the child terror
Interview: Bobby Fijnje
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Bobby FijnjeBobby Fijnje was charged in 1989 with several counts of sexual battery of children.  He had just turned 14 years old.  Fijnje was held in the Miami Juvenile Detention Center for two years, refused a plea bargain, and finally went to trial and was acquitted by a jury in 1991.

Names of all children, except Bobby, and their families have been changed.

Bobby, you're 23 now. It's been nine years since your arrest. You had just turned 14. How long had you lived in America, when this happened?

Since I was five years old, so nine years....

So you basically started school here, what, in kindergarten or first grade?

Kindergarten.

And grew up here. Did you come to feel like an American?

Strongly I thought I was American.

You thought your future was here.

Basically, by the time I was seven-years-old, I knew what I wanted from life. I had said by the time I'm 18 I wanted to enroll in the University of Miami, play for the Hurricanes in football, and then stay in the Miami area and work....

When you were a lad your family was very deeply religious. You all were deeply involved in the church?

Yeah. It was actually a second home to me. I was there five days out of the week, either for youth groups...[or] I played in the church bells. For numerous things, just helping out, mowing the lawn, different things, it was my second home.

Was it the social center of your life?

Basically it was. I didn't really have that many friends at school. I was somewhat of a loner at school. I didn't really like associating with other people too much. I felt more comfortable at church than I did anywhere else.

...Why did you take a babysitting job there?

...On TV, you always see that the cops are always right.  They always get the right person.  And I just told them, 'No.  You got the wrong one.'  And he just kept on asking me.Because I had time to do my schoolwork while I was babysitting. I was there at church anyways for other activities, and my dad sang in the church choir. And there were a lot of activities that I did before his choir. And we only had one car, so my parents would drop me off early, and then my dad would come to chorus to rehearsal, and I stayed afterwards to help out with the babysitting of the choir people's kids.

Did they pay you?

Yeah.

How much? Do you remember?

I think it was like $2 an hour. It wasn't anything, but it gave me time to do the things I needed to do. Plus earn a bit of money on top of that....

And you had a sense that the people of the church, the grownups trusted you?

Yeah. I felt that strongly. A lot of people liked me. I didn't have any problems with anybody....

You began in that spring and the summer those years ago to discern that something was wrong, though. When did you first get a sense that there might be something upsetting, something troubling going on at the church?

Well, my mom talked to Reverend Rose, who was a senior pastor, I think, at the time, and after they had their talk, she called me at my best friend's house at that time, and she told me to come home. She needed to talk to me, and she sat me down, and she told me basically what they were saying is that I was playing too rough with them. That I should stop that. I didn't think anything of it. About two months later, that's when she told me that there were "more things happening."

When your mother said these things to you, did she seem upset, concerned, angry?

I think it was a mixed bag of emotions. Because when--after the two month period--when she told me everything that was going on, my reaction--I couldn't believe it. Still to this day, I remember I was sitting on the love chair, and she told me, and I just started crying, and I was--I didn't know why would they blame me for something like that.

What did she say? Something like what?

I can't remember exactly.

But in essence what she said was that some children were saying you were hurting them or doing some harmful thing to them?

Right. Yeah. It was basically something like that.

Do you recollect your mom telling you that she had received a letter from the church, saying that "Bobby is not welcome back here on this property?"

That was in August sometime. And it still really bothers me to this day. Because it was basically my second home.

You must have thought "What could they be thinking? Why would they suppose I could do these things?"

For the first four or five months that I was incarcerated, I really didn't know the seriousness of the charges that were against me. I didn't know what exactly they were charging me with. I didn't really find out until the last eight months of my incarceration.

...From your just then 14-year-old eyes, your family gets this letter that says, "Bobby is not welcome at the church." Your family decides "Well if he's not welcome, we're not welcome." So you all stop going to the church?

Yeah. We stopped going to that particular church. And we started visiting other churches.

And meanwhile that had also been your job, so what did you do for money?

Nothing. I was just staying home.

Did you ever look for another job of any sort?

