MEMPHIS -- A judge declared a Chinese immigrant couple unfit to raise their 5-year-old daughter, awarding custody to the American foster family that has raised the child since shortly after her birth.
Judge Robert Childers issued an order yesterday that terminates the parental rights of Shaoqiang and Qin Luo He, who have tried for four years to win back the daughter they put in foster care because of financial hardships.
The judge said it was in the child's best interest to stay with Jerry and Louise Baker, the family she has come to regard as her own.
The court found that the Hes willfully abandoned and provided no support for their daughter, Anna Mae, from Jan. 29 to June 20, 2001. Childers also ruled that the Hes sought custody only to prevent their deportation. "The court concludes, by clear and convincing evidence, that there is parental misconduct or inability to parent by the Hes," the ruling said.
When the trial ended last month, Childers said he would consider what was better for the child -- leaving her with the Bakers in their middle-class suburban home or reuniting her with the Hes who plan to return to China.
The trial drew attention from Chinese-Americans and Chinese citizens across the United States. The Chinese Embassy in Washington sent representatives to pretrial hearings and wrote to the Tennessee courts seeking assurance the Hes would be treated fairly.
The Hes were in a Memphis hotel room when they heard the ruling. The mother was holding her two other children, crying uncontrollably and watching the Bakers hold a news conference on television. "She's very heartbroken, and she doesn't know what to do," Shaoqiang He said. "This is a typical travesty of justice."
The Bakers argued that Anna Mae became part of their family, which includes four biological children, and taking her away would be emotionally devastating for her. The judge agreed and said the evidence showed "Mr. He to be a person of questionable character. By his own admission he is dishonest." According to the court, Shaoqiang He admitted lying about his income under oath in a December 2002 deposition.
The judge also said Qin Luo He was "unstable" and demonstrated a pattern of irrational and bizarre behavior. He cited how she would begin sobbing when asked difficult questions but regained composure for other questions.