MIAMI (AP) - Relatives are fighting for custody of a 10-year-old boy after his adoptive father was charged with attempted murder for allegedly dousing him with toxic chemicals.
Child welfare officials held a hearing Wednesday to ask a judge to terminate the parental rights of Jorge and Carmen Barahona, who have been charged with killing their 10-year-old adopted daughter. Jorge Barahona has also pleaded not guilty to attempted first-degree murder in an attack on her brother Victor, who is the couple's adopted son. The twins were found in Barahona's truck on Valentine's Day.
Isidro and Ana Reyes, who are Victor's biological aunt and uncle, are now seeking custody of the boy.
Ana Reyes sobbed in court Wednesday, part of what her attorney called an emotional visit from their home in Texas. She and her husband declined comment, but attorney Steven Grossbard said they are struggling to understand this "heinous" crime.
Victor was released from the hospital last week and is recovering at a specialized foster home. Grossbard said his aunt and uncle had not seen him Wednesday, but were hoping to visit the boy soon.
The couple sought to adopt the children after they were placed in foster care in 2004. A judge ultimately ruled that the twins should stay with their then-foster parents, the Barahonas, because they'd already bonded.
Wednesday's hearing was closed to the public but child welfare officials said no decision was made about the boy's custody.
Police said the Barahonas bound the twins by their hands and feet and locked them in a bathroom for days. An arrest warrant taken out by police alleges Jorge Barahona grabbed the girl, Nubia, from the bathroom on Feb. 11 and beat her to death as Victor listened to her screams. He was also injured after his lip split open. The boy was born with a cleft palate, but police said the Barahonas refused to take him to the doctor in recent weeks.
The Reyes tried to adopt the children after the twins' biological father was charged with sexually abusing a neighbor in 2004. The twins were placed in foster care.
"The kids need love. We have plenty to give them," Isidro Reyes wrote in a 2005 application.
At the time, he was a teacher and she was a stay-at-home mom, married for 26 years and with three grown children, a large home and plenty of support from extended family, according to their applications.
The couple was approved by Florida to "obtain legal custody of the children" and both sides were told to emotionally prepare the children for a move to Texas, according to a letter the couple wrote the judge in 2005. They even had plane tickets for Victor and Nubia.
"They thought the children were going and all of a sudden things change," their attorney, Steven Grossbard, said Wednesday. "They were prepared to provide stability and safety and a nurturing environment in Texas."
The Reyes stressed in their 2005 application that they were blood relatives - a stronger bond, they said, than what the Barahonas had with the twins as foster parents.
Several hearings were held as therapists, school officials and guardian ad litems weighed in on whether the Barahonas should be allowed to adopt the twins.
A psychologist completed an evaluation and recommended approval for the twins' adoption by the Barahonas in 2008, child welfare officials said. The psychologist concluded it would be "detrimental" to remove the children from the Barahonas' care. If they did, the children would never bond with adults again.
However, the psychologist did not include any information from school officials even after a teacher reported that Nubia said Carmen Barahona hit her.
A judge ultimately sided with the Barahonas and the adoption was approved in August 2009, years after the Reyes started their effort. Child advocates said interstate adoptions are often needlessly hampered with bureaucracy between states.
"(The Reyes) were there from the beginning," Grossbard said Wednesday. "If there are relatives, you should consider them. I don't know what went wrong here."