Did Daddy Do It?
Produced & Directed By
& Rick Young
& Peter J. Boyer
Peter J. Boyer
PETER J. BOYER, FRONTLINE: [voice-over] In the 1980s, a scandal.
1st WOMAN: He said, "They hit me, Mommy." Said, "They hit me, and they locked me in the bedroom."
2nd WOMAN: I didn't know what was happening. I was stunned.
PETER J. BOYER: Accusations of multiple sexual molestation in day care centers.
3rd WOMAN: There's no doubt in our minds that they're not lying.
4th WOMAN: We believe our children.
1st MAN: We know what the truth is.
PETER J. BOYER: There were dozens of convictions.
5th WOMAN: He was found guilty on all counts tonight.
2nd MAN: I think that that was one of the things that was really on trial here. The system worked.
PETER J. BOYER: Then the fever broke.
PETER J. BOYER: Eventually, most of those convicted were released. Now, nearly 20 years later, only the hard cases remain.
Tonight an in-depth reexamination of the evidence in one of those cases. In the case of this man, a man the media called "a monster," was justice done? Tonight on FRONTLINE, Did Daddy Do It?
The case known as "Country Walk" is now 17 years old. In Miami, some say it all started as a love story, a young woman from Honduras, a Cuban-American man. It would turn out badly- the girl deported, the man in prison for the rest of his life. But in the beginning, it was romance in the promised land.
ILEANA FLORES: I liked everything. When I was on the plane, they gave me a whole apple and it was green. And I'd never seen green apples, and I saved it. But the first thing from the airport, we went to the supermarket and I saw a mountain full of green apples. I was, like, "Wow!"
PETER J. BOYER: Fifteen-year-old Ileana Flores fell in love with America and was figuring out how to stay here legally when she met a little boy.
ILEANA FLORES: I was about 14 or 15. And I still remember this little boy ask me what was my name. He was about 5 years old.
PETER J. BOYER: The 5-year-old's name was Noel.
NOEL FUSTER: She was beautiful. You know, she was a very beautiful woman. And I fell in love right away. And I said, "Dad," you know, "I met a beautiful woman. She's my girlfriend," you know? And you know, he was laughing with me. And I introduced him.
PETER J. BOYER: Frank Fuster liked what he saw.
FRANK FUSTER: Now, Noel was the one that introduced me to Ileana. Ileana was a very sweet and very intelligent young girl.
PETER J. BOYER: On their first date, Frank drove Ileana to this suburban neighborhood known as Country Walk.
ILEANA FLORES: We went in really nice housing area. It was Country Walk. The homes were incredible.
FRANK FUSTER: Country Walk is a house development in Dade County. And I was living there with my son.
ILEANA FLORES: I got out of the car. The door was open. We went in. Noel was not there.
PETER J. BOYER: Frank, who was 34, had sexual relations with Ileana.
ILEANA FLORES: I was a virgin. You know, and I- the least thing I was thinking was- especially at that age- was sex. The next thing I know is I was marrying Frank two months later, less than two months later.
I don't know how to explain you that I had to marry him. I felt like that. And yes, I was 15 years old, and I was, like, "Wow," you know? "I'm in the United States, and I'm going to get married. I'm going to live in this big house and"- and that goes to your head.
PETER J. BOYER: But Frank's interior design business was in trouble. The mortgage on the Country Walk house was steep.
ILEANA FLORES: He started saying that he didn't have enough money, and he needed me to work. What could I do, you know? I was 15 years old. I'm, like, "I never worked before." He said, "Well, maybe you could take care of children from the area and you can make some money." And I accepted it.
NOEL FUSTER: You know, dad is a Cuban man. He wants to take care of his wife. He wants to provide the home and, you know, provide his role, you know, so to speak.
PETER J. BOYER: Frank Fuster was about to become one of those cases that really tests American justice. This community would have reason to revile him and decide to lock him away forever, overlooking difficult questions about how that was done. But those questions linger. That is what brought us to Miami.
PETER J. BOYER: Back in 1985, a kind of fever was taking hold in Miami. Rumors had spread that some day care centers might be preying grounds for child molesters. Panic spread, fueled by the local press.
NEWSCASTER: She told how the defendant touched her, penetrated her, and then was forced to-
PETER J. BOYER: One of the first cases was against a police officer.
PETER J. BOYER: Grant Snowden was South Miami's Officer of the Year. To help make ends meet, his wife took in the neighbors' children.
DAVID MARKUS, Prosecutor 1981-1986: Grant Snowden was a police officer who abused his trust. Parents trusted him because he was a police officer, and I think people trusted Mrs. Snowden as a baby-sitter in part because of who her husband was.
PETER J. BOYER: Snowden furiously denied the accusation. But the papers got ahold of it and ran with the story. And in the excitement, one 11-year-old girl said she remembered being abused by Snowden seven years earlier.
PROSECUTOR: And what did he say to you?
GIRL: He said, "Does it feel good?" And I said, "No." And he said, "Yes, it does."
PETER J. BOYER: It was a typical abuse case- no physical evidence, a kid's word against an adult's, easy pickings for a defense attorney.
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: The victim's testimony in this case is not worthy of belief, your honor.
PETER J. BOYER: It took the jury only four hours to reach a verdict.
JURY FOREWOMAN: -as charged in count one of the information, not guilty.
