In 1984, Frank and Ileana Fuster were accused of sexually
molesting numerous children who were cared for by Ileana in their home in the
Country Walk section of Miami. The abuse case started when a 3-year-old boy
asked his mother to "kiss my body" when she was giving him a bath. He said,
"Ileana kisses all the babies' bodies." The mother became concerned and
reported the comments to the Dade County child protection authorities.
The Fusters were arrested in August 1984. Both denied the charges. Frank
Fuster, a 35-year-old Cuban immigrant, had previously been convicted for a 1969
manslaughter (he served four years) and for fondling a 9-year-old (he was
placed on probation).
More than 20 children ultimately reported being raped and molested by Frank and
Ileana. Janet Reno was then the state attorney in Dade County. Her office
built its case against the Fusters based on the testimony of the children, one
specific medical test suggesting abuse, and a confession from Ileana Fuster.
But serious questions have been raised about all three elements.
The videotaped interviews of the children were conducted by
"child experts" Joe and Laurie Braga in a special children's unit within the
state attorney's office. In their videotaped interviews, the children revealed
horrifying tales of abuse involving masks, snakes, drills and other objects.
But the taped evaluations of children have received repeated scrutiny from
child psychologists who, based on more contemporary research, argue the
methods utilized by the Bragas (who were not psychologists) were highly
leading, suggestive and unreliable.
The only child who showed physical evidence of abuse was Frank Fuster's son,
Noel, who tested positive for gonorrhea of the throat. However, the critical
lab evidence was destroyed after just three days and before the defense had any
opportunity to retest. In addition, a number of questions have been raised about
the reliability of the particular testing procedures used by the lab at that
For many months, both the Fusters maintained their innocence. When the case
was brought to trial, Ileana's attorney decided to sever their cases. Reno's
office offered her a reduced sentence in exchange for a confession that
implicated her husband. Ileana at first refused, and was subjected to what
many critics would later condemn as questionable interviewing techniques, in an
attempt to elicit a statement of guilt from her. She was kept in solitary
confinement for weeks, and visited by a series of psychologists and therapists,
including two from Behavior Changers, Inc., who used relaxation techniques to
help Ileana "recover memories." Some experts believe such techniques can
elicit unreliable hypnotic recollections. Billing records indicate that Ileana
was visited nearly 30 times by the Behavior Changers during the months of
August and September 1985.
At the end of the "treatments," Ileana pleaded guilty, but stated to the court:
I am pleading guilty not because I'm guilty but because
it's best for my own interests, for the children, for the
court and all the people working on the case... ... I am
innocent. I have never done any harm to any children.
I have never seen any harm done. I am pleading guilty
to get all of this over and I think it's the best for the
parents and everyone.
Based on the evidence presented at trial, primarily the chilren's testimony and
Ileana's confession, Frank Fuster was convicted and sentenced to life in prison
without parole. Ileana served three years of a 10-year sentence and was then
deported to Honduras.
While in Honduras, however, Ileana repudiated her guilty plea at Frank Fuster's
trial. She gave a sworn statement to Frank Fuster's attorney Arthur
Cohen in 1994, describing in detail the "visualization" techniques employed
by Behavior Changers to recover her memory and reasserting, as she had
originally, that neither she nor her husband had commited any abuse of the
children. Fuster's attorney went to a judge who agreed to hold an evidentiary
hearing based solely on Ileana's new testimony that she had not told the truth
on the witness stand.
Shortly after her statement became public, however, Ileana retracted her sworn
statement. In a letter sent through a clergyman, Rev. Tommy Watson,
Ileana claimed that Fuster's lawyers had confused her and tricked her into
giving the statement. She wrote, "Frank Fuster did horrible things to me
and I know he did the same to the children, he deserves to be where he is
Then, in the summer of 2001, Ileana contacted FRONTLINE. She knew FRONTLINE had
remained interested in the Fuster case; several years earlier the case had been
part of its investigations for a 1998 report "The Child Terror." Ileana told
FRONTLINE she wanted to tell her story, explain why it had changed so often,
and set the record straight.
In her FRONTLINE interview with correspondent Peter J. Boyer, Ileana
says her testimony in the 1985 trial was false and neither she nor Frank Fuster
are guilty of child abuse. She says her trial testimony (as well as the letter
sent through Rev. Watson several years later) were both the result of
enormous physical and psychological pressures. She recounts a harrowing tale of
being kept naked in her Dade County jail cell, forcibly held under cold
showers, and subjected to repeated psychological badgering aimed at
convincing her that she had repressed memories of Fuster's abuse. She even
recalls late-night visits from Janet Reno.
Frank Fuster continues to serve his 165-year sentence. His attorneys say the
appeals in his case have faced serious uphill obstacles all along the way. His
one last chance for the case to be reopened may depend on the very thing most
responsible for sending him to prison in the first place -- the questionable
word of his former wife Ileana.
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