FRONTLINE 1707 "The Child Terror"
Airdate: October 27, 1998
The Child Terror
Produced by Michael Kirk, Rick Young
Peter J. Boyer, Correspondent
Written by Peter J. Boyer and Michael Kirk
Directed by Michael Kirk
[Tonight's program contains graphic references to child sexual abuse. Viewer discretion is advised.]
NARRATOR: There was a time - in this generation - when this was about the scariest place there was, a place visited by madness. By the early 1980s, day care centers had become essential to the new realities of raising a family. Working parents left their kids in the care of others and hoped for the best. They hoped, and they worried, too.
PARENT: -jumped out of the bed to see what was wrong with him.
NARRATOR: The new realities caused a lot of anxiety.
PARENT: She had a nervousness.
PARENT: Babies don't do things like that.
NARRATOR: And when word spread that some day care centers might be preying grounds for child molesters, panic spread, too.
PARENT: I didn't know what was happening!
PARENT: -that we had to go home. "Let's go home."
PARENT: -tried to spread her legs apart and put his mouth on her vagina.
PARENT: -repeatedly raped by the man-
PARENT: I was stunned.
NARRATOR: The result was a series of sensational trials that had the elements of a crusade-
ATTORNEY: All 27 children were-
ATTORNEY: What did he touch you with?
NARRATOR: -whose righteous goal was justice for the children.
PARENT: -tries to stick toys up her rectum.
TELEVISION REPORTER: -children allegedly molested by one boy while their parents-
NARRATOR: Prosecutions were brought.
TELEVISION REPORTER: He was found guilty on all counts.
TELEVISION REPORTER: That was one of the things that was really on trial here-
NARRATOR: convictions were won.
PARENT: The system worked.
NARRATOR: But more than a decade later, the question lingers.
PARENT: -our own minds, that they're not lying.
PARENT: We believe our children.
PARENT: We know what the truth is.
NARRATOR: Was justice served?
ACCUSED: Just to be accused, you become some sort of a monster and-
ACCUSED: You are sentencing an innocent man.
PARENT: This guy comes out, you know, I'm going to kill him.
JUDGE: Thank you. Please be seated.
PROSECUTOR: Yes, sir.
JUDGE: All right. Is the state ready to proceed?
PROSECUTOR: Yes, we are, Your Honor. The state calls-
NARRATOR: The boy with the stuffed animal is 4 years old. He is a star witness in a criminal trial. He represents something new: an effort to bend the criminal justice system to accommodate a class of citizen who never before had a full say before the bar. In some cases justice could not be served until we decided at last to believe the children. Lord knows, we all thought it sounded like a good idea.
Beginning in the 1980s, crusading prosecutors, therapists and parents gave these children a voice. And on their word, the men and women these children accused were sent to prison, sometimes for life.
In the mid-1980s, there was no place in America more eager to believe the children than here in Miami, a city confronting its worst fear, an outbreak of day care sex abuse cases. It was a prosecutor's nightmare: an overheated press, a fevered community and no easy cure. Making it worse, one of the cases involved a police officer.
TELEVISION REPORTER: Officer Harold Snowden surrendered less than a day-
NARRATOR: Grant Snowden was South Miami's "Officer of the Year."
TELEVISION REPORTER: -issued arrest warrants on three charges of capital rape-
NARRATOR: That he would be arrested and prosecuted only heightened the fear in a community awakening to the threat of child sexual abuse.
TELEVISION REPORTER: -jailed without bond for a psychiatric test, but he won't share a room with other prisoners.
NARRATOR: The Snowden story unfolded one hour south of Miami, in Homestead, where he and his wife lived for 11 years. To help make ends meet, Janice took in the neighbors' children. Grant worked the night shift and was around the house during the day.
Then an ugly accusation: child sexual abuse.
DAVID MARKUS, Former Prosecutor: 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.
NARRATOR: Snowden's trouble began when another police officer said that his 4-year-old son had been abused at the Snowdens' home. Snowden furiously denied it and claimed it was the result of a personal feud with a fellow cop. But the papers got ahold of the accusation and ran with it.
The excitement caused parents to question their kids about whether anything had ever happened to them over at the Snowdens'. One 11-year-old girl said she remembered something from seven years before.
There was a trial, one accuser testifying she had been molested in Grant Snowden's home.
ATTORNEY: [in court] What did he say to you?
CHILD: He said, "Does it feel good?" And I said "No." And he said, "Yes, it does."
NARRATOR: It was a typical abuse case: no physical evidence, no eyewitnesses, the child abuse equivalent of "He said, she said," easy pickings for a defense attorney.
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: [in court] It's absurd. It's not worthy of belief, Your Honor.
NARRATOR: It took the jury only four hours to reach a verdict.
COURT OFFICER: [in court] -as charged in count one of the information?
JURY FOREMAN: Not guilty.
NARRATOR: Grant Snowden walked, a free if embittered man.
REPORTERS: Harold, what's your reaction? What's your reaction?
