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    Mom to let baby found in trash be adopted

    By CANDACE RONDEAUX, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 10, 2002

    ST. PETERSBURG -- The woman accused of throwing her newborn girl into a city trash bin told authorities Thursday she intends to let the child be placed for adoption.

    Stephanie Smith, 23, surrendered her parental rights and placed the child with Catholic Charities Adoption Services shortly after she was released from jail Thursday evening, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

    On Sunday evening, Smith gave birth, put the infant into a plastic bag and left her in a garbage can, St. Petersburg police said. Neighbors discovered the crying baby about 16 hours later.

    Police arrested Smith on Monday and charged her with attempted first-degree murder.

    Smith surrendered her rights to the baby about 12 hours before child protection investigators with the Sheriff's Office were scheduled to present their findings on the circumstances surrounding the child's abandonment at a hearing before a judge. That hearing was canceled Friday morning.

    The state attorney must now go before a judge to formally request that the court accept Smith's termination of her parental rights.

    But that is just one in a series of complex legal steps that must take place before the child, dubbed "Baby Doe," finds a new home.

    Before the baby can be formally placed for adoption, the father of Smith's baby must come forward and also relinquish his parental rights.

    A state law that took effect in October 2001 requires the court to notify the father of the mother's surrender of parental rights. The law reinforces the father's right to contest adoption proceedings.

    The identity of the father of Smith's baby has not been made public.

    The parents of the abandoned baby also will have to prove at separate hearings that they are competent to make such a life-altering decision about the baby's fate.

    No date has been set for Smith's competency hearing. Legal experts say the judge will probably order a psychological evaluation for Smith before making a ruling.

    "No one wants to come back after a child has been adopted to have a parent say they were forced or coerced or under the influence of drugs when they severed their rights to the child," said Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Frank Quesada, speaking generally about adoption cases.

    The baby remains in the hospital in good condition.

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