No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Timesby Dorothy Rabinowitz
In No Crueler Tyrannies, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dorothy Rabinowitz re-frames the facts, reconsiders the evidence, and demystifies the proceedings of some of America's most harrowing cases of failed justice. Recalling the hysteria that accompanied the child sex-abuse witch-hunts of the 1980s and 1990s, Rabinowitz's investigative study brings to/i>
In No Crueler Tyrannies, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dorothy Rabinowitz re-frames the facts, reconsiders the evidence, and demystifies the proceedings of some of America's most harrowing cases of failed justice. Recalling the hysteria that accompanied the child sex-abuse witch-hunts of the 1980s and 1990s, Rabinowitz's investigative study brings to life such alarming examples of prosecutorial terrors as the case against New Jersey nursery school worker Kelly Michaels, absurdly accused of 280 counts of sexual assault; the as-yet-unfinished story of Gerald Amirault's involvement in the Fells Acres scandal; Patrick Griffin, a respected physician whose life and reputation were destroyed by one false accusation of molestation; and Miami policeman Grant Snowden's sentencing of five consecutive life terms for a crime that, as proved in court eleven years later, he did not commit.
By turns a shocking exposé, a much-needed postmortem, and a required-reading assignment for prosecutors and judges alike, No Crueler Tyrannies is ultimately an inspiring book about the courage of ordinary citizens who believe in the American judicial system enough to fight for due process.
Nat Hentoff Village Voice No reporter is braver, more tenacious, and more effective than Dorothy Rabinowitz.
The Washington Post [Rabinowitz] has a stylish, gripping way of conveying her indignation about the fate of adults who have been falsely convicted of sex crimes.
The American Spectator An invaluable introduction to the nightmare world of ludicrous accusations, complicit judges, credulous media, and hysterical publics. Rabinowitz tells the story simply, sparely, and calmly.
Read an Excerpt
How the Wenatchee investigations began is not easy to unravel even today. What is clear is that the now-famous roundup of Wenatchee citizens, all to be charged as child molesters, had its beginning in 1995 in the single-minded efforts of Robert Perez, sex crimes investigator for the Wenatchee police, and the like-minded staff of the local Child Protective Services in this town nestled in the foothills of Washington's Cascade Mountains, population 59,000. Of those charged, most were poor and indigent. Few could afford an attorney, and all would see their children taken from them.
The investigation and prosecutions quickly won the full backing of community leaders, the entire legal establishment, and the impassioned support of the town's one newspaper, the Wenatchee World. That there was no way to know what the suspects said when they were first questioned or what their interrogator said was not a problem. It was his custom, Detective Perez explained, to destroy original notes of his interviews. Nor did he keep audiotapes. Perez instead offered summaries which he composed himself, based, he explained, on what the suspect told him. That too was the form of the confessions that he offered. Still, nothing done or undone in these investigations dampened official enthusiasm for the cases Perez built. Wenatchee police chief Ken Badgley expressed his full support. The town mayor, Earl Tilly, issued a declaration in which he noted that the child victims in Wenatchee had suffered losses no less terrible than those suffered in the Oklahoma City bombing. As to critics of the investigations, the mayor explained that there were people of questionable motive prone to engage in "police bashing." Judge Carol Wardell broke down weeping while sentencing one sex ring defendant. The judge explained later that she had been moved to tears by her anger at people skeptical about these cases.
Of the many official pronouncements, none was more intriguing than the one from the head of the Wenatchee Chamber of Commerce, Melanie Shaw, also apparently outraged that people outside the community had begun to raise questions about the charges. The leader of that organization now insisted, with considerable fervor, that whatever anybody might say, Wenatchee certainly was home to a huge sex ring peopled by degenerates operating all over town. It is not easy to recall when the world last heard a chamber of commerce insistent on the truth of such a claim. Under the circumstances, those critical of the roundups and arrests were destined to have no easy time of it. Still, some in Wenatchee were willing. This small but intransigent bunch raised questions about the arrests, demanded accountability, and tried to find defense lawyers worthy of the name, and for this they would face no little hostility themselves. In a town inflamed over daily newspaper accounts of predators molesting children -- a community heartfelt in its gratitude to the authorities who had brought them to justice -- raising questions about the police, and even about the truth of these charges, was a clear invitation to trouble.