NARRATOR: To a disbelieving Miami, a lesson in beating the rap.
JUROR: [news broadcast] 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."
NARRATOR: But Miami's prosecutors thought they learned something, too. Put together enough of the right elements, and maybe they could start winning cases like this.
SNOWDEN FAMILY MEMBER: [to reporters] Leave us alone! You've tortured us for nine months, so leave us alone!
NARRATOR: And the lead prosecutor would show them the way.
JANET RENO: I'm experienced in the operations of the legislature and knowledgeable about-
NARRATOR: Since 1977, Janet Reno had been the chief prosecutor in Miami. She had been an avowed advocate for children. No one was more frustrated when an accused abuser walked free.
JANET RENO: -for the children and for their family has been a nightmare.
DAVID MARKUS: Janet Reno saw this problem and she did something about it. She changed how these cases were prosecuted.
NARRATOR: And the citizens of Miami were eager for Reno's crusade.
JANET RENO: -where you have eight school-age children, it's simply not fair for them-
NARRATOR: Reno literally brought the crusade into the prosecutor's office. She built 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.
NARRATOR: It was "kid-friendly" law enforcement: no gruff cops, no stiff prosecutors. In their place, specialists with a rare gift for communicating with kids, Joe and Laurie Braga.
DAVID MARKUS: Joseph and Laurie Braga, they were very opinionated. They have an unconventional appearance. They are very passionate in their belief. I think they sincerely believed that what they were doing they were doing, they were doing because it's the right thing to do.
NARRATOR: With the Bragas, revealing dark and disturbing secrets almost seemed like play.
CHILD: [therapy session videotape] Then I would bite on it, and he peed in my mouth. That's what Frank did.
JOSEPH BRAGA: Okay.
NARRATOR: The Bragas could turn kid talk into testimony. They became the Pied Pipers of child abuse in Miami.
CHILD: [therapy session videotape] I know. My Dad did something what he's not supposed to do.
DAVID MARKUS: She would sit down and tell the child that she was a "yucky secrets doctor"-
LAURIE BRAGA: [therapy session videotape] 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.
CHILD: [therapy session videotape] He touched me in the buns.
LAURIE BRAGA: Huh?
CHILD: He touched me in the buns.
NARRATOR: Now prosecutors had a winning weapon, multiple witnesses, and it was all on videotape.
CHILD: [therapy session videotape] He licked it.
LAURIE BRAGA: Huh?
CHILD: He licked it with his mouth.
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.
CHILD: [therapy session videotape] Ileana takes her clothes off.
LAURIE BRAGA: She takes her clothes off?
CHILD: And she stands with her clothes off.
LAURIE BRAGA: And then what-
NARRATOR: As it happened, fate provided the perfect test case. The Miami Herald spoke for the community and called Frank Fuster a monster. He was the perfect villain: a Cuban immigrant ex-con with a record of manslaughter and child molestation. Prosecutors applied the Miami method: expert testimony-
LAURIE BRAGA: [in court] -that they did something wrong, and if their parents-
NARRATOR: -physical evidence-
FRANK FUSTER: [in court] Do I really look like that kind of person to you?
NARRATOR: -and the crucial new component, multiple witnesses provided by the Bragas.
PROSECUTOR: [in court] Did Frank ever touch you on your body?
CHILD: On my vagina.
PROSECUTOR: On your vagina? Could you show the judge where that is?
NARRATOR: 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, a resounding triumph for Janet Reno, who was finding an emerging political identity in child advocacy. Her success was noticed by prosecutors around the country.,
DAVID MARKUS: I know that a lot of other state attorney's offices called for our opinion on how to handle these types of cases, and that this methodology is now copied by most prosecutor's offices across the country. [www.pbs.org: More on the "Miami method"]
NARRATOR: In Miami, Reno's prosecutors revisited the one that got away. They headed south to the neighborhood of Officer Grant Snowden. They had scoured the area and found children willing to come forward. They sent them to the Bragas at the sexual battery unit.
LAURIE BRAGA: [therapy session videotape] Can you show me what he did?
CHILD: He put it in his mouth.
LAURIE BRAGA: He did?
DAVID MARKUS: 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.
[in court] You will hear testimony in this trial from two other children-
NARRATOR: David Markus was ready to take Grant Snowden to justice.
DAVID MARKUS: Our case consisted primarily of three witnesses and two pieces of physical evidence. We had the main victim in the case and two similar fact witnesses.
[in court] When you went home, did you tell your mother what had happened?
DAVID MARKUS: Why not?
CHILD: I was scared.
NARRATOR: Markus says prosecutors found many accusations. They settled for three dramatic and emotional witnesses.
DAVID MARKUS: [in court] Did he touch you on the inside or the outside or both?
INTERVIEWER: 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.
INTERVIEWER: So if you have multiple witnesses-
DAVID MARKUS: It adds to the credibility.
INTERVIEWER: -essentially testifying to the same thing-
DAVID MARKUS: Yes.
