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A brush with Destiny 

Lonnie and Luann Boyd trusted the lawyer who took their baby. It was the biggest mistake of their lives.

click to enlarge Luann Boyd is flanked by her family, from left, daughter - Jessica (holding a photo of her sister Destiny) husband - Lonnie, and Luanns twin sons Cory and Kenneth. - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • Luann Boyd is flanked by her family, from left, daughter Jessica (holding a photo of her sister Destiny) husband Lonnie, and Luanns twin sons Cory and Kenneth.

It was a bitter cold, snowy day in Colorado Springs when the mad, mad world of alcohol abuse and heroin finally came crashing down, totally and completely and without any mercy at all, on Lonnie and Luann Boyd. Their wild lives had brought them plenty of grief and trouble, including stints in prison for each of them. But nothing had ever hurt like this.

Luann clutched her 2-day-old baby girl, who they'd named Destiny, tight to her chest for a final moment and then, weeping and confused and struggling to find another breath, she lifted the baby and placed her into the outstretched arms of an eager adoption lawyer on the sidewalk outside Penrose Hospital.

Their lawyer was later found guilty of malpractice for her role in this adoption. But Lonnie and Luann Boyd haven't seen their daughter since that day. The girl with her mother's stunning blue eyes lives on a farm in Garden City, Kan.

In January, she will turn 11.

"There isn't a day," Luann Boyd said, "that I don't think about her. About how she likes her school, about who her friends are, about what makes her laugh. And every day I think about that moment on the sidewalk outside the hospital. The last time that I ever saw my baby."

The tears flow hard then, and Luann Boyd, now 39, gasps for a breath. Sitting beside her, big, tough, ex-Marine Lonnie Boyd, 51, rolls up his right sleeve to show a tattoo.

"I keep her on my arm. And I keep her in my heart," Lonnie Boyd says, and then he too begins to sob, crying mightily about a child he'll likely never know and about a part of their lives that went horribly wrong.

Today, the Boyds are a hardworking couple with a family. Lonnie is a salesman for a Bob Penkus automobile dealership. Luann works in worldwide shipping for the International Bible Society. They have a nice house with three terrific kids.

But always, day and night, they know a piece of their family is missing.

On the streets

Luann Boyd's life began to slide when she was a teenager. She was born in Long Beach, Calif.; her father worked for the federal government and the family moved a lot. The big move came when she was in high school -- California to Miami.

"It was a bad school in Miami," she said. "It was fight or die. I got beat up a lot by other girls. I started doing drugs and got in with the wrong crowd. Cocaine and heroin. Then my dad got transferred to Boise, [Idaho] and I started living a street life."

Addicted to heroin and cocaine, Luann drifted back to California where things became stunningly worse. Desperate for money to feed her habits, she committed an armed robbery, was convicted and spent four and a half years in the notorious Chowchilla Women's Prison in central California. She got out at the age of 27. A few years later, she headed back to Florida, settling in St. Petersburg.

Lonnie Boyd served in the Marine Corps. After getting out, he began a nasty street life of his own in St. Petersburg. He became addicted to heroin.

"I spent 18 months in a Florida Department of Corrections camp for felony possession of marijuana and possession of cocaine," he said. "I sold drugs to make my own drugs. I paid dearly for it."

He was released from prison a few months after Luann had arrived from California. Both were in drug rehabilitation classes, struggling to break free from the heroin nightmare.

"A friend introduced us," Lonnie said. "He said we had a lot in common. Mostly what we had in common was that we were both drug addicts. But I kept calling her for a date and she kept putting me off. She'd say, 'Uh, I have to do laundry today.' And I'd say, 'Hey, I was in the Marines. I can sure fold laundry.'"

Eventually Luann agreed to see Lonnie. Before going to prison, she'd given birth to twin boys, Kenneth and Cory. And in 1993, she became pregnant again. Lonnie was the father. Their Destiny was coming.

click to enlarge Lonnie Boyd has a tattoo with the names of his two - daughters on his arm. - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • Lonnie Boyd has a tattoo with the names of his two daughters on his arm.