Connie and Mario Fry, leaders of the group, managed to live serenely enough, despite a car window shot out, a living room window shattered by a thrown rock, eggs tossed at their house, anonymous warning letters. During the regular meetings held at the Frys, a Mormon family, police cars slowly circled the house, while an officer recorded the license plates of the cars in the driveway. The oldest Fry daughter begged her parents to send her younger brothers and sisters to live with her out of state before Child Protective Services could file an accusation and have them taken away to foster care.
Her parents refused, though they knew the girl's fears were not unfounded. To run afoul of Perez and his allies at Child Protective Services was a proven danger. Any counselor or other child services caseworker expressing skepticism about the charges could expect trouble. At the very least, they were to be forbidden all contact with the children involved lest they undermine the prosecution of these cases. All this was in accordance with a 1994 order, issued by the state's Department of Social and Health Services, that children were to be removed immediately from counseling with any staff member harboring doubts about the allegations. One of the rare Child Protective Services workers to raise doubts about the validity of a charge soon found his career ended, himself among the accused. Otherwise, the child services agencies had no lack of counselors who could satisfy the requirement for absolute belief.
Whatever side they took, most people in Wenatchee agreed that the blond, rosy-cheeked Detective Perez could never have uncovered as many cases of molestation as he had without the aid of sisters Donna and Melinda Everett, ages eight and ten -- the accusers and chief witnesses in most of the cases. That these young prosecution witnesses also happened to be Detective Perez's own foster daughters and members of his household appeared not to trouble anyone in Wenatchee's law enforcement establishment. In 1992, one girl had already given fanciful testimony in another case -- testimony that nonetheless ended in a child rape conviction. In 1994, she came to live in the comfortable home of Detective Perez and his wife, where she was soon joined by her older sister.
In January 1995, the younger girl began confiding new names of molesters to an attentive Detective Perez, who had just been named chief sex abuse investigator. Perez and two child care workers subsequently took the girl on a ride around town, a journey reminiscent of the one taken in the McMartin case, where children had fingered half the population of Manhattan Beach, California. The girl was now asked to point out to Detective Perez all the locations in which she and other children had been assaulted. By the end of this journey, which came to be known to local skeptics as The Parade of Homes, the girl had identified twenty-three sites, the church and the home of local pastor Robert Roberson among them, as well as a molester or two she saw passing by on the sidewalk. All this information the child care workers carefully recorded.
In court, the girl held a large teddy bear while testifying against her half-sister, a terrified woman in her thirties. As the woman slowly shook her head, the young witness gave details of the woman's alleged sexual assaults. Troubled by a heavy cough, the child nevertheless appeared radiant. Her foster father, Detective Perez, smiled encouragingly from the prosecutors' table, and at the rear of the courtroom, Child Protective Services workers beamed, silently urging her on.
The prosecutors had, altogether, a core of four child witnesses giving testimony about the sex ring. Each child taking the stand came with a teddy bear, and each received waves and thumbs-up signs from Wenatchee's Child Protective Services personnel who helped develop the cases, avidly believed in the accusations, and packed the courtroom at every trial.
Within the first few months of investigation, more than forty people were arrested on similar charges -- several charged with 2,400 and more counts of sex abuse. One woman was charged with 3,200 counts of child rape -- a lifetime's work. Within months, Child Protective Services placed fifty children of the accused in foster care.
In this regard as others, no other agency provided more dedicated service to the prosecutors than Child Protective Services. With agency approval, some children of the accused were taken off to locked facilities (inaccessible to their parents' defense attorneys and family members) to undergo therapy. The benefits to the children would be hard to ascertain. The therapeutic advantages to the prosecutors were, on the other hand, clear enough: the children's treatment consisted mostly of efforts to induce them to give details of their parents' sexual crimes.
