No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Times (Wall Street Journal Book)

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9780743228343: No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Times (Wall Street Journal Book)
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The Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Wall Street Journal collects and re-examines her stories of injustice, false accusations, and judicial perversions, revealing the measures she took to free victims who were wrongly accused of crimes they did not commit. 17,500 first printing.

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About 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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Wenatchee

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 ...

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