That summer I did, and I found a job at Burger King....

So one August morning, you have a job. You get up, as I suppose as was your routine, you're getting ready to go to work. You're getting your Burger King uniform out, tell me what happens?

All of a sudden, the door knocks. My parents go open it. I was in the bathroom, brushing my teeth. My mom comes into the room, she says, "There's people that want to talk to you." And at that time I had no knowledge that they were police or anything. I don't recall specifically if my mom told me that they were or not. I walked into the living room, and there were two or three police officers sitting on the couch. And I can't remember exactly what happened, but they put me in the car. I was alone with two of the detectives. And that's when you could say everything started....

[Policemen] were here, knocking on your door, wanting to see you. One of them was named Mark Martinez. Detective Martinez asked to see you, "Bobby, come with me."

Um-hmm.

And you said what?

I didn't really say anything. I mean for me he was a cop. He was someone that I had to respect and someone that I had to trust. And I just went with him into the car....

You get in the car, and he opens the door, and you get in, and he gets in the front?

Yeah.

Turns around and talks to you then?

Yeah. He started talking, and I'm not too sure exactly what he said. But the one thing that I do remember that he said, and it's pretty much in quotes is that he said, "Before I knew you, I knew that you were guilty, but now that I see you, I definitely know you're guilty." And I had no idea what was going on, the scope of what was going on. What that meant. I just started hysterically crying. I didn't know what was going on....

Did they question you on the way to the police station?

No....

Did you expect you'd be back home that day?

I thought I was going to go to work actually. I thought they were just going to question me for an hour or so, and then I was going to go off and go to work.

And be back in your bed at night? When did you next see that home?

May 5th, 1991.

Very nearly two years later?

A year, eight months and three weeks and a day....

Scared?

Oh, terrified. I was brought up to respect police, that they were a figure above me, that I wasn't above them. That they are basically always in the right, like seeing movies on TV, you always see that the cops are always right. They always get the right person. And I just told them, "No. You got the wrong one." And he just kept on asking me. He kept on asking me....

You are a diabetic.... At the time you were in the process of self-medication. In that period you were giving yourself insulin shots.... Had you had a shot that morning?

Yeah.

How long did this interrogation process go on?

It went from 11:00 til about 8:00 o'clock at night.

And, as a diabetic, do you have any special dietary requirements?

I'm supposed to eat five times a day; breakfast, a snack, lunch, snack, dinner, and sometimes before I go to bed another snack.... I did that every day religiously....

Had you eaten that day?

Yeah. I ate breakfast.

Did you eat lunch?

I had two bites of a peanut butter sandwich.

Did you have your snacks?

Nope.

So you're in there with Martinez. How long did that go on?

For me, it seemed like it lasted three years for me.... Still to this day I can't remember being some place seeming so long, as that one day did.

What did he want from you?

He basically wanted me to say something [in compliance with] what he said.

It was in that session, Bobby, that you gave a statement that Detective Martinez wanted to hear that you in his term confessed. What did you tell him?

At that time I told him--he asked me, "What could I do for you?" I'm like, "I want to get out of here. I want to get out of this room. I don't want to be in here." And he's like, "Just tell me something, and you could leave." And I basically told him--I gave him a statement, and right after I gave him the statement, I said, "I want to get out of here. I want to leave. I want to see my mom. I want to see my dad."

What did your statement say?

That my finger accidentally slipped in, when I was wiping a girl on the toilet.

Had it?

No.

Why did you say that?

I want to get out of that room. My whole goal was just to get out of the room. My emotions were all mixed up. Martinez was a scary figure to me at that time. And I just didn't want to be around him. I didn't want to talk to him. I wanted to be out. I just wanted to leave.

Did you ever say to him "Yes. I did. I did it. I did everything. I did everything you say I did."

Yeah.

Why did you say that?

Because I wanted to leave the room. I told him right afterwards "I want to go. I want to leave...."

After you gave him the statement, after you said, "Yes. I did everything. Can I leave?" What did he say?

He was like, "No." I believe he said, "No. You're going to jail...."