Of the accused, some plea-bargained and some confessed, faced with threats of a lifetime in prison and loss of their children. Many soon recanted those strangely stilted confessions studded with elaborate descriptions of child molestation orgies and the names of all the townspeople supposedly involved in those activities.
The list of suspected molesters grew apace.
Middle-aged Wenatchee resident Robert Devereaux became a suspect early in the investigations. A former businessman, he had given the most reluctant of consents when his wife decided they should run a group foster home. But by the time of their divorce, Devereaux had apparently found the work of his life. A social worker who had watched him at that work concluded that he was the rarest of foster parents -- the kind who did not burn out. There were, the same source said, no fewer than 200 girls in Wenatchee who owed thanks to him, and him alone, for the only stability and support they had ever known in their lives.
Of the alleged crimes charged to Devereaux, his former foster daughter Nikki scornfully declared, "This is a man who cared about discipline and modesty and about us. This is a man who went without all year and bought nothing for himself so he could give us -- we were all girls -- a proper Christmas."
Devereaux's problems began, in fact, precisely because the residents of his foster home were all girls, a fact that caught Perez's attention. Shortly after his divorce, the foster home they once praised as exemplary became, for Child Protective Services workers, an object of darkest suspicion. CPS workers went to schools attended by Devereaux's foster children to ask them if he had exposed himself to them and worse. In July 1994, Detective Perez arrested Devereaux and charged him with hundreds of counts of child rape and molestation, all connected with the sex ring circle alleged to hold its meetings at his house -- among many others in town. By the time Devereaux faced trial, twenty-two people had already been sent to prison, a number for very long terms. Nine more awaited trial, and no one knew how many more were to follow them. It was clear to Devereaux, charged with numerous frightful crimes against children, that he faced long years in prison if convicted. Unwilling to take the risk and with the police eager for confessions, Devereaux agreed to confess to two counts, both extraordinary for their triviality. He agreed to plead guilty to the spanking of one child and the charge of "rendering criminal assistance" (he had warned someone he might be arrested). Why, the bitter Devereaux wondered, would a man the police had accused of the most brutal multiple sex assaults be allowed to walk away with this slap on the wrist if they thought there was any truth to the charges? It was a question that needed no answer, Devereaux knew, as he sat in his darkened house, sold to pay the lawyers, a house empty of furniture, sold off to pay the bills -- a free man and also a ruined one like many another in Wenatchee.
For all their lack of official constraints, the sex ring investigators had their problems. The mere existence of a group like the one led by Mario and Connie Fry was trouble, not to mention their activities, which included spreading word about the interrogations and the dictated confessions. So, too, was their alliance with a reporter for KREM 2 News, a CBS affiliate, Tom Grant, a local TV reporter who would, alone of all local journalists, pick up on the truth about the Wenatchee sex ring story and hammer away at it relentlessly. The group's members busied themselves collecting funds for the defense of the accused, many of them people on welfare.
Mario and Connie Fry wiped the spittle from their car windows, tuned out the jeering and blasting horns of Wenatchee residents who drove by their house to yell that this or that defendant was guilty as charged. They mortgaged their house to pay defense expenses for one accused couple. All this activity did not endear Mario Fry, employed at Wenatchee's Public Utilities District, to the agency managers, one of whom suggested strongly that it would be best if the Frys ceased their efforts on behalf of the accused. Fry replied with the countersuggestion that anyone there who didn't like his activities should in fact try to fire him for exercising his rights as a citizen.
"You'll make me a rich man, " he told the manager.
Fry was not again troubled at work.
The trouble that found Paul Glassen at work was enduring in ways he could not have imagined at the time, and he was a man who knew enough to imagine a great deal. He was the caseworker who had described Devereaux's admirable work and the one who reported that Devereaux's daughter had come to his office to recant the accusations she had made. She had been willing to offer up lies about her foster father, she explained, because she was furious at his effort to discipline her.
