A Nightmare In The Northwest

The chamber of commerce calls this small valley community covered with apple orchards the "Land of Dreams." But one day in March 1995, the rural area 150 miles east of Seattle became a place of nightmares.

On that day - known by locals as the "drive-by," Wenatchee police Detective Bob Perez went for a drive with his 10-year-old foster daughter Donna.

From their car, Donna pointed out 18 locations where she said she had been sexually molested by dozens of adults in the Wenatchee area.

By the end of the year 43 people had been charged with some 29,000 counts of sexual abuse against 60 children, including charges of ritualistic orgies and a loosely organized sex ring darkly known as "The Circle."

Critics have likened the investigation to a witch hunt. One teenage girl, Sam Doggett, is trying to get her parents out of prison. She believes says they were wrongly accused of sexually abusing their own children.

(Click here to read a CBS News 48 Hours report on Doggett's fight to free her parents.)

Although several other advocates for those charged with abuse have said that prosecutors coerced children into accusing the innocent, city, county and state officials have staunchly defended the investigation. Fourteen people have been put behind bars, while the reputations of other adults are in tatters, although most charges were never substantiated.

And with a Washington state jury weighing a demand for up to $60 million from 7 people who claim they were victimized by investigators, there is growing pressure to find out what went wrong in Wenatchee.

The jury, which got the complex case June 18 after more than 2 months of trial argument and testimony, resumes its deliberations Monday.

Plaintiffs in the civil suit have argued that Perez, a veteran policeman who was doing a two-year rotation as detective, had an obvious conflict of interest and should have been taken off the case. His foster daughter Donna was an emotionally troubled girl who well may have been motivated by her desire to please Perez and continue living in his comfortable home, lawyers say.

Plaintiffs also have asked why interviews with witnesses were not taped and why investigation notes were destroyed. And they claim Perez and other police used bullying and coercion to get witness statements and confessions, some from adults and children who were developmentally disabled.

Defense attorneys contend Perez and others were just doing their jobs and had probable cause to believe that sexual abuse was taking place.

"We hear horrendous stories every day," Wenatchee attorney Pat McMahon told the jury. "Why would we not believe a child?"

Pentecostal minister Robert "Roby" Roberson and his wife Connie, the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit, were the most prominent defendants in the Wenatchee sex cases, and their December 1995 acquittal was see as a watershed by those who contend the investigation was a sham.

The Robersons spent more than 4 months in jail and nearly 9 months in forced separation from their daughter, Rebekah, who was then 4.

Roby Roberson, who was accused of molesting Rebekah and other children on the pulpit of his tiny East Wenatchee church, says he and others were targeted because they defended the poor and vulnerable adults who were prime subjects of the investigation.

"It definitely was not an innocent mistake," said Roberson, who contends his arrest and others were "orchestrated" by authorities.

Other lawsuits are in the wings, including one filed by a man accused of sanctioning regular group rape sessions between adults and girls who lived in his foster home.

Already one former state case worker who allegedly failed to report sex abuse was awarded $1.57 million in a wrongful dismissal suit.

"(Wenatchee) is a great example of a social phenomenon that we haven't seen since Salem or the McCarthy era," said attorney Kathryn Lyon, author of the book Witch Hunt, who has spent 3 years trying to get the federal government to investigate.

It doesn't have a good name, but I guess we could call it social hysteria."

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