The voice coming from the answering machine is haunting, chilling.
It's the taunting voice of a spurned lover threatening sexual and physical violence. The language is laced with obscenities and hollow laughter.Another message clicks on. It's the same voice but softer this time.
It apologizes, promises to take care of things, then concludes menacingly, "If you think I'm crazy, you're right. I am."
The voice belongs to George Alliss, 46, Blandenbro, N.C., and was left on his former girlfriend's voice mail at work. At least 10 times the same voice leaves similar, frightening messages for Jane Smith. (Jane Smith is not her real name. She requested anonymity to make it easier for her to become established in Utah.)
"We had an argument a day or two before," Smith said.
"It angered me and it freaked me out," she said of the January 1966 messages.
"I said some things I'm not proud of," Alliss told the Deseret News this week.
Smith and Alliss had dated in 1995 and Smith became pregnant. Now the product of their relationship is the subject of a bitter adoption challenge that could rip 21-month-old Jessica Bastean out of the only home she has ever known.
The adoptive parents, David and Renae Bastean of Payson in south Utah County, have cared for and nurtured the baby for nearly two years.
"We're fighting for our baby's life," said Renae Bastean, adding that Alliss frightens her.
The baby was born with a cleft lip. "We had to use a special tube to feed her because she couldn't suck," Renae Bastean said. "I was the first person to hold her when she was born. David and I were there. (Jane) said `Here, hold your baby.' She (Jessica) is emotionally frail. Moving her - the devastation would be so bad. We are the only family she has ever known," Renae Bastean said.
Alliss said the messages he left on Smith's voice mail that January evening in 1996 were his reaction to her angry threats to place the then-unborn baby up for adoption, even sell it, and her suggestions that the child was not his. He wanted the baby from the beginning, he said. Smith said if she said those things, it was in anger.
"That was my cry to tell her that I didn't want her giving my child up or selling my child," Alliss said of the messages. "She's not going to rob me of me knowing my child."
Smith recorded the messages as evidence to obtain a restraining order against Alliss about a month later. Alliss acknowledged pleading no contest to a separate stalking charge later that year.
When Smith was eight months pregnant, she left North Carolina for Utah, where an adoption service had put her in touch with the Basteans, who were seeking to adopt a child. A few days after Jessica was born, Smith relinquished her parental rights and baby Jessica went to the Basteans.
But Alliss wants custody of the baby, and the adoption process has been stopped, pending the outcome of the legal tug of war.
Now 4th District Judge Ray Harding Jr. must decide if Alliss has any right to challenge the adoption. If Harding finds that Alliss has parental rights here, he could dismiss the adoption entirely, said the Basteans' attorney, Phil Lowry.
Smith, who says Alliss was harassing her, said that during a moment of frustration early in her pregnancy, she considered giving Alliss the child, thinking he would then leave her alone. But she changed her mind.
"That would have been throwing my baby to the wolves," she said. "It's not that I didn't want the baby. It's just that he wasn't fit."
Alliss maintains he is fit. "I had a study done on myself to see if I qualify as a fit father through the (North Carolina) Department of Social Services," he said.
James Watt, Alliss' Salt Lake attorney, said that by disappearing to Utah, Smith denied Alliss his paternity rights, which he filed in North Carolina before the child was born.
If the adoption is thrown out, the birth mother would then regain her parental rights and the custody battle would begin in earnest, Lowry said.
"He's not going to win," Smith said.
Meanwhile, the Basteans have offered to give Alliss visitation rights and take no child support, Smith said. That offer was spurned.
"I've refused any offer of them to have custody of my child. This is an illegal adoption and that's going to be proven in court," Alliss said.
The Basteans' adoption attorney, Les England of Park City, said if the conception had taken place in Utah, the issue would have been resolved shortly after the birth because unmarried fathers here have few rights. But a loophole in the law allows natural fathers from out-of-state conceptions to challenge adoptions, even after they have taken place. Because of Alliss' challenge, this adoption has never been finalized.
That worries the Basteans. Harding wouldn't allow the phone messages to be admitted in court as evidence. He also disallowed a history of criminal convictions, primarily involving domestic abuse, Lowry said.
"I thought (the tapes) related directly to this case because (Harding) needs to know what kind of a person our baby would go to if he didn't rule in our favor," Renae Bastean said.
If Alliss wins this round, an appeal would be filed immediately, Lowry said. Documents supporting Alliss' claim are due in court Friday. Harding will then make his decision.
To gain parental rights in Utah, Alliss must file a timely claim of paternity here, which he has never done, Lowry said. However, Alliss filed a claim of paternity in his native North Carolina and Harding allowed it to stand here.
Lowry said he will appeal that ruling. Watts said Harding's ruling came after a North Carolina court ruled last month that Alliss had done everything in his power to retain his parental rights.
Alliss said he couldn't comply with Utah law because he didn't learn where Smith was until she notified him by fax the day before Jessica was born. Smith said she did that to comply with the law.
"I didn't want him to know where I was. That's why I left," she said.
Alliss also has to show responsibility for Jessica and her birth mother by providing financial support. He has paid nothing, Lowry said, not even for numerous surgeries the little girl had to undergo to repair the birth defect.
Watts said Alliss has promised to reimburse state Medicaid, which paid for the birth and subsequent surgeries, and become financially responsible for Jessica if Harding rules in his favor.
Alliss said he gave Smith $700 a few months after she learned she was pregnant, but she says it was a loan. Alliss said he hasn't given her anything since then and that his attorneys told him to ignore a request for several thousand dollars. He said he is willing to become financially responsible for Jessica. "No one has presented me with any (other) bills," he said.
Jessica was born June 7, 1996, and Smith relinquished her to the Basteans on June 14. On June 24 Smith went back to North Carolina to answer Alliss' legal claim for the baby. But instead of the child, she produced a document that stated she had relinquished her parental rights, which the court accepted.
"She beat it," Alliss said of his North Carolina claim for the baby.
In the Utah case, a hearing to determine Jessica's best interest has not yet been held. Lowry said that is premature and won't happen unless Alliss is given status in Utah to challenge the adoption. If a best interest hearing is held, a guardian ad litem could be brought in to see that baby Jessica's interests are protected.
The case has caught the attention of Hear My Voice, a child advocacy group based in Ann Arbor, Mich. The organization was started after another Baby Jessica adoption case in 1993 involving Jessica DeVoer, who is now 7 years old. In that instance, the child went back to her natural father after the court found that the mother denied the father his parental rights when she gave the baby up for adoption, said Debbie Grabarkiewicz, a case intake coordinator for the group.
"The child should have legal counsel," said Grabarkiewicz of Payson's Baby Jessica. Without counsel, she compared the court hearings to a property fight.
So far, the battle for Jessica has cost Alliss some $40,000, Watts estimated. The Basteans' legal fees have topped $70,000. A trust fund for donations in Jessica's name to help pay the Basteans' mounting legal bills has been set up at Central Bank in Payson.