But as time went on the story became less and less clear. The guilt and innocence of many of the alleged abusers looked less certain. Some observers argued that police, prosecutors, social workers, therapists and judges, had, in their overzealous pursuit of cases, overstepped their authority.
The story began in January 1995, in Wenatchee, Washington, a small town of 35,000 in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. The foster daughter of Wenatchee police detective Bob Perez told him that she had been molested and raped by over 20 adults. Then her older sister said she too had been sexually abused.
|Det. Bob Perez|
But even early on, some Wenatchee residents believed that the investigation had gotten out of control. And as time went on, more and more people began to question the methods and results of social workers, prosecutors, police and judges involved in the case.
As more information came out, a key concern became the techniques used by investigators, in particular, the way children involved were questioned. Some claimed that during numerous interviews, police and social workers had coerced children into making accusations.
Many of the children later recanted their statements, saying they had been pushed by authorities to make the accusations. Even one of Detective Perez's daughters disavowed her allegations.
When citizens objected to these techniques, they themselves were accused of being part of a conspiracy of child molesters. Some of these people were themselves charged. Social workers who objected were taken off of cases, or even fired.
On top of that, records indicate that during many of the trials, defendants' constitutional rights were repeatedly violated. Key evidence was not admitted or was not turned over to the defense. Judges refused to allow expert witnesses who would have testified in defendants' favor. Most of those who were convicted were uneducated, poor people who couldn't afford to pay for private lawyers. Forced to rely on overworked, inexperienced public defenders, these defendants ended up in prison.
In March a jury awarded over $1.5 million to a social worker who was fired after protesting the handling of the cases. Earlier this year eight former defendants sued the city of Wenatchee for $100 million, saying heir rights had been violated, through false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. Among the plaintiffs are pastor Roby Roberson and his wife Connie, who were arrested in 1995 after criticizing the investigation. Later that year, a jury acquitted the Robersons on all 1586 counts of child rape.
Many families were torn apart by these cases. The state took their children and assigned them to foster homes. Some who were acquitted used all their savings in the process.
written by David Kohn