Do you feel in any of this, Bobby, at all guilty?... Do you feel that maybe I did something that I shouldn't have, and now I've been caught out at it?

Not at that time. Afterwards I was more in myself; I was thinking, "Did I accidentally really do something like that?" And... really my self-esteem really got shot down. Because I was always thinking to myself, "Did I do something--could I do something like that? Could I have accidentally done something like that?" And, to this day, I know for sure I haven't....

Detective Martinez was asking you these things because the authorities had been told that these things happened.... These little girls had in fact made these and other complaints, where do you think that came from?

To this day I still have no idea.

You know that one, two, more of these little girls perhaps were frightened of you? Why do you think?

I was--well, you could say, a roughhouse babysitter.... Kids jumped on me, wrestled with me. I'd wrestle back with them, spin them around with holding their arms. I was basically to their eyes, I imagine, a rough individual.

When you first heard that there might be some unease with your babysitting style is that what you thought?... Bobby is a little too rough?

Yeah. That was the first "allegation" that was made.

You give Martinez what he wants, thinking that maybe now you can go home. You're told you're not going home. What happened next? Where did you go, if not to work, if not home?

[Eventually] I went to Dade Juvenile Detention Center.... I think I was held [at the police station] for a while. I was taken into a car, and then I was taken to another police station to get fingerprinted, photos taken....

Did you yet at this point know that you were under arrest?

No. Not really. I was a 14-year-old kid. I don't know what the arrest really meant. I mean I understand if I went out and threw a stone or a rock through a car windshield, I could get arrested. But I had no knowledge of what I was being charged with....

So what happened that night?

That night I was taken up to the first unit you could say of the detention center, which is the processing unit, where they determine where you go into your resident unit. That night [I] spent there. I had to go to the nurse's station to take care of my insulin requirements and all that. And that's basically what I remember....

What was the place like? Was it quiet? Silent? Noisy?

It was pretty quiet.

Did you see any of the other guys that were there...? What kind of people were they?

Kids to me. They were basic kids. I didn't think anything different about any other person. To me, it seemed like somewhat of a day camp or, you know, like a camp....

Do you remember going to sleep that night at the detention center?

I didn't go to sleep.

Did you get in bed?

Yeah.... It was basically a cement slab with a plastic mattress with a sheet over it. You had to put all of your clothes outside, shoes outside....

Was it a wooden door?

A metal door.

Locked? So you were incarcerated? You were in jail. The next morning comes, is it at that point that your situation begins to become clear to you or is it more confusion?

Still more confusion....

How long did it take before you realized that this was not a short term hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute, day-to-day thing? That you were in jail, and were going to stay there until a jury decided you were guilty or not guilty?

I would say two months into it.

How did it dawn on you?

Basically, because of my attorney. He really sat me down and explained to me the severity of the charges. What they meant....

In a way you grew up in jail.... You went in a boy, and came out a man. What did you miss out on during that time?

I really wouldn't know....

...Along the way you had an out, on more than one occasion you were offered a chance to bargain. Did you?

I didn't until my parents pretty much sat me down, and told me the consequences of me going to jail.

There came a moment when you all basically offered the state prosecutors a compromise.... What that compromise deal essentially was, as I understand it, is that you were I guess nearing 16, that you would go to some therapy center, psychiatric center, until you turned 18, at which point you would be released, but no time in hard jail?

Right.

Your mother encouraged you to make that deal. Why?

Because she was basically told if I was to go to jail, that I would be raped. I would be pretty much killed....

Do you remember Dr. Stephen Ceci? He came into your case eventually, but before there was a jury verdict, he got involved as an intermediary in the plea bargaining session. And Stephen Ceci suggested to you, "Bobby, take this deal." Why did he say that?

Because he also knew the dangers [to] me if I did get convicted of even one charge of the consequences that could happen to me.

Your lawyer, Mel Black, he made it clear that even he thought that you should accept that deal. Same reason?

Um-hmm.

What did you decide?