For reporting this, Glassen was handcuffed and taken off to be booked on charges of "witness tampering." He became, also, instant persona non grata at Child Protective Services, from whose premises he was escorted. Child Protective Services supervisor Tim Abbey then proceeded to fire Glassen, alleging that he had failed to report other abuse, but even this did not bring him to full appreciation of the trouble in which he had put himself. This Glassen began to grasp when his name began showing up on the list of molesters identified by Detective Perez's witnesses. Soon descriptions of the molesters began to include references to "a guy named Paul. Paul said he worked at Child Protective Services."
Unlike most of those charged, Glassen was educated, and he could see the possibilities. For one, Child Protective Services could move to take his child away. This was enough possibility for him. In no time, he and his wife and five-year-old son were in a car headed for British Columbia, where his wife's family lived. At the time, he thought in a year he could well look back and see he'd been foolish to uproot his family, that his trouble with the agency would soon have blown over.
He was mistaken on all counts. The first months in British Columbia were pure misery -- life in a basement apartment, with no money coming in. It didn't help to see the suspiciousness his wife's relatives exhibited toward him once they learned why the couple had abandoned Washington State. The main trouble had to do with work, which Glassen found impossible to get for nearly a year and a half. Nor could he understand why, until he discovered the long reach of the Wenatchee investigators. Each time a prospective employer conducted a criminal behavior check, as social service agencies were all required to do, his name appeared along with a report. The employer could read in that report that Paul Glassen had been a suspect in the molestation of more than fifty children and that one of the children he was suspected of victimizing was his own. Employers who wanted more information were advised to get in touch with Detective Perez or with an investigator for Washington State's Department of Social and Health Service.
One of the first members of the Pentecostal Church of God House of Prayer to be charged was Sunday school teacher Honna Sims, accused of raping and molesting children during the group sex adventures alleged to have taken place at Pastor Robert Roberson's church every Friday and Sunday night. Each young accuser offered versions of these festivities, dazzling in their variety. One child claimed he was so tired from having to engage in sexual acts with all the adults at the church on weekends that the pastor would write a note to school to get him excused on Mondays. Another told of inflatable sex toys kept under the altar, of the pastor lying on stage crying "Hallelujah!" while attacking young victims during services, of mass child rape (at the church and elsewhere) by men all in black wearing sunglasses and by ladies wielding colored pencils and carrots, and of crowds of adults so organized that everybody got a turn with each of the children. Anyone who missed his turn with a child would get an extra visit that month.
Neither the fifty-year-old Roberson nor his forty-five-year-old wife, Connie, were altogether surprised when the police arrived to take them to the jail. Roberson had begun questioning the sex ring investigation when Perez obtained a long, articulate statement of confession from one of the pastor's parishioners -- a woman, Roberson knew, of limited intelligence who could barely put two sentences together. The pastor's difficulties multiplied when it became clear that he was monitoring the investigations closely and keeping a record. His indefatigable record keeping on every arrest, every detail of every charge, on the history of the accusers, inevitably branded Roberson a troublemaker, to be added to the lengthening list of sex ring suspects.
In March 1995, the pastor stood up at a public meeting and loudly denounced the arrests and the investigators' tactics. Five days later, police took the Robersons to jail, where they were kept on a million dollars bail each and where Robert Roberson was regularly beaten up, the guards having informed prisoners of the child molester in their midst.
The Robersons were imprisoned on charges that they had committed sexual assaults on their own four-and-a-half-year-old daughter and an eleven-year-old girl -- charges that would in due course multiply to include sex crimes of a staggering variety. The number of their alleged victims would multiply, too, as the Robersons' young accusers told rapt police and CPS investigators of more and more children abused in corners and crevices of the pastor's small church; of child rape in more conspicuous places, including the altar, during services; and of orgies in a variety of other locations around town.
Following their arrest, the Robersons' daughter, Rebekah, was taken off to a foster home and given over to the ministrations of Child Protective Services and allied abuse investigators. The latter's interrogations soon enough produced the results they sought. The investigators could report that Rebekah had made a disclosure of sexual assaults committed by her parents.