$10,000 per baby

Some 2,000 miles away, in Colorado Springs, adoption lawyer Melinda Garvert had set up shop, starting a practice that matched unwanted babies with adoptive families. She had a second law office in Kansas -- a state with few rules concerning adoption. Specifically, Kansas did not require mothers who were about to relinquish their babies to undergo any type of counseling.

The Boyds' attorney, Dale Parrish, said he believes Garvert was paid about $10,000 per baby by the adoptive families. He said he believes she may have orchestrated more than 500 such arrangements over a 10-year span -- on top of being paid $150 an hour in attorney's fees.

Garvert, who did not respond to requests for an interview for this story, no longer has a license to practice law in Colorado or Kansas. She gave up both licenses and folded both practices in the wake of a $130,000 malpractice and negligence judgment against her in the Boyd case. Last year, her only listed income came from a few days as a substitute teacher in Colorado Springs School District 11.

Luann says she met Garvert in 1993,

"When I got out of prison in California," she said, "my mom took my twins to Colorado Springs. She did it to keep them away from me, I think. When I got pregnant with Destiny in Florida, I began to be torn about life in Florida or in Colorado with my boys. I was off heroin and didn't want to go back to drugs. My life began to change, finally."

She moved to Colorado Springs and enrolled in drug rehab, group counse- ling through the El Paso County Department of Health. Lonnie joined her a few months later. Luann had joined a group of women who were or had been drug addicts. Many of them were pregnant. It was in September of 1993 that one of the woman in the group told Luann about a woman who arranged adoptions: Melinda Garvert.

"Looking back," Luann said, "Melinda had this pool of women to tap into, a pool of women who were alcoholics and drug addicts and pregnant. She was selling babies. It's that simple. She was in the business of taking babies from emotionally distraught women who couldn't make decisions. She'd find my baby a good home, she said. My life was such a mess that it sounded like a good idea. So I went along with her. She was very determined to get my baby.

"But within a month or so, I started to change my mind. I wanted to keep my baby. Melinda wouldn't let that happen. She told me to stick to my original feelings about why I wanted to give up my baby. She counseled me against changing my mind. We had started the process of adoption because we weren't sure we were capable of raising another baby. We had the twins, and our lives were still so confusing. But as the process moved along, I knew I couldn't go through with it. "

Fast-moving train

Documents from the El Paso County Department of Health and its McMasters Center drug rehab program show that starting in October of 1993, Luann indeed talked about changing her mind -- about wanting to keep her baby.

In Colorado, where an estimated 2,000 children are adopted each year, adoption laws require relinquishment counseling. Attorneys who are involved in the process must, according to the law, halt the adoption proceedings if the parents indicate they've changed their minds and must get their client into counseling. It gives the mother and father a chance to talk about the issue and, hopefully, reach the right decision.

In Garden City, Kan., where her other adoption law office was located, Garvert had found a couple that wanted the Boyds' baby. Kansas doesn't require relinquishment counseling. The Boyd case, Garvert would later claim in court, was a Kansas adoption.

On Jan. 24, 1994, Destiny Boyd was born at Penrose Hospital. Her hair was blonde and her eyes were blue and her mother squeezed her tight to her chest. Lonnie Boyd did, too.

"I was in the delivery room and I carried her from the delivery room to the nursery and it was just like ... all the time I had distanced myself prior to that, it was like magic or something. It all just hit me like a fast-moving train," Lonnie Boyd said in a deposition.

The train was about to move even faster.

"The moment I held Destiny in the hospital I knew I couldn't ever let her go," Luann said. "We talked to the nurses, both Lonnie and me, and we told them we'd changed our minds. The day after Destiny was born Melinda came to the hospital room and threw everyone else out -- Lonnie, my mother and even a hospital social worker. She said she had to talk privately with me. Then I told her that I wanted to keep my baby, that I just couldn't go through with the adoption.

"Melinda said she'd take the baby home the next day, just to give me time to think about it without having the baby around. She said Destiny was ruining my judgment. Then she brought out these papers she said were power of attorney papers so she could take care of the medical bills, and unless I signed them I'd be stuck with thousands of dollars in hospital bills. Somehow, I still trusted her. And I was still groggy from the medication after my C-section. And I signed the papers."