NARRATOR: A key feature of the Reno method was to present juries with shocking medical evidence of abuse, an array of afflictions which added the confirmatory authority of science to the prosecution.
DAVID MARKUS: The two similar fact witnesses had symptoms of venereal disease. One had gonorrhea of the throat. One had a disease called Gardnerella vaginitis, which is a disease that is associated with sexually-transmitted diseases.
NARRATOR: The defense took the usual approach: attack the credibility of the accuser. But this time there were three of them.
INTERVIEWER: The jury goes out, and what happens?
DAVID MARKUS: Came back in an hour.
INTERVIEWER: What did that tell you?
COURT OFFICER: [in court] -as charged in count one of the information, guilty.
DAVID MARKUS: It told me they believed the kids.
GRANT SNOWDEN: [in court] 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.
NARRATOR: The judge, a mother herself, threw the book at Grant Snowden: five life terms, no chance at parole until he was 83 years old.
The sensational cases heightened the child abuse fever raging in Miami, but now at least there was a demonstrated remedy. Worried parents AND therapists and prosecutors joined in an alliance that amounted to a kind of sexual abuse community watch. And they were ready when the next horror story broke.
TELEVISION REPORTER: And the child's graphic description of oral copulation-
TELEVISION REPORTER: -the rest of his life in jail-
TELEVISION REPORTER: -touched her, penetrated her and-
TELEVISION REPORTER: So far, statements have been taken from 700 people.
TELEVISION REPORTER: And I'm Gizelle Fernandez. Coming up next on Channel 6 Action News: Tonight, in part one of my investigation, was there a devil in our church?
TELEVISION REPORTER: Police arrested 14-year-old Bobby Fijnje, a volunteer in the church nursery, and-
NARRATOR: The story of 14-year-old Bobby Fijnje began in an affluent South Miami neighborhood where his father, a Dutch diplomat, had moved the family when he retired. Parents at this church came to believe that Bobby Fijnje, a church baby-sitter, had molested their children while they worshipped in the sanctuary nearby.
Their worst fears were confirmed when they heard the boy had made a full confession.
LOUIS AGUIRRE, Miami News Reporter: Bobby was arrested in his home in his Burger King uniform, and he admitted to accidentally letting his fingers slip into the vagina of one of the little girls. That's what he confessed to.
NARRATOR: Bobby Fijnje was himself just a kid, a boy with a clean record and a good reputation. But he stood accused of victimizing children, and that put him in the way of a community's righteous wrath.
Prosecutors showed him no mercy. They sidestepped juvenile court and charged him directly as an adult, two months past his 14th birthday. A guilty verdict would mean seven mandatory life terms in prison.
LOUIS AGUIRRE: They were going to lock him up and throw away the key. But you can't forget the faces of the little children you saw, also.
NARRATOR: Bobby might have been a child himself, but in the view of the community he wasn't the victim. The victims were the children on the videotapes.
CHILD: [therapy session videotape] I don't like Bobby.
THERAPIST: Did he ever do anything to you that you didn't like?
CHILD: Yes, he did.
LOUIS AGUIRRE: I mean, they never saw the faces. I saw the faces of those little girls. I mean, I took that home with me every night, and that hit me like a dagger in the heart.
TELEVISION REPORTER: The little girl had recurring nightmares of the big, bad wolf. She excessively masturbated-
LOUIS AGUIRRE: To this day, I have no doubt. I am certain that something happened to those kids.
TELEVISION REPORTER: The state attorney's office is thinking about adding three or four more children-
NARRATOR: The media's barrage was unceasing-
TELEVISION REPORTER: The investigation is expanding-
NARRATOR: -a news director's dream.
EXPERT: [television interview] They are conducting a much more widespread investigation.
TELEVISION REPORTER: The list of alleged victims has now grown to 20.
TELEVISION REPORTER: We warn you this is explicit language.
PROSECUTOR: [in court] They talk about fingers being inserted into their genital areas, both vaginas and the anuses-
NARRATOR: In court, prosecutors built their case-
PROSECUTOR: -Bobby's penis-
NARRATOR: -the lurid accusations elicited from children by sympathetic therapists.
TELEVISION REPORTER: At least four toddlers have told therapists of how the teenager played horrible sex games-
NARRATOR: And something new. Bobby Fijnje would not be able to actually face his accusers, or rather the children would not be forced to face him.
TELEVISION REPORTER: The court has ruled that Bobby's right to face his accusers is not as important as the child's right not to face any more trauma.
TELEVISION REPORTER: A psychologist told jurors-
NARRATOR: And there was that new staple of these cases: child abuse experts to bolster the children's testimony.
SUSAN KEELEY, Child Psychologist: [in court] Even though a statement may not be clearly made, especially by a young child, if you have a whole bunch of these things going on, they can be indicators. Children can show in their behavior, not necessarily with their words, that indeed something has happened to them.
NARRATOR: Bobby Fijnje had been in jail for nearly two years awaiting judgment, literally growing up before the jury's eyes. At the climax of the case, its evidence presented, the prosecution explored the prospect of a deal, and they hinted as much to their favorite T.V. news reporter, Louis Aguirre.