Pastor Robert Roberson and Connie Roberson went on trial in November 1995. The prosecutors charged that the couple hosted parties of adults who gathered weekly to assault as many as fifty children at their church. These revelries took place, it was alleged, following services Friday through Sunday nights, at which time Pastor Roberson would order everyone into the basement to undress. So directed, scores of adults would line up to commit sexual acts with children, after which, the accusers reported, hot cocoa and cookies were served.
The trial was a pivotal one for the prosecutors, involving as it did the most sensational of all the alleged sex crimes unearthed by Wenatchee's chief sex abuse investigator, Perez -- mass assaults on children. It was therefore no trifling matter when the state discovered that they would be deprived of the two chief witnesses against the pastor and his wife. First came news that the child whose accusations were the basis of nearly all the sex ring cases -- Detective Perez's own eleven-year-old foster daughter -- had had a breakdown and had to be placed in a psychiatric hospital. She would not again be giving court testimony, a spokesman declared. This left the other child witness against the Robersons, and this one had a credibility problem too dangerous for the state to ignore. A regular witness for the prosecution in the sex ring cases, she had recently admitted under cross-examination that she had made false rape charges against both her foster father and her psychological counselor. That counselor himself then testified that the girl had threatened to tell people he had molested other children.
The prosecutors moved quickly to solve their witness problem. Days before the scheduled start of the trial, they announced that the case against the Robersons had been amended to include four new victims. Seventeen additional counts of child rape and molestation were now charged to the defendants. The list of the new victims to testify included the Robersons' five-year-old daughter, Rebekah.
The last time the defendants had any contact with their child was the day they were arrested. Roberson was cuffed outside his church while distributing supplies from the food bank he ran for the poor. Rebekah was taken into custody by Child Protective Services and interrogated by a therapist. By the fourth session, the therapist reported that she was able to determine that the child had been sexually molested. Whatever the girl actually said in the interview, and how she came to say it, only the therapist knew. She had made no recording of the interviews.
The new list of witnesses against the Robersons included an adult who would give detailed descriptions of the action at the church. Gary Filbeck, a repeat sex offender who not long before had been arrested for first-degree rape, had struck a highly advantageous deal (charges reduced to assault and a sentence of under one year) in exchange for testimony in this and other sex ring cases. Filbeck would provide some of the most colorful accusations in this case -- no small distinction. According to this witness, Pastor Roberson had stripped and raped children onstage during services, while declaiming, "This will drive the devil out!" Filbeck also provided numerous and rich descriptions of the pastor's sexual climaxes and the accompanying cries of exultation from the congregation.
He was now the only adult witness -- and the key witness -- against the Robersons. The prosecutors declared in their amended charges that in his statement, "Mr. Filbeck describes being present at the Pentecostal Church and observing Robert Roberson sexually molest R.R." (his daughter, Rebekah). Further, they had Filbeck's testimony that "Connie Roberson was present, and by her presence and words encouraged and assisted the acts of Robert Roberson." Mrs. Roberson herself stood accused of fifteen acts of rape and molestation.
The jurors heard the prosecutors' description of the sexual abuse the Robersons had inflicted on their own child and how it had all been uncovered. Following her parents' arrest, the child was given sex education therapy. During this treatment, administered when the child was in state custody, counselor Donna Anderson introduced the child, then four and a half years old, to a picture book with graphic illustrations of men and women cohabiting and with details about hardening penises and the like. Ms. Anderson had been moved to introduce this book, she explained, out of her belief that the child had been molested by her father.
Overall, the state prosecutors did not conceal their view that the social class to which the pastor and the congregants of this church belonged bore a direct relation to their crimes. In his closing argument, the Douglas County prosecutor said that the stains on the church carpet could have been vaginal discharge or possibly urine. Perhaps, the prosecutor said, the people who attended this church were given to urinating on the floor. It was not the first time such comments had been voiced about this church and its congregation, most of them welfare clients, without education, and in other ways at the lowest rungs of the social ladder.
