On Monday evening, a few minutes before 4 o'clock, Judge Robert Childers thanked the attorneys in his courtroom, promised a ruling as quickly as possible, and adjourned court: a typical ending to an atypical case. The final closing arguments ended almost four years of litigation in a custody case involving a 5-year-old Chinese girl, Anna Mae He. Childers has 30 days to rule on whether to terminate the parental rights of Anna Mae's biological parents, Jack and Casey He.
The Hes sat quietly as their attorneys, David Siegel and Richard Gordon, recounted the events which ultimately landed the couple in Childers' court, beginning with the girl's birth in January 1999. At that time the Hes, unable to financially care for their daughter, sought assistance from a foster care agency. Through the agency, Jerry and Louise Baker were contacted to foster Anna Mae for a 90-day period. When that time elapsed, Mr. He was facing a separate obstacle with a sexual-assault allegation and agreed to extend Anna Mae's stay with the Bakers. He was later acquitted. When the Hes' financial situation improved, they sought the return of their daughter, but agreed to wait until Mrs. Baker gave birth to her youngest daughter. When that arrangement did not work out, the Hes filed their first petition in Juvenile Court in May 2000 for the return of Anna Mae. The following day a written agreement signed by Mr. He and Mr. Baker addressed options to leave Anna Mae with the Bakers until age 18.
Although the Hes visited their daughter during the subsequent year, Larry Parrish, the Bakers attorney, called their visits "token" attempts at maintaining a relationship with the child and attacked the Hes' backgrounds, characters, and motives during his argument. After an incident at the Baker home on the child's second birthday, police told the Hes not to return. After four months, the required time to prove abandonment by Tennessee law, the Bakers filed to terminate the couple's parental rights.
The arguments opened old wounds for both sets of parents, with Siegel accusing Mrs. Baker of keeping a "surreptitious" journal of the visits, establishing a paper trail against the Hes. Linda Holmes, attorney for the child's court-appointed guardian, called the Hes liars, saying that their actions were those of parents "who do not want to parent."
The case has been put under an international microscope with news stories appearing in USA Today, People magazine, and on CNN. "I'm just waiting for the [National] Enquirer to call me," said Holmes during closing arguments on Monday. In addition to the facts of the five years, the case has also revealed culture clashes by each side. The Bakers have long cited a Chinese culture which is unfavorable to female children as their reason for wanting to keep Anna Mae, while the Hes have said their daughter was "kidnapped by white Christians."
Both sides are expected to appeal pending the judge's decision. "We are still fighting an uphill battle," said Mr. He. "The Chinese Embassy has agreed to help us appeal as high as we can go."
"We only did what a couple asked us to do, and that was to raise their child until age 18," said Mr. Baker. "Sometime during this process, they decided to do something else."