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Kidnapped at Birth

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An artist's rendering of Ann Pettway in court in January 2011, after she surrendered to authorities.  

But the calls didn’t stop. A few years earlier, still in the midst of searching for her real mother, Netty had written Oprah Winfrey a letter about her situation and never heard back. Now an Oprah producer was on the phone, reading her letter back to her. “It was just like, ‘Wow, you all got it and you’re just getting back to me now?’ ”

Joy wanted to do the show. Carl was fine with it. Netty said yes at first, then changed her mind. Although Oprah would have been an uncomplicated celebration for Joy and Carl, Netty would be the one having to talk for an hour about her life and childhood and what sort of mother Ann had been. The weight of what was happening to Ann, and Netty’s role in that, had begun to sink in. Netty was also worried about Trevon, her little brother. Netty had a new family now, but he still only had Ann. What would happen to him if Ann went to jail?

“I told my mom, ‘I can’t do it,’ ” Netty says. “And she was like, ‘Why?’ I knew that she was upset because everybody looks up to Oprah. I did too. Oprah’s my idol. At the same time, I didn’t want to talk about the story anymore. I just needed some time to myself.”

Netty believes that nothing was the same with Joy and Carl after that. Joy and Carl were upset that there was no plan in place to see her. On January 23, Netty watched on TV as Ann arranged her surrender to the FBI in Connecticut.

From the start, Ann’s lawyer, Robert Baum, seemed to campaign for a plea deal—hinting that he’d fight the case if it went to trial, and that Ann wasn’t the monster she was made out to be in the press. “She knows she was a good mother; she knows she gave her everything she could give her, and that Carlina was happy. That she feels good about. But she does feel badly and guilty about raising her and keeping the secret about how she got her. But that’s still an open question: how she got her.”

Based on statements Ann made to the FBI after her surrender, prosecutors say Ann miscarried sometime the summer Carlina was born and became desperate to become a mother. Baum doesn’t necessarily dispute this, but he says the evidence that Ann kidnapped the baby is far from conclusive. It’s possible, he says, that someone else took Carlina, although he has yet to say who did or how Ann wound up with her. In court on January 24, Baum suggested that Netty could be a good witness for the defense. “The person you’ve identified as the victim is in fact with Ms. Pettway’s family,” he said. “They believe she has been and may continue to be for many years a good mother.” Carl went on television saying he didn’t think Ann was really sorry. But it was lost on neither Carl nor Joy that Netty was no longer joining those condemning Ann. “I know she wants to unite with us,” Carl said on the Today show. “But she has had this other family all these years.”

On February 8, Carl appeared on The Early Show and claimed that everything was still all right with Carlina. “I just got to move forward step-by-step,” he said. “She’s 23, so it’s like kind of hard to talk to a grown-up that you haven’t seen since she was a baby. So it’s kind of a little tough. But I’m trying.” Joy, meanwhile, went on Today and accused Netty of actively distancing herself from both her and Carl. “I was on such a high when I first reunited with my daughter,” Joy said. “I was floating on air. I was so happy, and that moment was so great.” Now, she said, “I’m disappointed. This was a miracle that happened. It’s breathtaking. And I just wanted to get that out there, that we found our daughter and that we’re happy. We’re reunited, and I wanted to share that with the world. And it really hurts me that it’s—it’s about money.”

Shortly after Netty had first come to New York to meet Joy and Carl, reports had surfaced of a trust fund. In 1988, the year after Carlina went missing, Carl and Joy had sued the city, which ran Harlem Hospital, for $100 million. In 1992 they reached a settlement of $750,000. Each parent’s share was eventually reduced to $162,643.28. Carl and Joy agreed to put half of each of their shares, or a total of roughly $162,000, in a trust fund for Carlina, should she return before her 21st birthday. When the trust was liquidated, in 2008, Carl and Joy each collected what they’d put in. “I have two other kids,” Joy told Today. “And I had to take care of myself. And I had to live.” “Some parents probably wouldn’t put any money away,” says Carl, who says he lost much of the money in a divorce. “Me and Joy, we did 21 years.”


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