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Appeals court to decide child's fate Foster mother challenges biological mother who murdered baby 6 years ago


Should a mother who murdered her baby six years ago be allowed to regain custody of another child born to her since then?

That emotionally charged question -- which has drawn comments from advocacy groups around the country -- will be argued today before Maryland's highest court.

Two single women -- the mother and foster mother -- are battling over Cornilous, who will be 3 next month.

One is his biological parent, Latrena D. Pixley, 24, a Washington woman convicted of the 1992 murder of her 6-week-old daughter, but given a light sentence when a District of Columbia judge agreed that she was suffering from postpartum depression. Pixley was jailed for credit-card fraud three months after giving birth to Cornilous in 1996.

The other woman is Laura P. Blankman, 28, an acquaintance of Pixley's who took Cornilous into her home when his mother was sent to jail and who has custody of the boy. Blankman filed for adoption or custody as Pixley was being released from jail last year.

A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge ordered Cornilous returned to Pixley in December 1997 and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld that ruling in July.

Blankman appealed to the Maryland Court of Appeals.

The crux of Blankman's argument is that infanticide negates the presumption that a child belongs with its biological parents. Neither Blankman nor her attorneys would comment for this article.

Eleven child welfare and pro-adoption advocates have rallied behind Blankman and filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief.

This is an example of family reunification taken to "absurd extremes," contended Dennis J. Saffran, executive director of the Washington-based Center for the Community Interest.

"Family reunification got extended to apply to the most sadistic and abusive situations. Now we even have children sent back to abusive parents, even a parent who has murdered," he said.

Since being sentenced in 1993 to three years of weekends in jail for smothering her 6-week-old baby and throwing her body in a trash can when she didn't have formula to feed the crying infant, Pixley has undergone intensive therapy and counseling. She is working and studying at the University of the District of Columbia and lives in Hannah House, a supervised transitional home for troubled women where Cornilous visits overnight.

"We are saying the murder is relevant and material, but not to the exclusion of the other factors," said Ralph E. Hall Jr., one of Pixley's lawyers. "This incident led her to be exposed to the services that resulted in her betterment, so that she is now better able to care for her son than she would have been."

Both sides are asking the court, which can take years to rule on a case, to expedite a decision.

"There is a child here who deserves to have some finality over this decision," Hall said.

Pub Date: 12/07/98

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