ORLANDO, Fla. -- A judge granted a 12-year-old boy's precedent- setting petition late Friday to terminate the parental rights of his mother and approve the boy's adoption by a foster family.
Orange County Circuit Judge Thomas Kirk ruled in favor of Gregory Kingsley at the end of a two-day trial of the boy's lawsuit seeking a 'divorce' from his parents, Rachel and Ralph Kingsley.
Ralph Kingsley has agreed to give up his parental rights, but Rachel Kingsley fought the petition. The parents are divorced.
The boy had spent only seven months with his mother during the past nine years, spending the rest of the time with various foster families and at a boy's ranch.
'This child has been abused, not abused but abandoned by statutory definition and neglected by Rachel Kingsley, his mother, and it is certainly in his manifest best interest that her parental rights be terminated immediately,' the judge said.
He also ruled that Gregory may now be adopted by his foster parents, George and Lizabeth Russ of Leesburg, Fla.
Gregory broke out in a big smile when the judge rendered his opinion. The judge went on to say, 'Gregory, you're the son of Mr. and Mrs. Russ at this moment,' as courtroom spectators broke out in applause.
'Next for him is to be a normal little boy,' Gregory's lawyer, Jerri Blair, said after the trial. Gregory left the courtroom without comment.
'He's happy,' George Russ said. 'He's excited and he's got what he wants and I hope this means that a lot more children in his situation in the future will be able to have the same successful results and I hope this case will have some part in giving other children that same right that we've obtained for Gregory.'
Lizabeth Russ said she felt sorrow for what Rachel Kingsley went through.
'I'm really sorry his mother had to go through what she had to go through,' she said. 'I wish it could have been done a simpler way so that she didn't have to suffer like she did.'
She also said if Gregory in the future wants to visit his mother, he could.
'But we're not going to force him,' she said. 'It has to be when he's ready.'
Gregory earlier testified he does not love his mother but doesn't hate her either. He sat up straight and answered questions from Blair in an even and steady voice.
When asked if he loved Rachel Kingsley as his mother, he said: 'No.' When asked if he loved his two brothers he responded: 'No.' But he added he didn't hate them either.
Rachel Kingsley wept during Gregory's testimony. She was not in the courtroom for the closing arguments or Kirk's decision.
Gregory testified that after being placed in foster care, he started calling himself 'Shawn.'
Kirk asked the boy, 'Did you change your name to Shawn because you wanted to start a new life?'
Gregory answered, 'Yes.'
The judge responded with, 'Well you can step down now, Shawn.'
Rachel Kingsley's lawyer, Harry Morall, asked the judge to dismiss the case, saying Gregory had failed to prove his mother was unfit. He said there was no testimony to support allegations she had abused or abandoned the boy, and said she should be judged by how she is living now, not how she lived in the past.
After the judge's decision, Morrall immediately went to the bench to tell Kirk he was filing an appeal.
'Naturally, I'm disappointed,' Morrall said. 'I felt that the allegations were not legally sufficient, and hopefully that the appeal will be successful.'
But Blair said, 'I think we have good legal grounds as well as factual grounds and that we will win in the appeal also.'
The child's lawsuit was the first such case in the nation. Legal experts have said it is important because Kirk's agreement to hear the case gave new status to the rights of children. They also said the case could redefine the boundaries of family law, especially in custody cases where children do not want to be returned to parents.
Gregory's lawsuit said his mother turned him over to an alcoholic father at age 4 and that his father abused him. It said he later was abandoned to a succession of foster homes.
When asked about a two-year period when he was continually in foster care, Gregory testified his mother never called him, didn't send him any Christmas presents, never visited him and didn't send any cards.
'I just thought she forgot about me,' he said.
Gregory was publicly identified in court documents only as 'Gregory K' until Kirk ruled the boy surrendered his right to privacy by appearing in a nationally televised interview last week.
Gregory said he wanted to be adopted by the Russes. Russ, a lawyer and a child's right advocate, has eight children of his own and met Gregory on a tour of a boy's ranch where Gregory had been staying.
On the stand Gregory said if he cannot be adopted by the Russ family, he wanted to return to the boy's ranch to live.
'I'm doing it (the lawsuit) for me, so I can be happy,' he said.
Russ, who first saw Gregory during the summer of 1991 when he toured the ranch as part of an 11-member committee examining the needs of children in the community, testified he was not looking for a child to adopt when he ran across the boy.
'For whatever reason, I saw him and when I left I just had an immediate feeling,' he said. 'And that's about the best way I can describe it, that he needed somebody, that he needed help, and I therefore inquired about him.'
Gregory went to live with the Russ family in October 1991.
Rachel Kingsley lives in the St. Louis suburb of Florissant, Mo., with her two other sons and her fiance. She testified Thursday she moved to Missouri from Florida because that state 'had more resources to help a person in my position.' She also said she had family there who could help her financially.
She said she placed Gregory and his brother Jeremiah in foster care because she was alone and couldn't take care of them. She said she lived in a one-bedroom apartment and worked up to 12 hours per day, six days a week, as a waitress. She said she was able to keep a third son, Zachary, with her.
She testified she remained in contact with Gregory and Jeremiah through the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services.
Rachel Kingsley denied allegations by a series of other witnesses that she had been a drug user and alcoholic. She also denied she abused the children and that she had committed prostitution.
She said she had tried to do everything the government had asked in a Jan. 4, 1991, agreement for her to get Gregory back.
Adelaide Davis, a lawyer and mental health counselor from Orlando, testified Friday she examined Rachel Kingsley at the request of the woman's attorney, Jane Carey, and found that Rachel was capable of caring for her children.
'I believe that she can provide a fit environment for her children,' she testified. She said Rachel had 'had a lot of hard knocks in her life,' but had worked hard to turn her life around.
But the judge was not impressed.
'I think she has lied consistently here,' Kirk said. 'I believe her case has been presented as best it could be presented by her attorneys, but it isn't enough.'