FBI: Woman confessed to snatching NY baby in 1987
Posted January 24, 2011 12:22 p.m. EST
Updated January 24, 2011 5:08 p.m. EST
NEW YORK — A Raleigh woman who raised a child snatched from a New York hospital more than two decades ago has admitted kidnapping the baby after her own attempts to have children failed, the FBI said in court papers Monday.
Ann Pettway, 44, said in a statement that she was "truly sorry," according to the FBI.
She didn't request bail during a Monday afternoon court appearance.
Pettway confessed during an interview with authorities Sunday to taking the baby in early August 1987 from Harlem Hospital.
She surrendered to authorities Sunday in Bridgeport, Conn., after North Carolina authorities issued a warrant for her arrest. She is on probation for a 2010 conviction for attempted embezzlement and isn't allowed to leave the state without permission.
Last week, the child she raised – Carlina White, now 23 – and her biological mother were reunited in New York.
Pettway told authorities that she had had difficulty having her own children in the 1980s, was dealing with the stress of trying to be a mother and had suffered several miscarriages. She then went to the hospital and saw the baby, FBI agent Maria Johnson said in court documents.
"Pettway took the victim from the victim's family and this was totally unacceptable. Pettway is truly sorry," Johnson said Pettway told her in a written statement Sunday.
After taking the baby, Pettway brought her outside the hospital and, when no one stopped her, proceeded to a train and on to her home in Bridgeport, where she told friends and family members that the baby was her child, the agent said.
"Pettway is sorry and knows that she has caused a lot of pain," Johnson wrote.
Prior to representing Pettway at a court hearing Monday, attorney Robert Baum said: "She feels badly. She's very upset. She's expressed concern about her family. But she understands the gravity of the charges."
Pettway could face a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison or as much as life if she is convicted.
Asked about the FBI confession, Baum said: "Obviously it's alleged she made statements. We need to take a good look at the circumstances surrounding those statements."
Legal experts said her mental state also would likely play a role in her defense.
"If I was her lawyer, I'd want to know what was going on in her mind," said Jack Ford, a legal analyst for CBS News.
Brian Pettway, a 38-year-old cousin of Pettway who lives in New Haven, Conn., said his cousin appeared pregnant in 1987 and disappeared, only to return with a baby the family assumed was hers. He said Pettway was a reliable, loving and trustworthy cousin, one of his favorites.
"This is so uncharacteristic," Brian Pettway said. "We're all left with our mouths opened. It's kind of like a double loss. We accepted her (Carlina White) as family. Unbeknownst to us, she was not our family."
He said his cousin raised the girl "as best she could" in a crime-ridden neighborhood. He said the girl seemed happy and pleasant.
"She just raised that baby like it was her daughter, like she sat in that delivery room and gave birth to her," Brian Pettway said. "She never showed any signs of deceit."
White was 19 days old when her parents took her to Harlem Hospital late on Aug. 4, 1987, with a high fever. Joy White and Carl Tyson said a woman who looked like a nurse had comforted them. The couple left the hospital to rest, but their baby was missing when they went back the following day. A police investigation failed to locate the baby.
Carlina White has been living under the name Nejdra Nance in Connecticut and in the Atlanta area. She said she had long suspected Ann Pettway wasn't her biological mother because she could never provide her with a birth certificate and because she didn't look like anyone else in Pettway's family.
Johnson said in the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan that a detective who interviewed Carlina White recounted that Ann Pettway was quoted as saying she did not have identification for her because she had been given to Pettway by a woman who used drugs.
As the child grew up, she lived with Ann Pettway in Pettway's home at times and with Pettway's mother, who also lived in Bridgeport, Johnson said.
Ann Pettway's criminal record dates to 1977, when she was convicted of larceny in Connecticut. She also has forgery, criminal impersonation and drug possession charges on her record.
In the Raleigh case, she pleaded guilty last year to stealing $130 in cash, a pair of men's dress pants and a scarf from a Belk store where she worked, according to court records.
In an appearance on NBC's "Today" show on Monday, Tyson said he was very happy to have found his daughter.
"I have my whole puzzle. I have all my four kids now," he said. But he admitted he didn't know what he was supposed to be doing with a 23-year-old.
"Should I be feeding her baby food?" he joked.
Tyson said he would like to ask Pettway "why she did this to me for 23 years."
Carlina White periodically checked the website of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and, while looking through New York photos early this month, found one that looked nearly identical to her own baby picture. She contacted Joy White through the center.
Joy and Carlina White met in New York before DNA tests were complete, confident they were mother and daughter. After the test results confirmed it Wednesday, Carlina White returned from Atlanta to be with her mother again.
Johnson said Ann Pettway, during her FBI interview, referred to the victim as Nejdra Nance but also sometimes referred to her as Carlina.