LOUIS AGUIRRE: [news broadcast] Well, there almost seemed to be a cloud of secrecy surrounding the Bobby Fijnje sex abuse trial today. Dade state attorney Janet Reno, along with assistant state attorney John Hogan, arrived on the scene, and convened inside the judge's chambers, where they-
INTERVIEWER: Was it significant that Janet Reno showed up, that her top guy, John Hogan, with her?
LOUIS AGUIRRE: Oh, sure it was significant. It was only during those crisis situations that you would ever see her in an actual courtroom. So I knew that there was something heavy going on.
[news broadcast] Now, we do not know what the subject of that meeting was or what it was that they discussed-
NARRATOR: The deal was simple. If Bobby pled guilty, he could go to a psychiatric hospital instead of a maximum-security prison.
LOUIS AGUIRRE: [news broadcast] -but I wouldn't like to speculate-
NARRATOR: Bobby Fijnje's parents didn't trust the deal. The talks broke down.
LOUIS AGUIRRE: [news broadcast] Now, here's where all this gets interesting-
NARRATOR: Behind closed doors, a highly-regarded child behaviorist, his credential acknowledged by both sides, was brought in to mediate.
LOUIS AGUIRRE: [news broadcast] -surprising new developments to-
Dr. STEPHEN CECI, Psychology Prof., Cornell University: I didn't accept a fee. They knew that I wasn't a hired gun. I described the state's offer. Bobby's father was pounding the table. "No son of mine is going to say he did something he didn't do. He can spend the rest of his life in jail rather than admit to that stuff." I remember saying, "Mr. Fijnje, if it were you, fine. But if Bobby were my child, I think I'd tell him to take the state's plea."
LOUIS AGUIRRE: [news broadcast] Bobby Fijnje himself also had a private moment alone with his parents inside an empty courtroom-
BOBBY FIJNJE'S MOTHER: And this is very scary, you know, because there comes a time that you are trying to think about your son, and not about yourself, you know? And at this point, actually, it doesn't matter if he's innocent or guilty. You're just thinking about his life, what's going to happen to him, you know?
STEPHEN CECI: If Bobby were convicted, he would have been on every hardened criminal's dance card within a week. I mean, he was not a very stout 15-year-old. He was a very likable, amiable young man - emphasis on young - not at all hardened by his two years in a juvenile detention facility. And if he were a child of mine, I would not have rolled the dice with his life.
NARRATOR: The Fijnjes considered Ceci's arguments and the state's offer. And in the end, Bobby said no. He would take his chances with a jury.
BOBBY FIJNJE'S FATHER: That's one of the few times I saw Bobby cry. He said, "Dad, how can I plead guilty if I did not do anything?" And that's why- that's the time I told my lawyers, "Forget about it now, and put attention to what you're doing and we go to trial."
LOUIS AGUIRRE: [news broadcast] Again, we've been unable to confirm what all this secrecy, what all this activity means here at the Dade Country courthouse-
NARRATOR: While courtroom reporters awaited the outcome, the fever away from the court raged. Stories about what had happened in that church had spun wildly to ever more bizarre reaches.
REPORTER: Mr. and Mrs. Fijnje? Mr. and Mrs. Fijnje!
NARRATOR: Mr. and Mrs. Fijnje, members of an international porno ring.
TELEVISION REPORTER: Police are investigating allegations of satanic-like rituals-
NARRATOR: Bobby leading the children in a ghastly ritual, cooking and devouring of a baby.
TELEVISION REPORTER: This is what investigators found at Old Cutler's Activity Center: one animal skull and numerous costumes, including a black garment. They found multi-colored candles and a log with holes and wax to support the candles. Bobby Fijnje's attorney refused to talk with us-
NARRATOR: Bobby's lawyers believed he was now the victim of hysteria. They did their best to knock down the most outrageous claims.
PETER MILLER, Defense Attorney: When we did our investigation of what was this all about, the ropes that they seized were from the Boy Scout knot board. They were being used by the Boy Scouts during their Boy Scout training. The candles that they seized were from the Girl Scouts' initiation. And the satanic costumes that they seized were from the Christmas pageants. The skull, by the way, we did have examined. It turned out to be a small animal that was probably hit by a car.
TELEVISION REPORTER: This was a day that defense attorneys had tried to avoid-
NARRATOR: In court, the defense addressed the matter of Bobby's confession.
TELEVISION REPORTER: And Metro-Dade Detective Mark Martinez took the stand.
NARRATOR: It had been a powerful part of the state's case.
Det. MARK MARTINEZ: [in court] He told me that he used to take her to the bathroom. He would pull her panties down and, quote, "My finger slipped in," end quote.
TELEVISION REPORTER: The Metro-Dade sexual battery detective's testimony would be damaging-
NARRATOR: But the story of Bobby's arrest and confession that first day turned out to be more complicated than prosecutors would have had the jury believe.
