By Casey Michel
By Dianna Wray
By Dianna Wray
By Sean Pendergast
By Casey Michel
By Cory Garcia
By Jeff Balke
By Craig Malisow
The battle over the boy had only just begun.
A few days later, Janice Heflin filed a petition asking Family District Judge Linda Motheral for custody of the child. Such requests are typically granted in only the most extreme cases, where it can be shown the natural parents pose grave physical danger to a child's well-being. In affidavits, the only bits of evidence the Heflins marshaled were speculations that the child, who suffered mild asthma, might be exposed to cigarette smoke, and Katamba might return with him to Uganda or Nigeria. They also said Odimara had assaulted Katamba, a claim she denies.
Even so, the order was granted without giving Katamba even a chance to weigh in, and a police officer knocked on Grace's door a few days later and seized young Fidel.
Fearing the worst from the Heflins, Katamba quit her job.
The first custody hearing over the boy sparked a media frenzy in August. The Heflins claimed Katamba had shown little interest in the child, and that Odimara beat the boy's feet together to punish him for not learning to walk. They also said Katamba had abandoned two other children in Uganda.
In a recent interview, Harry Tindall, the Heflins' attorney, further disputed Katamba's story. He said the Heflins never paid her to care for Gram or threatened her regarding her immigration status. They took her son to Austin on the weekends only because she was rarely around him. And they asked her to sign over custody, he added, because she said she planned to take a job in New Jersey and had asked them to raise Fidel Jr.
The Heflins "helped a woman in need," Tindall says. "They invited this woman into their home as a guest, to help her get back on her feet."
But Katamba says she now believes the Heflins tricked her. She has only one other child, Hakim, who is in the care of his father, her ex-husband Mahmood Ibrahim, a nurse in Germany, she says. And she never planned to move to New Jersey and leave her son. She says the Heflins created these lies and exploited her cultural differences in a calculated effort to steal her son.
Judge Motheral conducted three hearings and refused to rule on Jones's motion to dismiss the case. Then, in an unusual move, the judge independently dismissed it on her own motion. Jones discovered the news through the media. She thinks the Republican Party may have pressured Heflin to give up the fight to avoid political fallout.
"This whole thing reeks of influence," she says. "It reeks of the exercise of power without regard to the consequences of anything."
Katamba is just happy to have her child back. On a recent afternoon, she sat with Jones in her law office while Fidel Jr. boisterously played with a plastic telephone and a stuffed alligator. At one point, while Jones held the boy, he began aggressively pointing his finger as if lecturing his elders. It's just one of the unruly behaviors the boy picked up from the Heflins, who never disciplined him, Katamba says.
Nonetheless, life is looking up for Katamba and her son. Although jobless, she's receiving support from her new boyfriend, a U.S. citizen who has offered to marry her.
The ordeal has taught Katamba a lesson about people in America who claim to be devout Christians. "Just because they are for Jesus," she says, "doesn't mean I can trust them."
But despite the discriminatory undertones of the Heflins' claims on her child, Katamba is keeping an open mind. "Every country you live in, there are good people and bad people," she says. "So I can't blame all Americans." -- Josh Harkinson
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