Ann Pettway, the Raleigh woman sentenced on Monday for kidnapping a baby in New York in 1987 and raising the child as her own for 23 years, will be portrayed in a TV movie by an acclaimed actress known for her work in Academy Award-winning films.
Aunjanue Ellis, who played Yule May in the 2011 hit movie “The Help,” will play Pettway in the upcoming Lifetime movie, “Abducted: The Carlina White Story.” Ellis also appeared in “Ray,” a 2004 Oscar winner about the life of Ray Charles, and in the 2000 film “Men of Honor,” starring Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr. Filming is under way now for the Lifetime movie, which should air later this year.
Pettway, 50, was sentenced by a U.S. District Court judge in Manhattan to 12 years in prison for snatching Carlina White from a Harlem hospital when the infant was just 19 days old.
Pettway pleaded guilty to the crime in February and explained that she posed as a nurse in the hospital where the baby had been brought for treatment, and even comforted the baby’s mother while she waited there. Pettway renamed the baby Nejdra Nance, forged a birth certificate and raised her in Connecticut.
The case was ultimately solved by Carlina herself, who had become increasingly suspicious of Pettway and her own identity. The young woman contacted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and was matched to her birth family through photos and a DNA test.
When the story broke in December 2010, Pettway fled her Raleigh home and, after a multi-state manhunt, surrendered in Bridgeport, Conn., where she confessed details of the abduction to an FBI agent. When she fled, Pettway had been on probation in Wake County for embezzling from her employer, the Hudson Belk department store at Triangle Town Center. Carlina White, who will be played by actress Keke Palmer, was reunited with her birth parents in January 2011.
Ellis said in a statement that she felt drawn to the Pettway role and believes the film will bring needed attention to the subject of child abduction. “This is a powerful role, and I am honored to have the opportunity to breathe life into this complicated character,” Ellis said.
The film is being produced by Pilgrim Studios, the same company that produced “Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy,” based on the true story of the American college student convicted and then exonerated of the murder of her roommate in Italy.
Ellis has been nominated for numerous awards for her film work. She is also known for her role as the tough-but-fair Special Agent Hightower for two-and-a-half seasons on the TV show “The Mentalist” and has had guest roles on “Blue Bloods,” “The Good Wife,” “True Blood” and “Missing.”