The parents of 31-year-old Andrea Conley said their daughter was doing what she thought was best for her newborn baby girl.
Two years ago, in June 2008, she gave up her daughter for adoption shortly after giving birth in Dayton, Ohio. And she chose Stacey Doss, of Orange County, California to be her adoptive mother, through a California-based adoption lawfirm.
“She could not raise the girl,” said Darrel Conley, Andrea’s father, by phone from his home in Dayton. “It was the best thing she could do for the baby."
Doss named her daughter Vanessa. And today that vivacious two-year-old is at the center of a very public custody battle between Doss and Vanessa’s birth father, Benjamin Mills, Jr (pictured, right).
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Last week, Orange County Judge Michael J. Naughton ruled that the courts in Montgomery County, Ohio should have jurisdiction over the case. And he ordered that Vanessa should be returned to Ohio by July 16, where she would be placed in foster care until a decision is made on custody.
Doss is appealing the decision to the California Court of Appeals.
“My intention is to fight for Vanessa until the day I die,” said Doss Monday night from her home in Orange County. “She is my daughter, and as her only acting parent it is my responsibility to keep her out of harm's way, which is exactly what I intend to do.”
After Vanessa was born, Andrea Conley signed a document under penalty of perjury stating she didn't know whom the birth father was. And Doss said Conley told her Vanessa was conceived during a one–night- stand.
But the birth mother wasn't telling the truth. Several days after taking custody of Vanessa, Doss learned that Benjamin Mills had shown up at the hospital looking for his baby girl. Four months later, DNA tests proved that Vanessa was indeed his daughter.
Mills attorney, Elizabeth Gorman, of legal AId of Western Ohio, sent a statement to NBCLA late Tuesday afternoon: "For most people, it is difficult to imagine anything more painful to a father than having their child offered up for adoption in a distant state without his knowledge or consent. This is exactly what happened in this case. "
NBCLA contacted Andrea Conley through several social networking websites. We asked to talk with her about the custody battle. She never directly responded to our request, but she left this message Monday night on her MySpace page: “My world is in array... My heart goes out to the true victims of this awful ordeal and you are truly in my prayers, I want you to know that.”
“I assume the 'true victims' would be me and Vanessa,” said Doss. “In that case, I know she feels very badly about what has happened and I believe that her heart really, truly does go out to us. “
Doss is not angry with Conley.
“She obviously did what she did for a reason."
But NBC4 legal analyst Robin Sax said Conley could face legal trouble, but it would be a difficult case to prove.
"She could potentially face charges for perjury, however the prosecutors would have to show that she knew having sex with Mills caused the birth of Vanessa," Sax said.
NBCLA has confirmed that Conley has obtained an attorney in Dayton. NBCLA made several attempts to contact him for comment. But he never returned our calls.
Doss used an adoption attorney to help to help facilitate Vanessa’s open adoption. It's unclear if his adoption lawfirm will pursue criminal prosecution of Conley.
“It is still plausible that she had sex with Mills and a one-night stand, and truly did not know who the father was,” said Doss. “But I do think she did what she did because she is a victim of domestic violence.”
Mills and Conley have had a tumultuous on again, off again relationship that spans several years and two other children, both daughters.
Mills has been convicted of multiple domestic violence charges, the most recent in 2005, when he served prison time for beating Andrea Conley.
"He's a terrible man with a long history of violence," said Conley’s mother Pam from her home in Dayton. "He about beat my daughter to death a few years ago."
"As a former domestic violence prosecutor, the troubling part of this case is that Mills behavior appears to be a form of maniuplation and control consistent with domestic violence behavior," said Sax.
Andrea Conley has been arrested several times, including convictions for drug possession and violating a protection order in 2008.
Pam Conley said her daughter does not have custody of her grand daughters. They live with Mills mother in Dayton.
If Doss loses her appeal, she said it's likely Vanessa will be placed with Mills' mother. And she believes Mills will have supervised visits with Vanessa.
In a statement, Mills attorney said her client has worked from the day his daughter was born to protect his parental relationship with his daughter. And the court and the Montgomery County Children Services Board will ensure the child is protected and properly cared for in Ohio.
Conley’s father Darrel tells NBCLA, “Mills is an unfit father. We will do anything in the world to help Stacey keep Vanessa.”
And it seems he is not alone. Doss said support is pouring in from the country:
"They have come forward by the hundreds in support of Vanessa in the form of volunteering time, money and effort to help me win this battle."
On the 4th of July, children in Doss' neighborhood sold lemonade to support her bid to keep Vanessa. Doss said they raised $600 to help with the legal costs.
Doss also said the support for her is even very strong in the birth father's hometown.
“People are outraged and saddened that anyone would even think of taking Vanessa from her home.”