McCaul would answer questions about his daughter and his past.
He said he would be open to an interview and to check with his lawyer.
But his attorney said — for now — McCaul is forbidden by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services to speak publicly about the case and about his daughter.
A spokesman for DCS released a statement.
“So many times, foster parents come to love the children who stay in their homes,” Rob Johnson said. “We see that every day in Tennessee. But we have to remember that the law is clear: Birth parents have the right to raise their children, and that the court system, where the final decision rests, is there to take all sides into account.”
The Hodgins have filed a petition in Tennessee asking a judge to return Sonya, based on what they say is her best interest. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday.
“Despite repeated efforts by the foster family to terminate this child’s father’s rights, his parental rights have never been successfully terminated, and his daughter has now been returned to his care,” said Lynn Coffinberry, McCaul’s Tennessee lawyer.
By Randi Kaye