BOBBY FIJNJE'S FATHER: Bobby was getting ready to go to his job at Burger King. And I went to the door, and I see there are three fellows. And one flashes his badge and says, "We're from the police." I said, "Oh? What do you want?" "We want to talk to Bobby."
BOBBY FIJNJE: I was in the bathroom, brushing my teeth. My mom comes into the room, and she says, "Yeah, there's some people that want to talk to you." I walked into the living room, and there were two or three police officers sitting on the couch.
NARRATOR: Police Detective Martinez took Bobby to a squad car. Bobby says he believes the cop made up his mind right then and there.
BOBBY FIJNJE: He said, "Before I knew you, I knew that you were guilty. But now that I see you, I definitely know you're guilty."
NARRATOR: Martinez and his partner took Bobby down to police headquarters. Bobby's parents were not only stunned, they were genuinely worried about his physical well-being. Bobby had diabetes. He required a strict regimen of meals and medication to maintain his physical and mental equilibrium.
Down at headquarters, Detective Martinez interrogated Bobby for hours without his medicine or a meal.
BOBBY FIJNJE: 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.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever say to him, "Yes. I did. I did it. I did everything. I did everything you said I did"?
BOBBY FIJNJE: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Why'd you say that?
BOBBY FIJNJE: Because I wanted to leave the room.
BOBBY FIJNJE'S FATHER: Then he comes and says, "Yup, Bobby just confessed." I said, "What? How is this? When I was there, nothing. He did not say a word. There was nothing said about this thing. And now that we left the room, that you come and tell us now that he said that?"
He said, "Well, if you people want, you can go back to the interrogation room and talk to him." The moment we got in, he said, "Mom and dad"-
BOBBY FIJNJE'S MOTHER: He took me- you know, the moment I walk in, he-
BOBBY FIJNJE'S FATHER: He embraced my wife.
BOBBY FIJNJE'S MOTHER: He embraced me, and he start crying. He said, "Mom! Mom! I didn't do it! I didn't do it! I just told him that because he said I could go home."
NARRATOR: But Bobby wasn't going home.
TELEVISION REPORTER: The defense attorney, Mel Black, attached Martinez's testimony-
NARRATOR: Under defense questioning, Martinez denied he had coerced the confession.
MEL BLACK, Defense Attorney: [in court] Was he under any kind of duress at the time that he signed the class list and affixed his initials there?
Det. MARK MARTINEZ: Not as far as I know.
MEL BLACK: Did Bobby cry that day?
Det. MARK MARTINEZ: No.
NARRATOR: Martinez had only been a detective for six months, still a rookie at sexual abuse cases. He admitted he hadn't kept a record of exactly what happened during that long interrogation- no recordings, no signed statements.
And what about all that testimony from the children?
CHILD: [therapy session videotape] He tied me up in the back of his sister's truck.
NARRATOR: The testimony against Bobby was elicited by private therapists hired by parents. One of those therapists was psychologist Susan Keeley.
MEL BLACK: [in court] -this point right here, "He scared you, right?" Are you somehow suggesting to the child the answer, rather than eliciting a spontaneous answer?
SUSAN KEELEY: The child had already spontaneously stated that to me on other occasion or occasions.
PETER MILLER, 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: [in court] Practiced in what regard? I might have tried to share-
MEL BLACK: Practiced what she was going to say.
SUSAN KEELEY: I might have shared with them the vocabulary that she has to- I don't remember talking with them. If I did, it's in my notes.
NARRATOR: As it happens, the notes and transcripts of Dr. Keeley's sessions provided a key to Bobby's defense.
NOTES: 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?
NARRATOR: Dr. Stephen Ceci, the child expert recognized by both sides in the case, was called to the stand to judge the process.
STEPHEN CECI: 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?"
INTERVIEWER: 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."
TELEVISION REPORTER: Joan, there was standing room only for this, on the final day of the Bobby Fijnje trial. And listen now as both sides wrap up their arguments to the jury.
NARRATOR: In their closing arguments, Bobby's lawyers followed Ceci's logic. They told the jury that this time they should not believe the children.
MEL BLACK: [in court] Is that real or make-believe? And how many times do 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.
NARRATOR: The prosecution tried its best to make a monster of the teenage defendant.
PROSECUTOR: All six foot five, or however tall he wants to say he is, is the center of attention in this courtroom, that person over there is the one who hurt each and every one of these children!
NARRATOR: Finally, after 13 weeks, the jury got the case. They delivered a verdict the next morning.
BOBBY FIJNJE: Mr. Black came in, and he looked at me, and he's, like, "The time has come. The verdict's in."
LOUIS AGUIRRE: The verdict came in on a Saturday. It was a packed house. I remember all of the parents of the kids in this case were in the courtroom. They were all huddled together in prayer, as was the family and friends of Bobby Fijnje.
I mean, you could just feel the tension in the air. I know that sounds very cliched, but you could really feel the tension in the air and the anticipation that everyone was feeling at that moment. The anxiety was just so intense.
