Local News

McDonald's Baby Returned to Mother Who Abandoned Him

Posted November 19, 2007 2:18 p.m. EST
Updated December 10, 2007 5:44 a.m. EST

— A Wendell woman who pleaded guilty to abandoning her newborn son at a McDonald's restaurant last December has regained custody of the child, his foster parents said Monday.

Brian and Amy Lewis said they met Friday with Wake County Child Protective Services, which told them the 11-month-old child, Cory, would be reunited with his biological mother, Michelle Richardson. She got the baby back on Saturday, they said.

"We do feel strongly that justice was not on Cory's side," said Amy Lewis, who is also Richardson's cousin. "They did not do what was best for Cory in this situation."

Richardson pleaded guilty in April to misdemeanor child abuse and was sentenced to a suspended 45-day jail sentence; five years' supervised probation; and 150 hours of community service. She was also ordered to complete parenting classes and therapy.

Police said that on Dec. 7, 2006, Richardson carried the baby, born a few hours earlier, inside the restaurant on Wakelon Drive in Zebulon, under her jacket and left him in a bathroom stall.

A customer found the baby a short time later, initially thinking it was a doll.

Richardson told authorities she tried to leave the baby at the Wendell Fire Department and at a church before taking him to the McDonald's. She said she thought she was complying with the state's Safe Surrender Law by leaving him in a safe place.

The North Carolina Safe Surrender Law allows a mother to give a newborn to a responsible adult and walk away. The child must be 7 days old or younger, and the adult then has to call 911 or social services. The law doesn't define a responsible adult, but adoption groups suggest a fire station, hospital or church.

The boy and his mother are staying with her parents in Zebulon, the Lewises said. Sydney Batch, a Raleigh attorney representing Richardson and her family, had no comment on the matter Monday afternoon.

Amy Lewis said the child had been in her and her husband's care since he was 5 days old and that they had talked with protective services about adopting him into their family.

"We felt really blindsided by the whole thing," she said, adding that they have no legal rights to the child.

"We were in it for Cory," Brian Lewis said. "We wanted to take care of Cory, and we always looked for a way that we'd get to keep taking care of Cory – that we'd get to raise Cory – and that didn't happen.

Sherry Bradsher, director of the North Carolina Division of Social Services, said privacy laws prohibit the agency from commenting on specific cases.

She said, however, that the agency's first priority is always reuniting a child with its parents, if possible.

"We know that children can be best served in their families, and that's where we want kids to be when it's possible and there are no risks," Bradsher said.

For reunification, a parent has to undergo parenting classes. The case also goes before a juvenile judge, and a caseworker is assigned to look out for the child's best interests.

"The social worker stays involved to make sure that things are going according to plan," Bradsher said. "At any point and time that that changes, we can re-intervene and go back to court."

Bradsher said foster parents do have "legal standing" to tell the court what they think should happen with a foster child, but they have to have had the child for more than a year to do so. Cory was with his foster family for 11 months and five days.

Authorities said the baby was Richardson's sixth child and that those close to her did not know she was pregnant. In September 2005, she left twins at WakeMed in Raleigh, which is legal under the law, they said.

She also put two other children up for adoption, the Lewises said. Richardson also has joint custody of a 3-year-old son.

Richardson's defense attorney, Jeff Cutler, said in April that Richardson had an implanted birth-control device to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Prosecutors asked for a court order to mandate continued birth control, but District Judge Shelley H. Desvousges said such an order would be unconstitutional.