While holding forth on his investigations of the Pentecostal Church of God House of Prayer prior to the trial, Douglas County sheriff Dan LaRoche told one reporter, "Yes, it's a church. But the congregation is broke. The church is a mess, a real dump. It's not like we busted Notre Dame." Early in the trial, prosecutors introduced some fifty slides showing the unkempt grounds of the church -- presumably in the hope of shoring up their contentions about the manifold evils taking place inside. The Robersons' defense attorney, Robert Van Siclen, argued -- in vain -- that the slides could conceivably be relevant, but only if the defendants had been charged with littering.
For all their advantages -- among them a judge clearly hostile to the defense -- the prosecutors had their problems, including a number of prosecution witnesses who seemed to end up, in effect, as witnesses for the defense, leaving trial observers wondering what had impelled the prosecutors to call them. These included members of the Washington State Patrol and other experts who came to testify at great length about forensic light sources, laser equipment, and other advanced methods employed in their effort to find traces of semen in the church. When their exhaustive testimony finally ended, these prosecution experts offered their conclusions: no trace of semen was to be found in the church.
A thirteen-year-old witness for the state took the stand to testify that she had seen nothing untoward at the church, which she had stopped attending only because she was worried about enough time to do her homework. But, the prosecutor asked, hadn't she told investigators from his office that she remembered feeling uncomfortable at the church? No, she had not, the witness replied. Another prosecution witness maintained that he had been sexually assaulted by Pastor Roberson, a claim seriously undermined by the revelation that he had been confined in an institution 150 miles away at the time of the supposed molestation. When asked to identify the pastor who had raped him, the witness pointed to defense attorney Robert Van Siclen. In the end, the prosecutors affirmed their full confidence in Gary Filbeck, the convicted child molester who got a deal in exchange for his testimony. He was, they declared, their key witness. "It takes a sex offender to catch a sex offender," explained one state attorney.
Jurors took somewhere between four and five hours to acquit Pastor Robert Roberson and Connie Roberson of all fourteen charges of child rape and molestation brought against them, though they had in fact required nothing like this much time to come to their verdict. "It was," a juror dryly reported, "not a difficult decision for us."
The case went to the jury at 7:30 P.M. on a Friday, after which time a foreman was chosen, a pizza consumed, a straw poll taken. Monday morning, all twelve voted for full acquittal on the first poll. They would make no secret of their reasons. Neither prosecutors nor police, they charged, had troubled to investigate the merits of the accusations made against the Robersons. "There was nothing to this case," a juror observed. "Why did they bring this trial? Here were all these people who had attended every church service for the past three or four years, who had never seen anything like what the prosecution was describing, and the prosecutors had never even talked to any of them."
The defense prevailed despite the extraordinary restrictions placed on its attorneys by Judge T. W. "Chip" Small, who refused to allow any discussion of tainting of witnesses or references to interviewers who led children. The Robersons were now permitted to claim their child, whom they had been forbidden to contact in the nine months since their arrest -- though they would still have to allow investigators to inspect and make home visits.
Most other Wenatchee defendants who went to trial would not see so successful an outcome. The Robersons were represented pro bono by Robert Van Siclen, a singularly talented Seattle attorney appalled by the case -- precisely the kind who could make jurors wonder why it had ever been brought, who could, in his soft-spoken way, bring home to them the absurdity of a prosecution in which the state never bothered talking to the parishioners. Attorneys of this kind were unavailable to most other Wenatchee defendants, who had to make do with state-appointed lawyers who were undertrained and, with an exception or two, uninterested in serious combat with state prosecutors. The few defendants able to hire experienced attorneys, usually gifts of local philanthropists, were the fortunate ones. Indeed, no one charged who had a private attorney ended up going to prison. One of the several frightened accused who had signed confessions under interrogation by Detective Perez was twenty-eight-year-old Susan Everett. A Wenatchee citizen infuriated by this prosecution retained one of Seattle's more prominent attorneys to represent her. With John Henry Brown on the scene dealing with the Wenatchee prosecutors, Everett soon had little to worry about compared to what might have been her fate otherwise. She was charged with a misdemeanor and sentenced to less than a year.