BOBBY FIJNJE: I was nervous, and I just wanted for them to read the verdict.
PETER MILLER: He was looking at life in prison in a maximum-security prison, never eligible for parole. The best news that we had was that the statistics are that he'd probably be dead in five to seven years from AIDS anyway. I mean, that's what this boy was facing.
BOBBY FIJNJE'S FATHER: We were waiting there. Fifteen minutes pass, a half an hour passes, an hour passes. So finally, one of our lawyers go and ask, "What are we waiting for?"
BOBBY FIJNJE: He comes back 10, 15 minutes later, and he tells me, he's, "Oh, we have to wait. We have to wait till Janet Reno comes."
BOBBY FIJNJE'S FATHER: So apparently, there was a telephone conversation between Janet Reno and the judge to wait for Janet Reno to come to court to be there when the verdict was read.
INTERVIEWER: How long did you wait?
BOBBY FIJNJE: Two and a half hours. 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.
NARRATOR: Finally Janet Reno and her top deputy arrived. One of the most expensive prosecutions in Miami's history was about to come to a conclusion.
BOBBY FIJNJE: 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 mean, in the- I saw on the video of the verdict- you see my cheekbones just completely tense up when the first verdict was read.
JURY FOREMAN: Count one, the defendant is not guilty. Count two, the defendant is not guilty. Count three-
NARRATOR: 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.
COURT OFFICER: Order in the courtroom, please!
LOUIS AGUIRRE: And then it just hits you in the stomach, like a punch in the stomach, when they actually read it. And he was found not guilty on all counts. There was a collective gasp in the room. I think everybody really expected him to be found guilty on at least, you know, some of the counts.
JUDGE: At this time, I will discharge Mr. Fijnje from any further custody, and we will stand adjourned.
NARRATOR: After the verdict, the child advocate prosecutor met privately with the accusing parents. Janet Reno still believed the children.
PARENT: That sickens me as a Christian, and it should sicken every Christian that breathes on this planet.
PARENT: Oh, yeah.
PARENT: I don't know what to tell my daughter today. What can I tell her?
PARENT: Because anyone that has a child, especially my child's age, knows that they're the most honest little people in the world! And until people believe what they have to say, there's going to continue to be rampant child abuse! And it just makes me sick!
NARRATOR: With Bobby's acquittal, the proven Miami method of prosecuting ritual sexual abuse had been stopped cold by a jury.
JANET RENO: The jury has spoken, and we accept its verdict.
REPORTER: What do you think, Bobby? Were you surprised?
BOBBY FIJNJE: I- I'll talk to you guys a little later.
NARRATOR: It was a moment for sober reflection.
PETER MILLER: It is extremely frightening, the power that rests with our prosecuting officials. How many of us, if faced with what they were trying to do to Bobby, would be able to fight that kind of a battle either financially or emotionally?
BOBBY FIJNJE: [to reporters] I'll talk to you guys tomorrow.
REPORTER: Worst thing ever to happen to you in your life?
BOBBY FIJNJE: Yes, it is.
NARRATOR: With the acquittal of Bobby Fijnje, the sex abuse fever broke in Miami. [www.pbs.org: A closer look at the Fijnje case]
Janet Reno would move to Washington as attorney general. Her child abuse record had helped bring her to the attention of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
JANET RENO: I, Janet Reno, will well and faithfully perform the duties of the office on which I am now about to enter.
NARRATOR: There would not be another multiple-victim day-care case brought by the Miami prosecutors.
JURY FOREMAN: We, the jury in the above entitled action, find the defendants not guilty-
NARRATOR: And around the country, there didn't seem to be quite the appetite for these cases anymore, as juries also began to acquit defendants.
ACCUSED CHILD MOLESTER: -say all these terrible things that I did to children, when I never, never, never did! I never did! I never did!
FAMILY MEMBER [?]: You should be angry at the prosecutor's office in the state of New Jersey to bring a fraudulent case with fraudulent-
NARRATOR: But what about those men and women already convicted who are 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 found, deep inside documents and court transcripts, what he believed were cracks in the prosecutor's case against Grant Snowden.
ROBERT ROSENTHAL, Snowden Attorney: I look at the record, and that's what I look at. When I see the state doing what they do in these cases, that's where my rage builds. The arrogance that they go through this, how they'll take the Constitution and toss it out the window so that we can get this guy.
NARRATOR: The case against Snowden had seemed airtight. The jury had needed only a little more than an hour to send Snowden to prison for five life terms. Prosecutors had the expert testimony of Dr. Laurie Braga and others, who told the jury to believe the children. They had physical evidence, gonorrhea and Gardnerella vaginitis. And they had the children.
For Rosenthal, the physical evidence, the gonorrhea and Gardnerella vaginitis, were almost easy to dismiss.
ROBERT ROSENTHAL: The diagnosis was made through methods that aren't a diagnosis. The doctor found some moisture and redness. She looked at that under a microscope and pronounced that she had found Gardnerella vaginitis. That's not a test for Gardnerella, but the jury never knew that. In fact, this doctor had changed her testing right after she did this case 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.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, but it wasn't just Gardnerella, it was also gonorrhea.
