Harlem Hospital Kidnapping Suspect is a 'Good Mother,' Says Family
By Shayna Jacobs and Nicole Bode
MANHATTAN FEDERAL COURT — The woman accused of kidnapping a newborn baby from Harlem Hospital 23 years ago and raising her as her own said she was "truly sorry" for the kidnapping, and said she did it because she had suffered a miscarriage and was afraid she'd never be able to bear a child of her own, federal agents said.
Ann Pettway, 44, was arraigned on felony kidnapping charges in Manhattan Federal Court Monday after allegedly kidnapping then-19-day-old newborn Carlina White from Harlem Hospital in 1987 and then passing her off as her own for more than two decades.
Pettway's attorney, Robert Baum, who also represented Russian spy Anna Chapman, did not enter a plea, nor did he ask for bail on Monday.
Instead, he defended his client, saying relatives, including a cousin and her husband who appeared in court in support of Pettway, had described her as a "good mother."
"They believe that she has been and will continue to be, for many years, a very good mother," Baum said outside Federal Court.
But prosecutors painted a different picture, one of a desperate woman who was afraid she would never be able to have children.
"Pettway knows that she has caused a lot of pain," FBI Special Agent Maria Johnson wrote in the complaint. "Pettway ... had had several miscarriages. She did not believe she would ever be able to be a parent."
Pettway, however, did give birth to a son who is now 13 years old, her lawyer said Monday.
White's biological father Carl Tyson was also present at Pettway's arraignment.
"It was really sad seeing her. Really sad," he said, of seeing Pettway for the first time, adding "Yes, I would like to ask her 'why?'" in response to reporter's questions if he had anything to say to the accused.
After turning herself in to authorities on Sunday, Pettway allegedly confessed that she took Carlina White from Harlem Hospital after White's biological parents brought her there to treat a fever on Aug. 4, 1987. Pettway took the baby, walked out of the hospital unhindered, and brought her home on a train to Bridgeport, Conn., where she told her friends and family that the child was hers, the complaint said. Hospital staff noticed the child was missing early the next morning, the complaint says.
Pettway allegedly told federal agents that she tried to cover up her crime by trying to forge a birth certificate, but was "never able to create a fake document that appeared real," the complaint says.
Pettway reportedly has a lengthy criminal history with charges including extortion and has a collection of aliases and Social Security numbers, authorities said. She had been on the run since Jan. 6, after Carlina White began to make contact with authorities and her biological parents.
Pettway turned herself in to authorities a day after eluding capture in a pawn shop in Connecticut, where the owner recognized her from photos and called police, according to reports. Pettway was reportedly trying to pawn a laptop computer and some jewelry.
She is being charged in federal court because the statute of limitations has expired for her to be charged by state prosecutors.
Prosecutors must indict Pettway by Feb. 7.
Baum said he spoke with Pettway for an hour Monday morning during a tearful interview.
"She cares deeply about Carlina," Baum told reporters outside of the court.
He added that he plans to ask for Pettway's medical records to investigate the miscarriage claims.
In 1987, Carlina White’s biological mother, Joy White, brought Carlina into Harlem Hospital to be treated for a high fever, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
The family told authorities they handed the baby over to a woman dressed as a nurse in the hospital.
Carlina White, who was raised in Bridgeport under the alias Nejdra Nance, always suspected that the family raising her was not her own, her family said. When Pettway was unable to provide her with a birth certificate or social security card, Carlina White began to search online for information, and came across her baby photo on the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children website, officials said.
Pettway allegedly admitted to authorities that she tried to throw Carlina White off her trail by telling her the reason she didn't have a birth certificate was because she "had been given to Pettway by a woman who used drugs."
After DNA tests confirmed she was the daughter of Joy White and Carl Tyson, Carlina White was reunited with her family.
Tyson said Monday that he wants to see Ann Pettway charged for her crime, and said he’s still struggling to understand why she would want to steal his child.
"Why did you do this to me for 23 years?" Tyson said on the "Today Show" Monday.
Tyson added that the transition to having his daughter back has been bumpy, and that Carlina White has been having a hard time adjusting to the new reality.
"It's hard for her to cope with us right now. Because she hadn’t been with us for 23 years. And I know she wants to reunite with us and everything, but on the other hand she has this other family that she wants to be with," Tyson said in the broadcast.
Carlina White currently lives in Atlanta, Ga. with her 5-year-old daughter, Samani. Her birth family said she has no plans to move to New York City anytime soon, despite their wishes for her to join them up north.
"Carlina wants everyone to know that she’s not abandoning her New York City family, but the people that have provided unconditional love to her, it's very hard for her to up and leave," White’s aunt Regina Tyson told the Today Show.
Carl Tyson added that he considers the reunion to be "a piece … of the missing puzzle."
"I have all four of my kids now," Carl Tyson said. "I can't make up for the lost time, I can just take care of right now."
Della Hasselle contributed reporting.