Ralph Gausvik, whose house was among those Detective Perez's foster daughter pointed to during her drive around town, was found guilty on all counts. This outcome did not surprise anyone who had seen the performance of his state-appointed defense counsel. Remarkably enough, though Gausvik's trial was held at the height of the furor over Detective Perez's interrogations, the defense attorney managed a cross-examination of Perez without asking a single question. If the accused's defense attorney had no questions about Detective Perez's tactics, why should the jury have any? Gausvik, who maintained his innocence and who signed no confession, was sentenced to twenty years.
Mark and Carol Doggett were not considered part of the sex ring circle. Their trouble with Detective Perez and the law began when the couple decided they should seek help from Child Protective Services upon discovering that their difficult thirteen-year-old son had forced himself on his younger sister. In short order, Child Protective Services concluded that the son was not the problem; rather, the parents had been molesting all their children. The youngest of their five children was the first to be taken off to be interrogated. In due course, the Doggetts stood charged with raping their children nightly. The oldest of the children, seventeen-year-old Sarah "Sam" Doggett, became an object of hot pursuit by Child Protective Services personnel since she appeared on local television to denounce the charges against her mother and father as ludicrous. The day after her television appearance, Child Protective Services personnel came looking for her. The eldest Doggett daughter hid out at the apartment of a relative, far from Wenatchee. There she raged at the "memory recovery" treatment given her small sisters to help them remember details of abuse. Sam had herself been carted off to a locked facility, in order, the therapists explained, to help her to overcome her denial of her parents' sexual abuse.
That her parents were devout Mormons did not help their case. At home in the mornings, the Doggett girl recalled, the family took part in a prayer circle in which each child asked God's help for the challenge of the day ahead. It was not a memory that would have impressed the Child Protective Services personnel. Indeed, it was the view of a considerable quarter of the child care establishment and Child Protective Services personnel in Wenatchee that Mormons were to be viewed with suspicion -- as a cult given to sexual abuse and, at the very least, to other degrading and unhealthful influences on children.
Child Protective Services supervisor Tim Abbey was present, along with Detective Perez, when Mark Doggett was picked up and interrogated. It was soon clear to Perez that Doggett would not confess and would continue to maintain his innocence. Perez then proceeded to inform him in vivid detail the nature of the sexual attacks he could suffer in prison if he didn't confess to his crimes. Doggett first had the idea, when he saw Tim Abbey, chief supervisor of Wenatchee's Child Protective Services, that this official was there as a mediator -- someone he would be able to appeal to. He was, after all, a social worker. How mistaken he was became clear soon enough as Abbey himself began describing the treatment Doggett could expect in prison if he didn't confess now.
Detectives, he understoond, made such threats -- but a social work administrator? When the interrogation finally ended, Abbey announced that he was now going home to his wife and family and that Detective Perez was going home to his, but as a result of his refusal to admit guilt, Doggett would be going to prison.
The Child Protective Services official had no doubt that the Doggett children were raped nightly by their parents. According to the charges elicited from the youngest Doggett child, then age eight, Mark and Carol Doggett made their children line up outside their bedroom every night so they could take turns coming in to engage in sexual acts with their parents.
In 1995, Mark and Carol Doggett were found guilty, each given a sentence of ten years and ten months. They were sentenced by Carol Wardell, the judge who had been moved to tears of rage that there could be people who failed to believe the truth of the sex ring charges.
In time, the appeals courts overturned one conviction after another. In 1997, the young New York appellate attorney Robert Rosenthal, by now one of the leading experts in these cases, won a reversal of Carol Doggett's conviction. Attorney Eric Nielsen won a reversal of Mark Doggett's conviction.
The Washington State papers, which had paid little or no attention to the Wenatchee cases at the height of the investigations and roundups, in time began to turn out comprehensive investigative pieces on the story. There were calls for state investigations. In 1998, a state appeals court appointed Whitman County Superior Court judge Wallis Friel to hold hearings into the conduct of the investigations and the evidence against one couple, which became a commentary on all the cases. Harold and Idella Everett were central figures in this story, not least because they were the parents of the girls who had made all the accusations. In his findings, a lethal description of the behavior of Child Protective Services therapists, counselors, and state witnesses, the judge enumerated in elaborate detail the accusations of the state's two star witnesses, Donna and her sister, Melinda, and concluded that "no rational trier of fact would believe these allegations."