PETER J. BOYER: Grant Snowden was acquitted, a free if embittered man.
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: The jury had the intelligence to realize that there just wasn't enough here. You can't convict somebody based upon one person saying, "He did that to me."
PETER J. BOYER: In defeat, the prosecutors learned something. They needed more than the testimony of a single child. And in the next months, they would begin to develop a method for going after molesters. The chief prosecutor was Janet Reno. Since the mid-1970s, she had been an avowed advocate for children. Now she began a crusade.
JANET RENO: This crime, for the children and for their family, has been a nightmare.
NEWSCASTER: The case came to light when several small children began having nightmares.
NEWSCASTER: He is charged with molesting, then threatening-
PETER J. BOYER: During those months, the fear among parents spread to Frank and Ileana Fuster's neighbors in Country Walk.
PETER J. BOYER: The parents of 3-year-old Tiffany Landis were both police officers.
ANDREA LANDIS, Country Walk Parent: I got a phone call from one of the other parents, and she said to me, "Was your daughter going to Fusters'?" And I said, "Yes." "Have you had any concerns, anything unusual happen?" And I said, "A lot." My daughter had tantrums. She had nightmares. She was happy with Santa Claus, she was scared of Santa Claus. She was scared of the bunny. She used to love Michael Jackson. She was deathly afraid of "Thriller."
PETER J. BOYER: Andrea Landis took Tiffany to a rape crisis clinic.
ANDREA LANDIS: I saw one or two social workers. One of them gave her the anatomically correct dolls, fully dressed. And Tiffany undressed Frank, undressed Ileana, asked for more dolls, named some of the children. And then Dr. Hicks, when she did the physical examination, Tiffany started saying, "Please, not inside." And I was thinking, "How does a 3-year-old know anything like that?"
FRANK FUSTER: I was confronted by Mrs. Landis and her husband. They're both police officers, and they are parents of a little girl that my wife used to babysat for three or four days.
PETER J. BOYER: [on camera] What did they say?
FRANK FUSTER: They accused me. They openly told me that I had been molesting the childrens that were babysat by Ileana.
PETER J. BOYER: You must have been petrified.
ANDREA LANDIS: No, actually, I wanted to kill.
PETER J. BOYER: Who?
ANDREA LANDIS: Fuster.
PETER J. BOYER: [voice-over] Janet Reno was sympathetic to the parents, and in fact, had been working to create a new way to build airtight cases. For the first time, she brought the crusade right into the prosecutor's office, putting a children's center alongside the sexual battery unit, staffed with her best and brightest, including David Markus.
DAVID MARKUS: This unit was certainly one of the first where the state attorney's office would minimize the numbers of times that children were being interviewed, because it's very traumatic for a young child to be interviewed about a sexual battery.
PETER J. BOYER: It was kid-friendly law enforcement. No gruff cops, no stiff prosecutors. In their place, specialists who said they had a gift for communicating with kids, Joe and Laurie Braga.
DAVID MARKUS: Joseph and Laura Braga, they were very opinionated, they have an unconventional appearance. They are passionate in their belief. I think they sincerely believed that what they are doing, they are doing because it's the right thing to do.
BOY: Then I would bite on it.
JOE BRAGA: Uh-huh.
BOY: And he peed in my mouth.
PETER J. BOYER: The Bragas could turn kid talk into testimony. They became the pied pipers of child abuse in Miami.
DAVID MARKUS, Prosecutor 1981-1986: She would sit down and tell the child that she was a "yucky secrets doctor"-
LAURIE BRAGA: Well, I'm a yucky secrets doctor.
DAVID MARKUS: -that you could tell her things and that they were safe to do so in that room.
BOY: He touched me in the [inaudible]
LAURIE BRAGA: Huh?
BOY: He touched me in the buttocks.
LAURIE BRAGA: He touched you in the buns?
PETER J. BOYER: Now prosecutors had a winning weapon - multiple witnesses - and it was all on videotape.
LAURIE BRAGA: And when he did this, did other children see?
1st CHILD: Yes.
2nd CHILD: He licked it.
LAURIE BRAGA: Huh?
2nd CHILD: He licked it.
LAURIE BRAGA: He licked it with his mouth?
DAVID MARKUS: At their insistence, these interviews were videotaped because they wanted, and we wanted, there to be a record of the interviews with the children so that that could be presented to the jury.
GIRL: Ileana takes her clothes off.
LAURIE BRAGA: She takes her clothes off?
GIRL: And she stays her clothes off.
LAURIE BRAGA: And then what would she do after she takes her clothes off?
PETER J. BOYER: Officer Andrea Landis had run Frank Fuster's name through the national law enforcement computer.
[on camera] What did that computer check show?
ANDREA LANDIS: It showed that he was on probation.
PETER J. BOYER: On probation for what?
ANDREA LANDIS: molestation.
PETER J. BOYER: That must have alarmed you.
ANDREA LANDIS: Oh, yeah.
PETER J. BOYER: Show anything else?
ANDREA LANDIS: It showed the manslaughter charge in New York.
PETER J. BOYER: A manslaughter charge?
ANDREA LANDIS: Yes. He had killed a man in New York.