ROSENTHAL: Well, again, he tested positive in the first test they gave him, but they didn't treat him. They tested him again, I guess using a more accurate test, and it was negative. So again, there's no evidence of gonorrhea in that trial that withstands any sort of scrutiny.
NARRATOR: And there could be no defense scrutiny of the test's findings.
ROSENTHAL: Well, they could have, if she didn't destroy them before- she threw out this microscope slide that she had the moisture on from the girl. And I believe the positive gonorrhea test in the boy was destroyed, as well- before trial, before any defense attorney could have gotten anywhere near it.
NARRATOR: And the question, "Did Grant Snowden have gonorrhea?" was never settled.
ROSENTHAL: Right. It was never established that Grant Snowden had gonorrhea. And the other thing that was never established- nobody ever checked Leslie's family to see if they had Gardnerella.
NARRATOR: Since the conviction, Reno's prosecutor, David Markus, has changed sides. He now sometimes defends accused child molesters. Nevertheless, he continues to firmly believe in the righteousness of the Snowden conviction.
INTERVIEWER: Why didn't Grant Snowden have gonorrhea?
DAVID MARKUS: Penicillin.
DAVID MARKUS: I think he was treated.
INTERVIEWER: But wouldn't there be some record of the treatment?
DAVID MARKUS: Oh, you mean, could somebody get penicillin without anybody knowing about it?
INTERVIEWER: Wouldn't the doctor- wouldn't- couldn't his doctors be-
DAVID MARKUS: I think if people can get heroin, crack and LSD, they can get penicillin.
INTERVIEWER: So you believe that Grant Snowden may have gone out and treated himself, in essence.
DAVID MARKUS: Of course. And he was a police officer who knew he was under investigation.
INTERVIEWER: What about that?
ROSENTHAL: Yeah. I don't know what to say about that. I mean, these theories of, "Well, he went out and treated himself"- you didn't prove he had it. How do you prove you never had a disease? You know? It's- it is impossible, and they play on these sort of twists.
INTERVIEWER: What about the prosecution's evidence, the little boy with the gonorrhea, the little girl with the Gardnerella? Was that enough to convict?
DAVID MARKUS: It was to me.
INTERVIEWER: By itself?
DAVID MARKUS: By itself? I don't know that I would have charged the case had that been the only evidence.
INTERVIEWER: But you also had the kids' word.
DAVID MARKUS: I had the kids' word.
INTERVIEWER: The Gardnerella, apparently, is not exclusively a sexually-transmitted venereal disease.
DAVID MARKUS: Correct.
INTERVIEWER: Why is that not a problem, then?
DAVID MARKUS: It's a problem if you don't have anything else. It's corroborative of the girl's statement. It's not conclusive.
INTERVIEWER: So it's corroborative if you also have what, witnesses?
DAVID MARKUS: Well, how about the girl saying that it happened?
NARRATOR: So the medical evidence alone wasn't enough, even for prosecutors. They also needed the multiple witnesses. They needed the jury to believe the children.
ROSENTHAL: The issue in this case, first of all, is not whether children are lying about this. It's whether- it's whether suggestion and coercion supplanted their memories, implanted memories of abuse in them and- and so when they were testifying, they were testifying to the truth as they knew it to be, but it was not the historical- historically accurate truth.
INTERVIEWER: Wait a minute. Prosecutors in the Snowden case had not just one, but several children, children who in some circumstances didn't even know each other. Why would they make that up?
ROSENTHAL: 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 turned 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.
NARRATOR: Once again, Dr. Ceci, the child behavior expert, was called upon to judge the methods that produced the children's testimony.
STEPHEN CECI: They were quite problematic interviews, every single one of the tapes that I saw. I sit and look at it as a researcher, and I cringe. I say, "God, I wish they didn't do that! And look, they're doing it again!"
NARRATOR: According to Dr. Ceci and Rosenthal, the children were not lying. They just weren't telling the truth.
STEPHEN CECI: As a product of going through repeated suggestive interviews, a child has come to believe something that's not true. That child's very convincing. I mean, they believe it themselves. So their face has none of the leakage it has when they're lying.
INTERVIEWER: Might as well be the truth.
STEPHEN CECI: It is to the child. It has come to be to the child.
INTERVIEWER: Was it personally persuasive that there was more than one child?
DAVID MARKUS: Of course.
INTERVIEWER: And it was therefore important to you to let the jury hear that there was more than one child.
DAVID MARKUS: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: Why was it important that they were all telling the same story?
DAVID MARKUS: Well, generally, if people tell the same story, and it's not shown that they got together and made up a story, then what they're saying is probably true.
INTERVIEWER: But couldn't it also be that they were all being fed the same information from the same source, namely the Bragas?
DAVID MARKUS: That's the defense perspective, and that's why it was so important that the videotapes be made. And that's why they were made, because that was anticipated that that would be a defense.
