JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A judge in South Africa found a woman guilty Thursday of kidnapping a newborn nearly two decades ago from a hospital and raising the girl as her own, just a short distance from where her devastated real parents were living.
Zephany Nurse, now 18, was reunited last year with her biological parents, Morne and Celeste Nurse, after the couple's second daughter befriended a girl at school who looked remarkably like her. After a police investigation and DNA tests, it turned out they were sisters and that the new friend was the Nurse's missing child.
Publicly, the girl is known by the name given to her by her biological parents and used in the media in the years since her disappearance. After she was found, the girl chose to continue using the name given to her by the kidnapper. To protect her privacy, a judge ordered that her adopted name and the name of her kidnapper not be used by the media.
The biological parents sobbed as the judge read the verdict, South African media reported.
Judge John Hlophe in Cape Town convicted the woman of kidnapping, fraud and contravening child protection laws, said Eric Ntabazalila, spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority. The judge revoked bail and the woman will be detained until her May 30 sentencing, he said.
Hlophe mentioned in court that the woman could be looking at a 10-year prison sentence, said Ntabazalila.
State prosecutors said the woman snatched a three-day-old baby from her sleeping mother's hospital bedside in Cape Town in April 1997. The prosecution also said the woman defrauded authorities when she registered the child as her own daughter in 2003 under a false birthdate.
"She is getting back the tears and the suffering over the 18 years (that) we went through," said Adam Nurse, the girl's biological grandfather.
Celeste Nurse told journalists outside the court: "I want to thank all you guys for supporting us through this trial. Building my relationship with my daughter is all that matters."
The girl was not in court and is taking final exams to graduate from high school.
The much publicized reunion between the girl and her real parents has been tense, with South African media reporting infighting among the Nurse family. The girl, struggling to adjust to her newfound family, has pleaded for her privacy, and in a statement appeared to give the woman who raised her the benefit of doubt.
"Don't you think for once that that is my mother? Whether it is true or not is not for you to toy with," she wrote, addressing journalists. "Take all the professionalism away and think how it would be if this was you and your family, and your reputation gets swept through the disgusting gutters of filth."
After her arrest, the court ruled that the kidnapper could not make contact with the girl.
Television images showed the man who raised the girl as his own weeping outside the courtroom. The defendant testified that her husband never knew that the child was not his.
The defendant, 51, had pleaded not guilty to all three charges. During the trial she testified that she adopted the child.
"I didn't know the baby was stolen," the woman testified, according to the African News Agency.
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