PETER J. BOYER: [voice-over] With such revelations, it's easy to understand how the community came to so revile and even fear Frank Fuster. It turned out he had killed a man. He says it was an accident. And he admits there was a molestation charge, but says it involved a troubled family friend and that the charge was so questionable, the judge only sentenced him to probation.
He thought all that was behind him. But once word of Frank's record flashed through the neighborhood, it was only a matter of time.
FRANK FUSTER: And we decided that I will turn myself in at the courthouse. And on August 10, 1984, at 10:00 o'clock in the morning, if I remember correctly, I turned myself in to honorable Robert Newman. I never saw the street again.
PETER J. BOYER: The crusade had the perfect defendant, an ex-con, a convicted child molester. The "Miami Herald" called Fuster a "monster."
Meanwhile, over at the children's center, Fuster's own son, Noel, was being videotaped by Joe and Laurie Braga.
NOEL FUSTER: Well, the biggest deal when I walked into there is that this room is covered in toys. I mean, every toy you can think of. You've got the battleships, dolls, the- I mean, you're in- you're in Willy Wonka land.
JOE BRAGA: Probation is when the court has said you for a period of time-'
YOUNG NOEL: I know. My dad did something what he's not supposed to do.
JOE BRAGA: OK.
NOEL FUSTER: The Bragas, they- they were interesting, because they both almost look alike, you know? They- I don't know if anybody's familiar with the Bragas look, but they both have these long ponytails, you know, the suits and stuff. And they go, "Sit down, and we're going to tell you what's going on, and we're going to tell you how you can help us and your father."
JOE BRAGA: The court people will talk about it, and if they decide he doesn't have to stay in jail, then he won't stay in jail. If he does have to stay in jail, then they'll make that decision then.
NOEL FUSTER: Well, they started familiarizing me with things about, you know, my father. Basically, I guess, that, you know, he had been sick, and that he had done some things to children. I mean, we would spend whole days in there talking. And so what- there was no rush. There was no aggressiveness. You know, everything was set there to make me calm and make me feel at ease.
YOUNG NOEL: And he forced me. And it was sick. He forced me.
LAURIE BRAGA: He forced you to do it?
YOUNG NOEL: And it was sick.
PETER J. BOYER: Finally, Noel told the Bragas what they wanted to hear.
NOEL FUSTER: That my father put his penis in my mouth because he was sick. And I was sleeping, so I must have not known about it.
PETER J. BOYER: Now District Attorney Reno had not just one child testifying, but many children speaking in union, a chorus of damning testimony.
CHILD: Frank, because I didn't have no babysitter one day.
PETER J. BOYER: A state law had been changed to allow the children to testify on closed-circuit television from the judge's chambers.
PETER J. BOYER: Frank Fuster watched as, one by one, they told their secrets.
EXAMINER: In your vagina? Could you show the judge where that is?
2nd EXAMINER: Oh, I don't think the judge- just show him- just show him a little bit, OK?
BOY: We would- we would try to kill each other and go to the bathroom on the people.
EXAMINER: You'd go to the bathroom on the people? Who taught you to play that game?
PETER J. BOYER: Next prosecutors applied the other elements of the Miami method, experts who told the jury they could believe the children.
LAURIE BRAGA: In sexual abuse, they do feel that they did something wrong.
PETER J. BOYER: And physical evidence. They said Fuster's son Noel had gonorrhea of the throat. All their new method needed was one more piece, an adult eyewitness. They decided to try to convince Ileana it would be in her best interest to cooperate.
ILEANA FLORES: The lawyer tells me I have to go to court. I have a warrant arrest, and I have to go court in front of the judge. And I went.
NEWSCASTER: Ileana Fuster Escalonas surrendered just after 7:00 o'clock. As she was led to jail, friends tried to push press photographers away, and the former babysitter was knocked over. The charge against Fuster is capital rape. Both Fusters were ordered jailed without bond.
ILEANA FLORES: And I got arrested right there in the courtroom.
ILEANA FLORES: I honestly tell you, it was a nightmare. I am arrested of these horrendous charges. And even back then, being a teenager, it was- it was horrendous. So ever since- ever since then, I was in jail.
PETER J. BOYER: In the beginning, Ileana and Frank would appear together in court. They were sharing lawyers and had a common defense.
FRANK FUSTER: I was very sad for her. She was so naive and so pure and so young, and she had to go through this painful experience. And that was really killing me.
PETER J. BOYER: They wrote letters to each other, Frank expressing his love and devotion, Ileana reciprocating. But the case was taking its toll.
ILEANA FLORES: So I remember I started getting depressed. I didn't want to eat. I didn't know what was going on. And I didn't know why I was there, why they didn't let me go.
PETER J. BOYER: The case was also taking a toll on the defense lawyers, who were being paid by the court.
JEFF SAMMICK: He doesn't believe me. He doesn't want me. He makes- he makes accusations about me. He won't follow my advice. And I cannot continue to represent him.
PETER J. BOYER: Frank's attorney, Jeff Sammick, had tried to leave the case. The judge denied the request. Ileana's attorney, Mike von Zamft, also apparently didn't relish the prospect of being publicly associated with such an ignominious defendant as Frank Fuster. Von Zamft began to try to separate Ileana from Frank, her case from his.
ILEANA FLORES: He seemed like he wanted to help me, you know? He would tell me, "I want to help you," you know, "and the best way to help you is you've got to let me guide you. You don't- obviously don't know the kind of trouble that you are."
