Family Loses Eight-Year Custody Battle

Feb. 21, 2007 — -- Anna Mae, 8, has lived all but three weeks of her life with Jerry and Louise Baker.

Over the coming months, by Tennessee Supreme Court order, Anna Mae will be gradually returned back to her biological parents, Jack and Casey He, who the Bakers fear will soon take the girl back to China.

The Bakers waged an eight-year-long custody battle with the Hes over Anna Mae, and last month the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned past rulings to give custody of Anna Mae to her birthparents.

The girl, who was born and raised in the United States, has rejected her Chinese heritage, saying she "never" wants to go to China.

She won't eat Chinese food anymore, and tells people that she's Mexican.

The Bakers agreed to take Anna as a baby when the Hes could not afford to pay for her medical bills. The two families fought bitterly over whether that arrangement was permanent, and last month, after eight long years, her biological parents won the right to raise her.

It's a ruling the Bakers and their attorney are still fighting.

"She has rights, and those rights are being run over with a Mack truck," said Larry Parish, the Bakers' attorney.

The court has ordered both sides to carefully transfer custody, and lawyers for both sets of parents will meet today to decide on how to implement the transfer.

No matter how gradual the transition though, the Bakers say changing Anna Mae's residence cannot erase eight years of familial closeness.

A Difficult Transition

"Anna is going through denial right now," Jerry Baker told "Good Morning America."

"What we are trying to do is prepare for the worst and pray for the best," he said.

Baker said that he and his wife had tried to explain the court ruling to Anna Mae.

"She doesn't understand that it's very likely that she will be put into a car and taken to strangers. She doesn't understand those things. All she knows is the family that she's known since she was 3 weeks old," Baker said.

Parish, the Bakers' attorney, said that everyone's focus had shifted to creating the best possible situation for Anna Mae.

A Painful Eight Years

Could such a long and protracted custody battle have been avoided?

Louise Baker told "GMA" that what the Bakers had done was right and that they had followed the rules to retain custody of Anna Mae.

It's a fight they have waged since 1999. After Anna Mae was born, her parents, newly immigrated from China, decided they could not afford to take care of her and gave her up -- temporarily, they thought.

The Bakers have said they understood otherwise, and testified that they deserved sole custody, without visitation from the He family.

The Bakers won the first court battle, saying that the little girl would be better off with them and that the Hes would likely return to China with the girl if they got her back.

Child advocate lawyers found that argument racist and helped the Hes argue their case before the Tennessee Supreme Court.

"You don't judge a parent's fitness based on the country they come from or based on the amount of money they have," said Bruce Boyer of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law.

The court agreed and ruled that the Hes should get their daughter back.

The Hes, who now have two other children, have celebrated Anna Mae's birthdays without her, and have seen her only once since losing custody.

"It has been difficult, but we always have the faith that she would come back because we know that we are good parents," Jack He said.