Woman whose mom abducted her as baby testifies at sentencing
Feb. 10, 2015
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (AP) — A woman whose mother abducted her as an infant and took her overseas more than 20 years ago stood in a courtroom Tuesday, fighting back tears, and told a judge she has had a good life even though she didn't know her birth father growing up.
"I was raised very fortunately. I was loved beyond belief," Samantha Geldenhuys, 21, told U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel after her mother, Dorothy Lee Barnett, pleaded guilty to parental kidnapping and two counts of falsifying passport applications.
The judge sentenced the 54-year-old Barnett — who lived in Isle of Palms when she took her daughter — to 21 months in prison followed by two years' supervised parole. She is expected to be released in a few months because she gets credit for time served since her arrest in November 2013.
That's after she was tracked down in Australia, where she had been living under another name since 2007. It was the first time her daughter learned about her past.
"It was a shock to me, and this is the last place I expected to be standing," Geldenhuys said. "It could have been great to grow up here."
She said she recently spent time with her birth father, Benjamin Harris Todd III. He had legal custody after her parents divorced.
"That was an experience I cannot describe in words," she said.
According to court records, Todd and Barnett went through an acrimonious divorce in February 1994. The family court found that "the mother steadfastly rejected that the father had a role of value to the child and that she and the child would be better off if he were not in the picture at all," records said.
Prosecutors said that a few months later, Barnett left for a birthday party during a visit with her daughter, then called Savanna Catherine Todd and nearly a year old, and didn't return. Barnett was eventually located in Australia and fought extradition but was returned to the U.S. in September.
Barnett told authorities that she fled to Malaysia and then South Africa, where she met and married Juan Geldenhuys, who is now dead. She said the family later lived in Botswana, New Zealand, and Australia, moving for her husband's employment.
She told authorities that over 20 years, the only person she had contact with in the United States was her brother, who has since died.
Before sentencing, Barnett told the court that she had separated from Todd while pregnant with her daughter. She thanked God for all the friends who have been taking care of her daughter and her son since her arrest.
"Ms. Barnett, there are no winners in this situation," the judge told her.