PETER J. BOYER: For von Zamft, a plea bargain would get him out of the case and maybe even help his client. But Ileana would have to say something that so far she was adamantly denying. Prosecutors say von Zamft offered a striking proposition. For the right deal, he would say that Ileana privately admitted to him that the crimes had happened.
But had Ileana actually made such an admission?
Von Zamft refused an on-camera interview with FRONTLINE, but according to notes of the meeting with prosecutors, von Zamft declared, quote, "He would so proffer, regardless of the truthfulness of that proffer. If it got Ileana off, he would do it."
While her lawyer and the prosecutors were negotiating over what Ileana's testimony might become, her story at the time was that she had been placed in the suicide unit and was being abused in an effort to coerce her into testifying.
ILEANA FLORES: It was, like, a big room with little cells, one next to each other. And most people there were- well, all the people that were there were either- there was suicide or suicide watch, or they were crazy. But everybody was naked.
PETER J. BOYER: [on camera] Naked?
ILEANA FLORES: Yeah. I mean-
PETER J. BOYER: You were naked?
ILEANA FLORES: I was naked. That's when I began to feel they were getting hard on me, you know? They would give me cold showers. Two people will hold me, put me under, run me under cold water, and then throw me back in the cell naked, with nothing, just a bare floor. And I used to be cold, real cold. I- I would have my periods, and- and they would just wash me and throw me back in the cell. And they will tell me if I don't do what they said, that that was going to be my life for the rest of my life!
[www.pbs.org: Read the full interview]
PETER J. BOYER: [voice-over] Prison officials have told FRONTLINE the records about Ileana no longer exist. They say she would have been kept in an isolation cell and that if put in the suicide unit, she would have had her clothes taken away, but that she absolutely would never have been given cold showers.
There is a witness to Ileana's story. Steve Dinerstein is a private eye who worked for von Zamft. Dinerstein regularly visited with Ileana in the jail.
STEPHEN DINERSTEIN, Investigator: She had no clothing. They wouldn't let anybody bring anything to her. At a point in time, it got to where they brought her down in almost, like, a sheet thrown over her with a sash. There was no clothing on her, no underwear. She complained and cried about that.
PETER J. BOYER: Ileana's lawyer and the prosecutors agreed on a course of action to get her testimony. There was a plan to hypnotize her. She was told Noel had gonorrhea of the throat. And then there came a parade of doctors to the jail.
Dr. CHARLES MUTTER, Psychiatrist: Well, she was a 17-year-old from Honduras, but she looked like a very frightened individual, who seemed to have the thinking of a much younger individual, more infantile. She seemed to be very suggestible.
PETER J. BOYER: Dr. Mutter couldn't break through, and so the attorneys sent in more doctors. Finally, the prosecution, with consent of Ileana's lawyer, hired a company called Behavior Changers. They hoped they could get Ileana to testify against Frank.
AMY GERSHENFELD DONNELLA, Fuster Defense Attorney, : They went into the prison day after day after day and they said to Ileana, "Ileana, you are suffering from repressed memory syndrome. What you did, and what Frank did, was so awful that you have repressed the memories of this. And so what we're going to do is we're going to help you remember this by telling you what happened, and then asking you to visualize these things."
ILEANA FLORES: And they would tell me this story, and "Do you remember?" I'd say, "No." They would make me repeat and repeat it. They would tell me over and over on tapes the story of what had happened. "And people out there don't like you," and this and that. And it was, like, "But that cannot be true."
Dr. CHARLES MUTTER: And you're talking about a 17- or 18-year-old who really has the thought processes of a 6- or 7-year old. And so she was extremely intimidated and frightened by this and impressionable. And so she had to- was coerced that she had to cooperate and come up with something that would help her expunge herself of some of these difficulties.
ROBERT ROSENTHAL, Fuster Appeal Attorney: And over time, she began to see these things, and they began to appear in her dreams, the stories that she was being told. And as she was dreaming them, the therapists were saying,ﾓ If you're dreaming them, these are your memories. They're unblocked, and they're coming to you in your dreams. You need to acknowledge them." And so she was-they were planting these seeds, these poisonous seeds taken from the children, in her, and they were growing as her own memories.
PETER J. BOYER: One night in the jail, Ileana says, she had a visitor.
ILEANA FLORES: Then I started getting visits from Janet Reno.
PETER J. BOYER: [on camera] From Janet Reno herself?
ILEANA FLORES: Yeah, herself. She used to come to see me to the jail, but at nights. The first visit I got, it was, like, "Hi. How are you? I'm Janet Reno. I'm the state attorney." And I'm, like- and I would tell her, you know, "I am innocent," and all that. And she say, "I'm sorry, but you are not. You're going to have to help us." I'll never forget her face of- like, "If you don't do it, something will happen to you," you know? Like- I don't know. I never experienced anything like that before in my life! I was scared. I was scared of everybody, of everything!
STEPHEN DINERSTEIN: When I spoke to Ileana afterwards, on at least two occasions, she was told not to say anything. She was told that things would work out for her. And basically, she accepted what she now was told by these people. When I tried to get specifics from her, she broke down and cried.
PETER J. BOYER: Finally, Ileana was ready to plead guilty. Her deposition was attended by chief prosecutor Reno.