Ralph Gausvik, who had wept throughout his trial, been sentenced to twenty years, and refused all offers of a guilty plea, won release when Rosenthal filed a petition in his behalf.
After his exoneration, Pastor Robert Roberson embarked on an unyielding legal battle on behalf of those still imprisoned. With his copious records, his unequaled grasp of the details and overall history of this affair, Roberson proved an indispensable guide for attorneys working on the criminal and civil cases.
Caseworker Paul Glassen, who had fled Wenatchee with his wife and child, ultimately found a job, notwithstanding the computer listing him as a suspected abuser. Late in the summer of 1996, when he had gone jobless for a year, he approached the adminstrator of the Canadian social agency who had just hired him and with trepidation informed her of what she would be finding in the criminal background check. That check would mention a felony, the charge of police obstruction, and the fact that he was suspected of molesting fifty children. She listened to this recital without interruption, and when it was over, she had but one question for Glassen: Did this mean he would now be able to start full time?
Glassen remains employed at the agency, grateful, still, for the memory of that moment. He received a settlement of a few hundred thousand dollars from the city of Wenatchee and a letter declaring that he was not involved in or suspected of crimes of child sex abuse.
Former businessman and foster father Robert Devereaux, who took the minor plea and sold his house to pay his lawyer, lived an impoverished man thereafter. He was invited to live in a small apartment belonging to one of his grateful foster daughters, now married, and found employment at a service station, where he still works.
Cited in numerous civil suits still pending against the city of Wenatchee, Detective Robert Perez retired on disability.
Perez's star witnesses, Donna and Melinda Everett, returned to live with their biological parents, Harold and Idella Everett. Now in their late teens, the former witnesses have publicly declared that none of the crimes they described ever took place.
Copyright © 2003 by Dorothy Rabinowitz
Meet the Author
Dorothy Rabinowitz, winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in commentary, is a member of the editorial board and a culture critic for The Wall Street Journal. She writes opinion pieces and television criticism for the paper. Prior to joining the Journal, Ms. Rabinowitz was an independent writer. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Commentary, Harper's Magazine, and New York. She is the author of New Lives, a study of survivors of the Nazi death camps, and has been a syndicated columnist and television commentator. She lives in New York City.
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Rabinowitz writes for the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which tells you right off the bat that she is prepared to omit facts that complicate her argument. She's the same person who wrote an article accusing the President of the United States of rape on evidence that was not even one-tenth as strong as that of any of the cases discussed in this book. Similarly, although she repetitively deplores prosecutorial abuses in this book, she also wrote a column defending the Patriot Act, which grants prosecutors arbitrary powers far broader than anything described here. The explanation for these inconsistencies? It's simple, if you're Dorothy Rabinowitz: first you decide if you like someone or something; then you marshal all the facts that support your point of view and suppress any contrary facts. Her evident goal was to assemble anecdotes to support a preconceived conclusion -- and it must be admitted that she does so with a good deal of literary flair. She's an excellent writer. But anyone reading this book needs to know that it is far from a full or even honest account.
This is an important book that describes modern-day miscarriages of justice in prosecuting alleged child abuse. The author deserves high praise for her work in ferreting out the truth. One of the scariest books I have read.
I've admired Ms. Rabinowitz for years for her pursuit of justice for those such as Gerald Amirault unfairly convicted of child abuse. Maybe someday there will be investigations of those who were responsible for the gross miscarriages of justice that the author describes in her book. In the book 'Fooled by Randomness', author Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes 'After listening to statements during the O.J. trial (and their effect) I was scared, truly scared of the possible outcome; my being arrested for some reason that made no sense probabilistically, and having to fight some glib lawyer in front of a randomness illiterate jury'. He could just have easily been talking about some of the trials described in this book. Except here he would have reason to fear the apparently biased judges, 'expert witnesses', and ambitious prosecutors as well, few of whom seemed to have any interest in the truth. Truly scary!!