Basically, I told them I want to be out. I want to go to university when I'm 18-years-old. I want to be free. I want to continue with my education, because for a year and a half, I didn't get any schooling....

So you were willing to do some things, but what were you not willing to have happen?

For me to stay after my 18th birthday.

Is that what the state wanted?

They wanted to have their own time, where they could decide when I leave. Which basically could have meant that I could have been 99, and they would have been like, "Okay. You can leave now."

Your father recalls that moment when the state presents its deal to you, with a possibility, although certainly no hard promise, of being freed when you were 18, and he says it was the first time he recollects you were just breaking down in tears, and saying, "No."

That was one of the hardest decisions I had to make. Because basically it meant life or death to me. And when they were telling me, "No. We don't know what time you would get out. We don't know what will happen to you afterwards." I told them "No. I don't want it." Because during this whole time I was praying a lot. I was doing a lot of self-evaluation, and my answer came in that form.... I basically prayed to God, and said, "If you want me to take this plea, let them accept it the way I presented it." And the moment they came back, and said, "No. We can't do this. We have to do it in our way." I knew right away then that I'm not going to take it.

So when you made that decision now, "I'm not going to accept this. I'm going to take my chances," that put your fate in the hands of a jury. A jury that was going to be told in the most convincing way that was within their powers by the prosecutors that you had done these things. Looking back, what was your sense during the trial?

During the trial, I had the sense of there's nothing really working for me. It seemed like everything was working against me. The judge, the prosecutor, I mean we had something like 440 motions for a mistrial, and they were all denied....

[During the trial] you're hearing this testimony. What kind of testimony was it? What were they saying about you?

Basically, that I was a Superman. That I flew in and out of the windows, touched them and flew out.... And I was thinking people that work for the State of Florida, prosecutors are believing that this could actually happen, that I could fly, that I could do something like this?

Well, their answer would be of course not, but these were children. And that's part of the way they communicate.

Right.

Did you feel angry at all at the children for saying these things?

I wouldn't really say the children. I was angry, but I don't think I knew who to be angry at. You can't blame a little kid for saying something that they heard before, or that someone keeps on feeding to them. I really didn't know who to be angry at....

Was [it] a fair trial, Bobby?

No. Still to this day, I don't understand why or how this trial could have gone all the way. And like I said there was 440 mistrials asked for by my attorney. And not one of them was taken seriously. Every one of them was like, "No. Declined." I just didn't understand, because there were times when the prosecution would say something that we were not allowed to say, and they would get away with it. And it seemed like everything that the prosecution did was all right, but anything that we would do they would reprimand us for. Mr. Black once got a $10,000 contempt of court fine, because he said something that "shouldn't have been said."

...You took the stand in your own defense, which is always a difficult call for a defense attorney. Why did you all decide that?

Basically I wanted to tell my story. I wanted to make it clear to the jury what really happened.... I basically told them what I told you... that [Martinez] was pretty much against me from the beginning. And that I wouldn't--I couldn't even think about doing something like that.

You felt better after you left the stand.

Yeah. I felt like 3,000 tons of pressure were taken off my shoulders.

And the trial proceeds and reaches its conclusion, and the state stands up, and makes its case against you before the jury. And Mel Black, your attorney, stands up, and makes his case, and you're taken away, and the jury is sent off. What was your feeling then?

I felt good, but I always had a small amount of doubt, because of everything that was working against me....

How long was the jury out?

A little under five hours I believe.

So five hours at the end of the day... the trial ends on a Friday, as I recollect.... So [you] spend the night, and then the jury begins deliberations again the next morning, Saturday morning. Where did you spend that night?

Dade Juvenile Detention Center.... that also caused a controversy that night... because when I walked into the detention center, all of a sudden I was placed on the suicidal unit... They thought that because it's coming close to the end of the trial, that I would as an escape kill myself.

Were you in any way contemplating suicide?

Never thought about it. Well, I did, but not at that time....

[So in the morning] they come pick you up... to take you back to, I guess, the waiting room to await a verdict.... When did you hear that the jury had a reached a decision, after a couple of hours?