[on camera] They now have you giving your sworn testimony in a deposition. The state's attorney is there, sitting next to you, I guess, right?
ILEANA FLORES: She always gave me the look or a touch.
PETER J. BOYER: A touch?
ILEANA FLORES: Uh-huh.
PETER J. BOYER: What do you mean, a touch?
ILEANA FLORES: Like comfort. And it was not comfort. You know, it always remind me she was there. Even today, I am afraid of her!
PETER J. BOYER: [voice-over] Ileana was now saying something new, that she was guilty. But her new story was not especially convincing.
ILEANA FLORES: I'm pleading guilty not because I feel guilty, but because I think it's the best for my own interests and for the children. But I'm not pleading guilty because I feel guilty or because I think I have a criminal mind.
PETER J. BOYER: Janet Reno had signed off on the deal with Ileana. She hoped Ileana would testify against Frank. And in the trial's most dramatic moment, she got her wish.
PROSECUTOR: Ileana, please tell the ladies and gentlemen of the jury where he put the cross.
ILEANA FLORES: He put the cross in my rectum!
PETER J. BOYER: Ileana then talked about the children and Frank.
ILEANA FLORES: He was lying on the bed, and he was naked. And Frank was kissing his butt.
FRANK FUSTER: You are a liar! You are a liar! God is going to punish you for this!
JUDGE: Mr. Fuster! Mr. Fuster, you are to refrain from remarks or I'm going to have you gagged and I'm going to have you locked to your chair. Now, do you want that? Otherwise, just stay where you are and no further outburst. Mr. Sammick, will you please explain to your client what I just said, in case he didn't understand me? All right? Yes. Take the jury to the jury room.
ILEANA FLORES: Don't let him hurt me, please!
JUDGE: I won't leave you.
PETER J. BOYER: For Frank Fuster, this moment, the weight of the testimony of all the children and his son's gonorrhea, sealed his fate. By the time this trial finished, there was no doubt what was going to happen to Frank Fuster. He was sentenced to 165 years in prison.
Now, armed with their new method, prosecutors revisited the one that got away. They headed south to the neighborhood of Officer Grant Snowden. They had scoured the area and found new children willing to come forward. They sent them to the Bragas at the sexual battery unit.
LAURIE BRAGA: Can you show me what he did?
CHILD: He put it in his mouth.
LAURIE BRAGA: He did?
DAVID MARKUS, Prosecutor 1981-1986: When I read the file and I was able to see the overall picture - the physical evidence, the interviews done by the Bragas, the progression of disclosure by the victims - I was convinced.
PETER J. BOYER: David Markus was ready to charge Grant Snowden again, this time with multiple witnesses.
PETER J. BOYER: [on camera] Why was it important to have three children?
DAVID MARKUS: Well, that's what we learned from the first case. The jurors didn't believe the one child.
PETER J. BOYER: So if you have multiple witnesses-
DAVID MARKUS: It adds to the credibility.
PETER J. BOYER: Essentially testifying to the same thing.
DAVID MARKUS: Yes.
PETER J. BOYER: The jury goes out, and what happens?
DAVID MARKUS: They came back in an hour.
PETER J. BOYER: What did that tell you?
JURY FOREWOMAN: -of the information, guilty.
DAVID MARKUS: It told me they believed the kids.
GRANT SNOWDEN: I'm standing here now before your honor, and I'm telling you again that I am not guilty, and you're fixing to sentence an innocent man.
PETER J. BOYER: [voice-over] The sentence, five life terms.
JUDGE: -and therefore this court does not believe you can be rehabilitated and must be removed from society.
PETER J. BOYER: By now, a panic was consuming the community and the country. Cases were springing up in California, Minnesota, New Jersey, Massachusetts and North Carolina. And in the popular imagination, the horror was intensified by this made-for-TV movie, Unspeakable Acts-
ACTOR: -finds the defendant, Francisco Fuster Escalonas, as to sexual battery, guilty.
PETER J. BOYER: -featuring the story of Frank Fuster and the Bragas, who would not agree to FRONTLINE's repeated requests for an interview.
Back in Miami, the next horror story broke.
NEWSCASTER: There are some shocking new developments-
NEWSCASTER: -that he sexually molested children under his care.
NEWSCASTER: -volunteer in the church nursery-
PETER J. BOYER: The parents at this church came to believe that Bobby Fijnje, a 14-year-old church baby-sitter, had molested their children while they worshipped in a sanctuary nearby. Prosecutors showed no mercy. They sidestepped juvenile court and charged Fijnje directly as an adult two months past his 14th birthday. But Bobby Fijnje's lawyers attacked the children's testimony, saying that it was tainted, elicited by the therapists.
One of those therapists was psychologist Susan Keeley.
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: But this boy right here, he scared you, right? Are you somehow suggesting to the child the answer rather than listening to a spontaneous answer?
SUSAN KEELEY: The child had already spontaneously stated that to me on other occasion or occasions.
PETER MILLER, Fijnje Defense Attorney: We do have a tape that was made prior to the little girl going down to the state attorney's office for the purpose of an interview. And during that session, Keeley and the little girl practiced what she was going to tell the state attorney.
SUSAN KEELEY: Practiced in what regard? I might have tried to share.
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: -practiced what she was going to say.
SUSAN KEELEY: I might have shared with them the vocabulary that she had- but I don't remember talking with them. If I did, it's in my notes.
