Dad SPC. JEFFERY WHITE was in a custody battle with his child's mother when White murdered her in 2005. Thanks to a screwed up legal system, Dad--though a convicted killer with life in prison and no possibility of parole--was able to stall the now 5-year-old child's adoption by the maternal grandparents. A vivid reminder that many fathers who demand custody do not always have the best motives or best interest of their children in mind.
Grandparents gain custody of murdered mom's son
By Rosemarie Bernardo
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jul 30, 2009
A Hawaii judge has ended a lengthy custody battle over 5-year-old Elijah LaDuke, whose mother was murdered by his father.
A Family Court judge approved Steve and Donna LaDuke's request to adopt their grandchild, Elijah.
The decision on Tuesday came almost four years after Elijah's mother, Spc. Felicia LaDuke, 22, was murdered by his father, Spc. Jeffery White, on Oct. 7, 2005, at Kaena Point. Elijah was 19 months old.
LaDuke and White were involved in a custody and child-support battle when the murder occurred. White was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.
Tears of joy and relief flowed from the LaDukes in Warroad, Minn., when the judge finalized the adoption via conference call with the LaDukes.
"It was a huge weight lifted off our shoulders," said Felicia LaDuke's stepmother, Donna.
Custody over Elijah stalled after White twice contested the termination of his parental rights.
"It's been a very long, uphill battle," said Donna. Felicia's father, Steve LaDuke, said, "(The adoption) should've been done years ago."
In a written statement, Lillian Koller, director of the state Department of Human Services, said the department is pleased the Family Court approved the adoption.
"Elijah's adoption necessarily involved a complicated and lengthy process because so many mainland relatives as well as one non-relative were vying for this child," said Koller. "DHS was obligated to carefully consider everyone who wanted to adopt Elijah. We are glad the issues have finally been resolved."
Elijah has been living with the LaDukes in Warroad, Minn., ever since the couple was granted temporary foster custody days after White's sentencing in December 2006. Before that, he was in state custody following his mother's death.
Elijah will start kindergarten in the fall. Family members say he has his mother's eyes and smile.
"It looks like Felicia is smiling at us," said Donna.
While the LaDukes are elated with the adoption, the pain of Felicia's tragic death lingers.
Steve LaDuke said he is reminded of his daughter by a song called "Sissy's Song," by country singer Alan Jackson, about a young woman who died too soon and how loved ones left behind undergo a whirlwind of emotions as they struggle to make sense of it all.
He said Elijah sings along with the consoling lyrics in the chorus.
"Every time he sings it, we all start tearing," he said.