JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The biological father of a toddler caught in a custody battle that has caught the attention of Florida lawmakers learned Tuesday he will spend Christmas and New Year's in the Duval County jail.
A stone-faced Bradley Hornback faced a judge after his second violation this year for not completing court-ordered counseling. That counseling was a mandated part of his sentence for beating his former girlfriend, the mother of the child we've come to know was Baby Liberty.
At 17 months old, Liberty Belle Phillips is a catalyst for change after the I-TEAM exposed a flaw in the Florida Department of Children and Families' criminal background check system -- a loophole the agency is already looking to close with two rule changes.
Liberty Belle's story has spread beyond Florida. A Virginia woman started a petition addressed to the judge that reached its initial goal of 1,000 signatures in just three days.
When Liberty was found to be neglected last year, her parents were deemed unfit to raise her and they later surrendered their rights. At the state's recommendation, Judge David Gooding placed Liberty in the care of Bradley's brother, Christopher Hornback -- a man News4Jax found had an outstanding active warrant for his arrest in Jacksonville on the day he was awarded custody.
The warrant was for domestic battery on his wife, Shonna, who told police Christopher was increasingly violent. The I-TEAM found he made had also threats with a razor to an ex-girlfriend in Jacksonville in 2009.
Gooding did not have that information when he decided to move Liberty from her home of 10 months with her maternal aunt and uncle, Ginger and Keenan Phillips, a home where the guardian ad litem found Liberty was "thriving" and had a loving and parental-like relationship.
Liberty's biological mother has met with her attorney to say she only surrendered the girl to Hornback's family because she was being threatened and in fear of her own life. Her attorney is expected to file a motion Thursday to reverse the mother's consent, which could then allow the judge to change Liberty's custody.
Phillips hope the judge will return Liberty their home, maybe in time for Christmas.
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