The documents were not power of attorney papers.

click to enlarge An undated photo of Destiny, now aged 10.
  • An undated photo of Destiny, now aged 10.

They were, according to court testimony, final adoption documents.

"The next day," Luann said, "they wheeled me out of the hospital with Destiny in my arms. Melinda took my baby and walked away."

Changing the law

At home, racked with grief and confusion, the Boyds didn't know what to do. They said they cried all night and called Garvert the following day. They were told, they said, that the baby was gone, in Kansas with the adoptive parents.

"She lied," Luann said. "At the trial we found out that Destiny was at a doctor's office here in town the day after Melinda told us she was already in Kansas."

What happened next is detailed in court documents.

"On Feb. 3, 1994, Luann Boyd visited the defendant's (Garvert) office and was instructed to sign certain papers with respect to the adoption. The plaintiff was advised that there was a six-month 'change-of-mind' period during which she could reverse the adoption and receive Baby Girl Boyd back from the adopting parents. At defendant's direction, plaintiff signed 'Consent to Adoption' forms captioned in the District Court of Finney County, Kansas. Approximately ten days to two weeks later Luann Boyd again contacted and advised the defendant that she wanted Baby Girl Boyd back. The defendant replied that there was nothing that could be done."

The Boyds hired Denver attorney Parrish. They said they wanted Destiny back. Parrish told them the documents had been signed and there was no way they'd get their baby back. He agreed to take the case only with that understanding, and said a court case could ensure that Garvert never did the same thing to anyone else.

"Ultimately," Parrish said recently, "the jury found that Melinda Garvert was doing consent adoptions under Kansas law so she could sidestep the requirements of Colorado law, specifically, the law requiring relinquishment counseling.

"The baby is born," Parrish continues, "word gets back to Melinda that Luann has changed her mind and the evidence showed that Melinda rushes down to the hospital, tosses out the social worker who has been talking to Luann, tosses out Lonnie and Luann's mother, and tells her this: 'I know what the problem is. The baby is right here with you and it's harder to do the right thing. Destiny's presence is confusing you. So I'll just take the baby tomorrow, and when you make your decision you just call me and oh, you'll have to sign this little paper here so I can take the baby while you're making your decision.'

"And then she has Luann sign the adoption form -- the legal document giving away her baby."

An El Paso County District Court jury found Garvert guilty of negligence and malpractice on March 25, 1998. She was ordered to pay the Boyds $130,000 -- $70,000 to Luann and $60,000 to Lonnie.

Garvert appealed the judgment. On Feb. 3, 2000, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled against her, refusing to reverse the El Paso County Court ruling. In its ruling, the appeals court wrote: "Whether or not attorney [Garvert] breached a Kansas duty is of no consequence, as we conclude that she was subject to a professional duty in Colorado. She is a Colorado lawyer, who represented clients residing in Colorado, in the relinquishment, undertaken in Colorado, of their child born in Colorado. Even though a portion of her representation, specifically the adoption, took place in Kansas, we conclude that she owed her clients the duty imposed upon her by Colorado professional standards."

The court further wrote: "Our review satisfies us that there was ample evidence, presented through expert testimony, to establish that there existed a standard in the community requiring a prudent attorney to discuss relinquishment counseling with clients in both in-state and out-of-state adoptions."

The appeals court also took note of the loophole Garvert used to bypass Colorado law. The Boyd case led to a change in that law.

"At the time of events here," the court wrote, "the Colorado statute pertaining to relinquishment required counseling for parents desiring to relinquish their children. The statute was unclear as to its applicability to out-of-state adoptions. The statute was subsequently amended (in 1997) to specifically require such counseling for children adopted within, as well as outside, the state of Colorado (Section 19-5-103 (12) C.R.S. 1997).

