By Heide Brandes
OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma (Reuters) - The biological father of a 4-year-old Cherokee girl at the heart of a protracted custody battle said Thursday he is giving up the fight for "Baby Veronica" so that she may live in peace with her adoptive parents.
Oklahoma resident Dusten Brown and the Cherokee Nation, who have been fighting for Brown's custody of the girl since she was given up for adoption by her mother shortly after birth, said they will drop all remaining legal appeals to her adoption in South Carolina.
Brown was forced to hand over Veronica 17 days ago to Matt and Melanie Capobianco after several courts found that their adoption of the girl was legal in spite of challenges by Brown and the Cherokees. She is now living with them in South Carolina.
The case highlighted the clash between Native Americans trying to stop children from being adopted outside their tribes and U.S. legal safeguards for adoptive parents
"Veronica is only 4 years old, and her entire life has been lived in front of the media and the world," Brown said Thursday at a news conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma. "I love her too much to continue to keep her in front of the spotlight."
Brown and the Cherokee Nation urged the Capobiancos to work with them to get courts to dismiss criminal charges Brown is facing as a result of the battle.
A spokeswoman for Matt and Melanie Capobianco could not be reached for comment. The family told local media on Wednesday they would not be giving any interviews.
Brown faces charges of criminal interference for refusing to turn over Veronica earlier this summer after courts upheld her adoption.
Brown broke down in tears Thursday as he read a statement to Veronica.
"One day you will read about this time in your life," he said. "Never, ever, for one second, doubt how much I love you and how hard I fought for you and how much you mean to me."
Brown and the tribe also said they hope the adoptive parents will honor a commitment they made to allow Brown to remain part of Veronica's life.
The case of Veronica, who is 3/256 Cherokee, centered on the Indian Child Welfare Act, passed by Congress in 1978 in response to Native American protests. The law established that it was best to keep Native American children with their families or, short of that, within their tribe to preserve their culture.
Veronica's birth mother, who is not Native American, arranged the adoption with the Capobiancos, who are white, before the girl was born. Brown had asserted he did not know the mother would give her up for adoption when he signed away his parental rights.
Brown, who was not married to the birth mother, argued that the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 allowed him to have Veronica. A South Carolina family court agreed with him and he took custody of her in 2011.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the law did not apply in Veronica's case, in part because her birth parents were not married and also because Brown never had custody. Her adoption by the Capobiancos in South Carolina was finalized the following month.
(Additional reporting by Harriet McLeod in Charleston, South Carolina; Editing by Karen Brooks and Andrew Hay)