READER: [session with child] "Dr. Keeley: If she asked you if Bobby did anything to you, what would you say?"
PETER J. BOYER: As it happens, the notes and transcripts of Dr. Keeley's sessions with one of the children provided the key to Bobby Fijnje's defense.
READER: -"remember you said he touched you? Where did he touch you?" Child: Nowhere. Dr. Keeley: And remember where you told me he put the penis?"
PETER J. BOYER: Dr. Stephen Ceci, a child behavior expert recognized by both sides in the case, was called to the stand to evaluate the process.
STEPHEN CECI, Psychology Prof. Cornell Univ.: I saw a constellation of ingredients that worried me. For instance, the interviewer says, "Don't worry, Bobby's in jail," or "Did your mom and dad tell you he can't hurt children anymore because he's in jail?"
PETER J. BOYER: [on camera] What they were doing was planting the idea that Bobby was a bad kid, which would what, color their testimony?
STEPHEN CECI: Yeah. Kids are cooperative conversational partners. They believe that you're asking them about something because it probably happened. They want to please you. They want to give you the answer that they think will make you happiest. And especially, if the first couple times they resist this and say no and you keep bringing it up, they start to get the message that, "Well, maybe I've been giving the wrong answer and I should switch."
NEWSCASTER: There was standing room only for this, on the final day of the Fijnje trial and-
NEWSCASTER: Listen now as both sides wrap up their arguments to the jury-
PETER J. BOYER: In their closing arguments, Bobby's lawyers told the jury that this time they should not believe the children.
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: She kept asking, "Is that real or make-believe?" And how many times did we hear the child say it was make-believe? How can you rely upon that to convict this young man? I submit you can't do that.
PETER J. BOYER: The prosecution tried its best to make a monster of the teenage defendant.
PETER J. BOYER: Finally, after 13 weeks, the jury got the case. It delivered a verdict the next morning.
JURY FOREMAN: Count one, the defendant is not guilty. Count two, the defendant is not guilty.
PETER J. BOYER: A guilty finding on any of the seven counts carries a mandatory life sentence.
JURY FOREMAN: Count five, the defendant is not guilty. Count six, the defendant is not guilty. Count seven, the defendant is not guilty.
PETER J. BOYER: With Bobby Fijnje's acquittal, the proven Miami method of prosecuting ritual sexual abuse had been stopped cold by a jury. The sex abuse fever had broken in Miami.
JUDGE: At this time, I will discharge Mr. Fijnje from any further custody, and we will stand adjourned.
PETER J. BOYER: And around the country, there didn't seem to be quite the appetite for these cases anymore, as other juries also began to acquit defendants.
VIOLET AMIRAULT: It's very difficult for me to sit in court and listen to them say all these terrible things that I did to children, when I never, never, never, did it! I never did! I never did them!
PETER J. BOYER: But what about those men and women already convicted who were sitting in prison? Appeals courts began chipping away at their convictions. In Florida, that cop - Grant Snowden - had been in prison for 12 years, claiming he was a victim of the moment, ensnared by false science and prosecutorial zeal.
Then a young New York civil rights lawyer agreed to take Snowden's appeal. He began by knocking down the testimony of the three kids.
ROBERT ROSENTHAL, Snowden Appeal Attorney : All three of the children who testified in the Snowden case had been interviewed by Laurie Braga. Laurie Braga suggested to the child all sorts of sexual activity that might have happened to her. In the course of this interview - which the transcript runs some 66 pages or so - they get up to page 33 and the child has not bit into any of Laurie's suggestions. She won't take it. Nothing happened to her. The worst thing about Mr. Snowden is that he used to turn off the television and not let her watch.
After page 33, Braga starts turning on the pressure. She starts suggesting, "Did Grant put his penis in your mouth? Did something come out of it?" You know, just keeps working little bits, in increments. By the end of this, the child was agreeing with Braga.
PETER J. BOYER: In February of 1998, the appeals court rendered its verdict. That day in prison, Grant Snowden got the call he was waiting for.
[www.pbs.org: Explore Snowden's case]
GRANT SNOWDEN: Finally. Finally they see it. They finally see that they were wrong. After all of these years, finally they see that they were wrong. And I'm going to go free!
PETER J. BOYER: Frank Fuster is just where he has been for the last 17 years, in prison serving 165 years, the kind of hard time reserved for a child molester. Fuster's appeals have gone nowhere.
ROBERT ROSENTHAL: A smart, honest judge who looks at this case and looks at the evidence that built it should not be looking at "Do I like Frank Fuster, do I not like Frank Fuster?" It's really not about Frank Fuster. It's about the evidence in the case. Was justice done? Were his constitutional rights violated?
PETER J. BOYER: Fuster's appeals have focused on the contention that the children's testimony was flawed.
[on camera] You had more than 20 children, a parade of victims. You know, that's compelling, isn't it?
ROBERT ROSENTHAL: Well, it's compelling until you- you know, it's compelling if you just look at quantity. Yeah, there were 20. I would bet they could have had 50. I would bet that they could have had kids that never met Frank Fuster saying that they were abused by Frank Fuster.
CHILD: Frank pulled on my pee-pee.
LAURIE BRAGA: Frank pulled on your pee-pee?