'Nice verdict, but it's

meaningless'

Following the Court of Appeals ruling, Garvert began signing away her assets in preparation for a bankruptcy filing. She filed a quitclaim on the deed to her home at 4705 Russett Oak Court in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood, giving full legal ownership of the property to her husband, Thomas Garvert. The couple still lives in the home. It's a two-story, 3,260-square-foot house with four bedrooms and four bathrooms. Its 2004 assessed value is $234,020.

click to enlarge Destinys adoptive parents in Kansas initially wrote - letters describing the childs progress. The couple - changed Destinys name to Abigail; the letters stopped - coming a few years ago.
  • Destinys adoptive parents in Kansas initially wrote letters describing the childs progress. The couple changed Destinys name to Abigail; the letters stopped coming a few years ago.

In her bankruptcy filing, Garvert claimed $167,467 in unsecured creditor debt, including more than $75,000 in credit card debt. On July 2, 2003, she was granted full protection under Chapter 7 bankruptcy law, wiping her financial slate clean. The Boyds never received any of the $130,000 judgment.

"Melinda had a $100,000 malpractice insurance policy," Parrish, the Boyds' attorney recalled. "When the jury announced its verdict, right there in the courtroom, with the judge still in the room, her attorney, Paul Cooper, sidles over to me and starts talking out of the side of his mouth, you know, looking straight ahead but talking to me on his right, and he whispers, 'Of course you realize that the defense costs in this case are about $99,000, and there won't be a penny left for you. Nice verdict, but it's meaningless.'

"I'll never forget that."

In her bankruptcy filing, Garvert claimed she owed her attorney $58,000 for "legal fees incurred in excess of insurance coverage in Boyd v. Garvert" -- far more than Cooper's alleged courtroom estimate.

Cooper, contacted at his Denver law firm of Cooper and Clough, said this: "The goofy thing is they never wanted their kid back. All they wanted was money. And they never even got that because Melinda Garvert didn't have any money. The plaintiff's attorney was a weird fellow, and his clients were equally weird."

And then attorney Cooper said this:

"Basically, the woman had seller's remorse."

The woman who arranged the purchase has never shown any regret. In her deposition taken Nov. 15, 1995, Garvert insisted she hadn't done anything wrong.

Asked by attorney Parrish if she had given relinquishment counseling to the Boyds, Garvert answered, "Absolutely." Asked to describe the counseling, she said: "Relinquishment counseling has to do with asking the birth parents if they understand the ramifications, the legal process, if they have questions, if they understand the permanency, a complete and comprehensive review of the legal procedure."

Luann Boyd says that positively, absolutely, never happened.

"There was never any discussion about any of that," she said. "None. A complete lie."

Photos stopped coming

The jury agreed. It also found that Garvert ignored Colorado law, which requires relinquishment counseling, and carried out the Boyd adoption under Kansas law for the specific purpose of getting around the Colorado requirements. Actual relinquishment counseling, conducted by a licensed therapist, might have changed the Boyds' minds about giving up their daughter.

Garvert, the jury ruled, did not want that to happen. Yet in her deposition, she insisted she did everything possible to provide the Boyds with all possible options.

"So even if mandatory counseling and relinquishment counseling wasn't required [under Kansas law], you have a higher standard of care than that?" attorney Parrish asked.

"Yes," Garvert replied. "Even though something may not be required, I will offer it to a client anyway. If, hypothetically speaking, I had a client who was wavering about their decision to place a child, I would suggest to them that they use every resource available to them to help them come to terms with what they actually wanted to do. That would include talking to family members about temporarily keeping a child until a decision was made that they were comfortable making."

Yet, in that extraordinary meeting with Luann Boyd in the hospital seve- ral hours after her baby was born, Garvert cleared the room of family members and a Penrose counselor and, according to Luann, told her it was too late to change her mind.

And the next day, the little girl with the blue eyes was gone. Nearly 11 years have passed. The Boyds received a photo of their daughter each year, a photo taken on her birthday. Two years ago, inexplicably, those photos stopped coming. Now there are just those fleeting memories of a few days together in a hospital.

"Our goal with the lawsuit was to get our daughter back," Luann said. "She was just three months old. But then, as the time passed, we decided that to pursue custody would remove her from her home in Kansas. It seemed selfish of us and unfair to our daughter.

"But I know in my heart that one day my Destiny will come back to me. I think about her every single day. And we still think of her as our daughter. She's just not with us."

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