A mission of mercy? Or a bungled baby-napping?
The players disagree about what happened on an L.A. street last week, when a baby born into South-Central poverty was allegedly snatched from his teenage mother and spirited away to a swanky Dallas suburb.
A lawyer for Annette Pinkard, 47, said his client and her husband, both well-to-do Dallas-area real estate professionals desperate for a child, were adopting 7-week-old Devon Calloway.
Texas authorities, however, arrested Pinkard on suspicion of kidnapping for her alleged role in the bizarre saga with shades of the films “Citizen Kane” and “Raising Arizona.”
Pinkard insists, through her lawyer, that she was trying to rescue Devon -- with the consent of his struggling young mother. But police say she coldly tried to buy Devon, then stole him.
The baby, who was handed over to federal authorities last week after a national search, was returned to Los Angeles in the arms of a county social worker Tuesday.
His future, for now, holds neither his mother’s squalid duplex in South Los Angeles -- with its window bars and busted Buick in the frontyard -- nor Pinkard’s sprawling, manor-style home in Midlothian, Texas, with its three-car garage, circular drive and backyard pool. Instead, Devon will be placed in foster care, officials said.
Pinkard and her cousin, Sylvia Nunn, 53, are being held in Texas in lieu of $500,000 bond each and face extradition to California. A court hearing on the bail amount is scheduled for Monday.
Police say Devon Calloway’s alleged kidnapping began when Pinkard and Nunn approached Devon’s mother, Dominique Calloway, 17, in mid-May at a South Los Angeles discount store. They offered her $6,000 for her baby, police said.
Calloway has said she told the women that she would “think about it” but never intended to take the money. She did, however, accept a ride home.
On May 22, one of the women came back to her house and again offered money, accompanied by a third woman whom Calloway did not recognize.
Calloway said she declined, but agreed to bring Devon out for the women to see. One of the women ripped the baby out of her arms, she said, and they got back into their SUV. As the two began to drive away, a frantic Calloway clung to the side of the moving vehicle until the kidnappers pushed her off. She injured her back when she hit the asphalt, and called police.
After authorities inspected her house and found it unfit for child-rearing, they took Devon’s 2-year-old sister into protective custody. Police, meanwhile, issued bulletins for help finding Devon. The FBI joined the case and played a key role in his return the morning of May 24, said Det. Maria Rivas of the LAPD’s Newton Division. Pinkard and Nunn were arrested hours later. Calloway, informed by news crews, wept.
But Scottie Allen, Pinkard’s lawyer, offered a different account:
He said the episode began when Pinkard made a Mother’s Day trip to Los Angeles to visit family. She once lived in the area, and Nunn, her cousin, lives in Compton. One day, the two women were out in South L.A. and came across a toddler.
The 2-year-old girl was “unaccompanied and running around outside,” Allen said. Concerned, they searched out the mother.
“Ms. Calloway shared her personal problems,” Allen said. She told them she was having trouble and that she feared the county would take her kids.
Pinkard and Nunn then went home with Calloway, Allen said, and found it a mess. Allen said the duplex had roaches and the baby had diaper rash.
Pinkard offered to adopt both children, and Calloway eventually agreed to let Devon go, Allen said. Pinkard “went to a store, got a form and had [Calloway] sign the form,” relinquishing her parental rights, the lawyer said. Pinkard planned to return to California to apply to a court for adoption. Ill-advised perhaps, but not illegal, Allen said.
“To my knowledge, no money changed hands and no money was offered,” he said. “Ms. Pinkard did express an interest in helping [Calloway] get her life in order.”
Pinkard sent Nunn to pick up the baby, Allen said.
Pinkard only learned about the kidnapping investigation while driving back to Texas with Devon. She was “scared to death,” Allen said.
Devon’s journey from poverty to wealth was abrupt. He stayed briefly in the big brick-veneer house, then was handed over to authorities by lawyers.
Sylvia Nunn’s lawyer, Heath Harris, also insists that Nunn and Pinkard were trying to help. Calloway, who said she spent time in foster care, “led them to believe that she didn’t want to see the baby caught up in the system like she had been.... She thought he would have a better life with Ms. Pinkard,” Harris said.
Allen said Pinkard is a successful, well-respected mortgage broker with a prosperous business who lives comfortably in Midlothian with her husband and a teenage daughter from a previous marriage.
He emphasized that Pinkard had provided Calloway with her identification and address before returning to Texas -- strange conduct for an abductor.
Police said they are skeptical. Pinkard’s lawyer concedes that Pinkard was convicted of forgery in 2000, a fact that Det. Rivas said could cast doubt on the validity of her agreement with Calloway. Nunn also has a criminal record, though not an extremely serious one, her lawyer said.
Further complicating the case, police said, are other mothers who have come forward to say that Pinkard also approached them. Like Calloway, the women were young, black and poor, and they said that Pinkard and Nunn wanted to buy their babies.
“They came across several women they must have felt fit their criteria,” Rivas said.
Dominique Calloway denied allowing her baby to be taken.
“I didn’t sign no papers. They lie,” she said.
They offered money, she insisted -- going so far as to open a wallet to display bills.
“I’ve never seen so many hundreds in my life,” she said.
Calloway spoke in stocking feet while sitting on her porch. She no longer appeared drawn and panicked as she had the previous week, when her baby was missing. Eyeliner traced dramatically from the corner of each eye. Platinum braids hung loosely. She stuck by her story.
“They tried to bribe me for my child. They snatched my baby,” she said.
Her concern now, she said, was trying to get her children back from the county.
“I’m going to take parenting classes,” she said.
Calloway seemed painfully aware of the difference between herself and Pinkard. She spoke glumly of Pinkard’s fancy house, which Calloway had seen on television.
“She’s got a lot of money. I don’t,” she said.
At 17, with no job, a 10th-grade education and two small children, Calloway acknowledged that she was having a hard time. She lives with her mother but is mostly on her own, she said.
Asked if her baby’s father was helping her, she gave a short, bitter laugh. “You’re funny,” she said.
Then she asked questions: Could someone help her get a job? Go to school, get her own place, find a lawyer?
“I need help,” she said.
Times researcher John Jackson contributed to this report.