PETER J. BOYER: OK, quantity isn't convincing. What about quality? I mean, you didn't just have 20 kids, you had 20-some kids plus the defendant's own son, Noel Fuster.
ROBERT ROSENTHAL: Right. He was- and he was probably subjected to the worst of the Braga interviews that I've seen in any of the cases.
JOE BRAGA: I was wondering. Remember when you said before you didn't remember if anybody put their penis in your mouth? I was wondering if maybe you were hypnotized and someone did it? Do you think that's possible?
LAURIE BRAGA: Or maybe you were asleep or maybe you didn't know?
NOEL FUSTER: These people, you know, they did a number on me. They were playing games with a 6-year-old's head.
YOUNG NOEL: Somebody did it to me.
JOE BRAGA: OK, if you were fast asleep and somebody did it.
LAURIE BRAGA: Who do you think might have done it when you where asleep?
NOEL FUSTER: They were good at it. I was confused. I really didn't know. And I ended up crying. But now I know the truth, you know? I'm old enough to deal with it, which took a while. I'm old enough to express it now. And that's really what I want to do.
PETER J. BOYER: Frank Fuster's own son tested positively for gonorrhea of the throat. Isn't that convincing?
ROBERT ROSENTHAL: The test has problems. The lab has problems. Test results were destroyed. Test cultures were destroyed. I believe the positive test was destroyed prior to trial. So that couldn't be tested, which again echoed in Snowden years later. In fact, this doctor had changed her testing because she didn't believe in that test that she used. She moved on to more reliable methods that she had used before this case.
PETER J. BOYER: But there was still this moment in the trial.
ILEANA FLORES: He was naked, and Frank was kissing his butt.
FRANK FUSTER: You are a liar! You are a liar! God is going to punish you for this!
PETER J. BOYER: After delivering her compelling testimony against her husband, Ileana was given 10 years in prison. She served three-and-a-half years in a juvenile facility and was then deported back to Honduras. Then, 10 years later, one of Frank's appeals attorneys paid Ileana a visit.
ARTHUR COHEN, Fuster Appeal Attorney: And I just asked her, you know, a few questions about the trial and what happened. And as she got into it - and I'll never forget this - she just- she started to tremble a little bit. The tears came down her eyes. And she told me, she said, you know, "What I testified to at trial was not the truth." And I said, "What was the truth?" She said, you know, "None of this happened." You know, "They made me say it."
PETER J. BOYER: [on camera] So it was a full recantation?
ARTHUR COHEN: Absolutely.
PETER J. BOYER: [voice-over] Ileana's deposition was witnessed by a notary. She completely recanted her trial testimony. A court date was set in Miami.
[on camera] That must have made you feel like there was hope in your case.
FRANK FUSTER: Yes, that gave me hope in my case. But it didn't last very long.
ARTHUR COHEN: About a week, maybe less, prior to the date that was set for the hearing, I get a phone call from a reporter at the "Miami Herald." He said, "I have a letter here signed by Ileana recanting her statement to you." Well, you can imagine, I mean, I almost fell out of my chair.
The contents of this letter in brief were that, "What I told Mr. Cohen," you know, "wasn't the truth. These things did, in fact, happen. He tricked me. I didn't know that all of this was going to be taken down by a court reporter." I mean, outlandish stuff. And her signature was at the bottom.
[www.pbs.org: Read the letter]
PETER J. BOYER:<n> [voice-over] But something happened to cause Ileana to change her story. She received a visit from a famous Miami Baptist preacher. The Reverend Tommy Watson was the chaplain for the Miami Dolphins. He had a regularly scheduled TV show. Reverend Watson took it upon himself to personally fly to Honduras to talk to Ileana, and immediately thereafter she changed her mind.
ARTHUR COHEN: What went on over there in Honduras between Reverend Watson and Ileana I couldn't tell you. I mean, I can speculate, as many of us could speculate, you know, what may have happened. But I have no proof of any promises that were made to her. I have no proof of any threats that may have been made to her. I have no proof of anything. And that was my problem.
PETER J. BOYER: Reverend Watson would not give FRONTLINE an interview, but this much is known. One of his parishioners, Shirley Blando, was a volunteer at the Dade County jail. She had befriended Ileana. After Ileana was sent back to Honduras, Reverend Watson, Miss Blando and another church donor had paid for Ileana's college tuition, as well as other expenses.
ILEANA FLORES: I was under a lot of pressure when they came down to Honduras to make me sign this, apparently because my testimony was going to reopen the case. And they remind me that Janet Reno was the United States general- attorney general, and that I was still not too far from the United States. They also remind me of all the trouble that I could go through and that I can be put back into that cell. And I was afraid I was going to lose my- I had another year left in college, and I mean, I couldn't pay for it.
ARTHUR COHEN: I had to go back into court, totally devastated of what had transpired. We had come this close to that hearing, a matter of a few days. And you know, this happened.
PETER J. BOYER: And that is where the matter stood for another seven years, until Ileana changed her story again. It seems she was in trouble. Divorced from Fuster, she had gotten remarried to an American Army colonel attached to the U.S. embassy in Honduras. She lied about her past in order to become an American citizen. But now the Immigration and Naturalization Service was trying to revoke her citizenship. She was in the middle of a messy divorce from the colonel, in violation of parole, on the run from the INS.
Hiding in the U.S., she called FRONTLINE. This time, she said, she would tell the truth.