Yeah. They were a couple of hours. Mr. Black came in, and he looked at me, and he's like, "The time has come." And I looked at him, and I'm like "What are you talking about?" He's like, "The verdict is in...."

Your feeling then?

Yeah. I was nervous. I just wanted for them to read the verdict.

So Mr. Black tells you that the verdict is in. The time has come. He's feeling pretty optimistic.

Yeah. He goes back outside. He comes back 10, 15 minutes later, and he tells me, "Oh, we have to wait until Janet Reno comes."

Janet Reno, the State Attorney, wanted to be in the courtroom [for the reading of the verdict]...? How long did you wait?

Two and a half hours.

So the verdict is in, the decision by the jury that will mean your life. And you're told to wait. How did that make you feel?

Confused, angry. I was pretty bitter. I was young. I didn't know who Janet Reno was. I didn't really care who she was. This was my life. I wanted to know what's going on. I want to know what my life is going to be.

When you finally go into the courtroom and see Janet Reno, and you look over at her, what did you think?

I looked at her. I didn't really have an opinion about her. She's not the most attractive lady in the world. I really didn't know who she was. Who she stood for. I knew she was for the state, but I didn't know what level she was at.

You would come to know, of course, a couple of years later, as you were reaching adulthood, out of the country, she would become Attorney General of the United States. She would be introduced to the country as a famous child advocate prosecutor from Miami. How do you feel about her then?

I really don't understand how they could say that about her. Because I was a child. She didn't come and ask me what--"How could we work this out? What could we do?" She didn't care. She wanted to try me as an adult. I was 14-years-old; I still had my whole life ahead of me.

[So...] the jury is finally brought in, Janet Reno is in place, you're in place. The judge gavels the court to attention. The foreman stands. What happened?

My heart was trying to jump out of my chest. I really didn't know what the verdict was going to be. All my muscles in my body were pretty much tense. I saw on the video of the verdict, you see my cheekbones just completely tense up when the first verdict was read. And after that, it was just alleviation. So much was just taken off of me.

Not guilty. So you had your life back?

Not really.... There was still a big part of my life missing. My second home--

The church?

--was taken away from me. I mean we received a letter, saying that we were welcomed back, but I can't see myself going back, just because of the people that went there.

Why did this happen to you?

I try to answer that question every day. I have no idea. I wish I did.

Of course, you did not just return to a normal life, the life that you had left that morning in your Burger King uniform, thinking you'd be back that evening. You didn't return to school. You didn't return home for very long. You and your family picked up and left and returned to your folks' native country, Holland. Why that move? Why did you leave America?

Because we basically felt we weren't welcomed anymore. We were getting death threats on the phone, on the answering machine. People weren't kind. They were just really in like a destructive sort of attitude towards us....

...Your family left this place, you went on and finished school, just as you said you would. You did well enough to enter college. Why did you come back here? Why did you come back to America, to Florida?

Because I could not--I speak Dutch fluently, but my writing ability and my speaking ability--I could speak it with someone but if it comes to proper I can't do that. I can pretty much speak to you in Dutch.

But you wanted to get your education here in America?

Yeah....

You believe you can make it here?

Yeah.

In spite of everything?

But it's a lot harder than I thought.

That morning when the verdict comes in, did Janet Reno come over to you, and give you any gesture.... She didn't.... say "I'm sorry?"

Never got an apology.

Would she look [at you]?

Nothing.

To this day have you--

Never received a word from her....

Have you ever heard from the families of the alleged victims?

Never...

Do you think that there was any purpose in all of this?

I seriously wonder about--I have a lot of things that run through my mind constantly about why this has happened to me. Why has it happened to my family? But I still don't have the concrete answer....

If the Attorney General of the United States, Janet Reno... were to come into this room right now, what would you have to say to her...? What would you ask her?

Why? That would be my one question. Why? Why did you spend so much money trying to convict a 14-year-old kid? Why even try to place a kid that's 14 in a maximum security prison? Why would you even think of doing something like that? If you're a crusader for children?



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