A Dickson County judge on Friday ordered a 9-year-old girl in the midst of a blistering custody battle to remain with her biological father in Nebraska.
Dickson County Juvenile Court Judge Andy Jackson denied a request from her foster parents, Kim and David Hodgin of Dickson County, to bring her back to Tennessee so they could try to convince the courts that the girl, Sonya, should live with him.
The girl is known to her biological father as Sonya McCaul and to the Hodgins as Sonya Hodgin. Her case drew national attention when she was taken from the Hodgin family in January after they had been her foster parents for eight years.
Her biological father had lost custody because he was in federal prison on a weapons charge. But the Tennessee Court of Appeals had found that the lower court erred in determining that McCaul should relinquish custody altogether because of his imprisonment.
Today's hearing included arguments about the rights of biological parents and the limits to those rights. Jackson ruled that McCaul's rights outweighed the rights of the Hodgin family. The Tennessee Department of Children's Services has taken McCaul's side despite widespread public outcry over the case.
Hillary Duke, a court-appointed guardian ad litem assigned to look after the best interests of the child, said Sonya has been doing well in Nebraska and should stay there.
"It would be detrimental for her to come back," she said.
After the hearing, McCaul and his attorney, Lynn Coffinberry, avoided the media and did not speak. The girl did not attend the hearing.
David Hodgin said the outcome was "devastating for Sonya."
"Sonya doesn't deserve the pain that this court and DCS have given her, and we will never stop," he said.
He said he and his wife are prepared to take the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
The judge scheduled another hearing to get an update on Sonya's well-being for June 18.
Reach Brian Haas at 615-726-8968. Follow him on Twitter @brianhaas.