[on camera] In the deposition, do you remember that you said that Frank raped you?
ILEANA FLORES: Yes.
PETER J. BOYER: That he had put a crucifix up your rectum?
ILEANA FLORES: Yes.
PETER J. BOYER: He put a gun in your vagina?
ILEANA FLORES: Yes.
PETER J. BOYER: Put snakes on you-
ILEANA FLORES: Right.
PETER J. BOYER: -and in you?
ILEANA FLORES: Uh-huh.
PETER J. BOYER: That he poured acid on you in the shower?
ILEANA FLORES: Yeah, I said that.
PETER J. BOYER: That he had forced you or caused you to have oral sex with the children you were caring for?
ILEANA FLORES: Yes.
PETER J. BOYER: That you had participated in oral sex, or watched Noel, his son, perform oral sex?
ILEANA FLORES: Yes.
PETER J. BOYER: That he had hung you by your wrists in the garage? You told them that?
ILEANA FLORES: Uh-huh.
PETER J. BOYER: Ileana, were these things true?
ILEANA FLORES: No, they were not.
PETER J. BOYER: Did you do any of those things that you finally confessed to?
ILEANA FLORES: No, sir. I never hurt anyone before. I never hurt any children, specifically, or anybody. And Country Walk just didn't happen.
PETER J. BOYER: Frank Fuster didn't do any of those things?
ILEANA FLORES: No.
PETER J. BOYER: [voice-over] And then there is Janet Reno. At the time, her success in these prosecutions had added to her reputation. Now a candidate for governor in Florida, she doesn't believe Ileana's latest version.
JANET RENO: She's done that before. About 10 years ago, I heard she changed her mind, and then she changed her mind- she- so I- I-
PETER J. BOYER: [on camera] So in your mind, it might not be that an important development to shift this back into an appeals case.
JANET RENO: Well, I just think you should look at it carefully and see what has caused her to - as I understand it - change her mind.
PETER J. BOYER: [voice-over] Former attorney general Reno was reluctant to spend any more time talking about the case or about those late night visits to Ileana.
JANET RENO: I don't have the file. I haven't looked at the file in 15 years. I would need for you to bring me all the files. And I don't foresee having the time to go through the files.
PETER J. BOYER: Despite FRONTLINE's offer to provide the files, Ms. Reno would not agree to discuss the case further, and neither would her lead prosecutor.
ROBERT ROSENTHAL, Fuster Appeal Attorney : I wouldn't agree to an interview if I were them, either, because every method that they used to manufacture and produce evidence in this case has been thoroughly discredited in the time since. And what are they going to do? What are they going to stand up and tell you is the reason that Frank Fuster is in prison? Because of accusations from children?
It's not because of accusations from children. We know how those accusations were produced. Corroboration testimony? We know how that was produced. The gonorrhea? We know how that was produced. There's really nothing that- there's nothing for them to stand on legally.
PETER J. BOYER: But Ileana's telling her story to FRONTLINE is not the same thing as a sworn testimony in court. At this point, even in the most generous assessment, Ileana's word is suspect. And if she does testify, there may be severe consequences.
AMY GERSHENFELD DONNELLA, Fuster Defense Attorney: I would love to have Ileana come in and testify at this point. She is in a very difficult position because in the state of Florida, there's- there's a rule that when somebody comes to testify after having testified previously, the first thing they're instructed by the court is if your testimony in court today differs from testimony that you gave previously, you're subject to the penalties of perjury.
PETER J. BOYER: [on camera] Ileana, what do you have to gain from telling the truth, from telling us this?
ILEANA FLORES: I think I have nothing to lose. But I can gain help, you know, which I need. I can clear my name.
PETER J. BOYER: Keep your U.S.-
ILEANA FLORES: And I can get my- I want to get my life back, you know?
PETER J. BOYER: Are you doing this partly to keep your U.S. citizenship?
ILEANA FLORES: Uh-huh. That's partly- yes, sir.
PETER J. BOYER: How would this help?
ILEANA FLORES: Because my clearing my name, I will have a right to keep my citizenship.
PETER J. BOYER: What if that means letting Frank Fuster out of prison?
ILEANA FLORES: I thought about that, and he's not guilty of those things, so he should be out of prison.
PETER J. BOYER: Have you been in contact with Frank at all?
ILEANA FLORES: No, sir. Never. Never.
PETER J. BOYER: [voice-over] So the lingering questions in the case of Frank Fuster come to this: one last, desperate chance for justice that depends on the very thing most responsible for sending him to prison in the first place, the questionable word of his former wife, Ileana.
DID DADDY DO IT?
PRODUCED & DIRECTED BY
& Peter J. Boyer
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A Frontline coproduction with the Kirk Documentary Group, Ltd.
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ANNOUNCER: There's more to explore on FRONTLINE's Web site. You can find more details on the stories of Frank and Ileana Fuster, get a summary of the outcomes of the 1980s' high-profile day care abuse cases, explore the controversy over interviewing techniques for children in sex abuse cases, and find out if this program is re-airing on your PBS station. Then join the discussion at PBS on line, pbs.org, or write an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to this address. [Dear FRONTLINE, 125 Western Ave., Boston, MA 02134]
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ANNOUNCER: What should the U.S. do about Terror and Tehran? Next time on FRONTLINE.
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