NARRATOR: But Dr. Stephen Ceci has a verdict on those tapes.
LAURIE BRAGA: [therapy session videotape] And did this happen in the living room or the bedroom?
CHILD: In the living room.
LAURIE BRAGA: In the living room? What about in the shower? Did it ever happen in the shower, in the bathtub?
CHILD: It happened in the shower.
LAURIE BRAGA: In the shower?
LAURIE BRAGA: In the shower, too. So it happened more than one time.
STEPHEN CECI: What you see throughout the whole interview is a rather endless repetition of very directed questions. "Was it living room or kitchen?" "Was it shower or bathtub?" Now, kids have response sets or biases. They're much more likely to take the second thing that you say. They assume that one of those two is always the answer, so the question is which, and they tend to like the second one, the last one that you say.
LAURIE BRAGA: [therapy session videotape] Yeah, but let's suppose, if a grown-up tried to touch you, do you know what you should say?
LAURIE BRAGA: "No." But let's suppose a grown-up tried to do that. It wouldn't be your fault.
CHILD: No fault.
LAURIE BRAGA: No, because a lot of children come, and they talk to me, and they feel very sad because they think that they did something bad, but they didn't.
STEPHEN CECI: See again, she's invoking peer pressure. She's creating a context of accusation. The atmospherics are all accusatory. "Other kids come and tell me about bad things." That's- the implied message is "That's what we're here to do today, as well. I'm a nice person. You want to please me. There are naughty things that adults do when they do this or that." So it's really crossed over the line. This is no longer a forensic interview, if it ever was. [www.pbs.org: More on the children's interviews]
DAVID MARKUS: This is not The Manchurian Candidate, the movie. This is sexual abuse, the reality. And in reality, it's very difficult to persuade a child to lie about something so visceral repeatedly and convincingly. I wish someone could tell me how to brainwash children, because then I'd be able to brainwash my 8-year-old son to clean up his room.
ROBERT ROSENTHAL: This is not brainwashing kids to clean their room. This is convincing someone that something happened. You- there are kids up to a certain age that believe there is a Santa Claus. To them, the truth is- if you ask them, "What is the truth?," Santa Claus exists. It's not historically accurate. It's not literally- in the world it's not accurate. But to them, in their world, that is an accurate statement. [www.pbs.org: Read a discussion with five experts]
INTERVIEWER: But you're telling me a story, Mr. Rosenthal, about a series of adults, parents and children and law enforcement officers, prosecutors, therapists inventing from whole cloth narratives about the most wretched sorts of abuse, horrific stories, and planting them in the heads of these innocent children 4 and 5 years old. Why in the world would they do that?
ROBERT ROSENTHAL: I think there are probably as many reasons as there are people in these cases. Laurie Braga and her husband, Joseph Braga, were making a career out of being able to ferret out accusations of abuse from children who had been abused but wouldn't say anything about it.
NARRATOR: But Janet Reno and her prosecutors were not malicious people. On the contrary, they were in the business of doing good. But perhaps their good intentions had unintended consequences for the children they meant to rescue.
STEPHEN CECI: If they were not violated originally by the defendant, they've been violated by the system because their autobiographies have been usurped. And that's a pretty horrible thing. It undermines your sense of reality and your ability to test reality when what you had assumed was true, you no longer assume is true.
LAURIE BRAGA: [therapy session videotape] Did he put his penis here, or did he put his penis here? Did he put his penis in your mouth? Where else? In your mouth, too? And then what happened? When he put his penis in your mouth, what happened then?
CHILD: It tastes yucky.
LAURIE BRAGA: It tasted yucky. Did something come out of his penis? Well, when you said it tasted yucky, what tasted yucky, his penis or was it wet?
CHILD: It was wet.
LAURIE BRAGA: It was wet. Did you think maybe, like, he peed in your mouth or something?
CHILD: I think he did.
LAURIE BRAGA: He did. He peed in your mouth.
DAVID MARKUS: Now, if you were to ask me, if I wouldn't have had any other evidence in this case other than the interview by Laurie Braga of this child, would I have prosecuted the case? The answer would be no.
NARRATOR: Markus acknowledged that any single element of the Miami method would not have been enough for him to go to trial. The Gardnerella diagnosis alone- not enough. The gonorrhea test alone- not enough. The disclosures of the children to Laurie Braga-
LAURIE BRAGA: [therapy session videotape] Did he rub his penis outside or put it inside?
LAURIE BRAGA: Inside.
NARRATOR: Alone- not enough. It was when prosecutors put them all together that they finally believed they had enough evidence to send Grant Snowden to prison for life.
ROBERT ROSENTHAL: I think that's a disgraceful way for a prosecutor to look at a case. The prosecutor doesn't have the luxury of saying, "I have no faith in this, I have no faith in this, I have no faith in this. But if I put them together, I can create a big enough mirage, there's enough smoke here, that I can convince the jury that something happened." That's- the prosecutor's function is to find justice, is to seek justice in this.
NARRATOR: Rosenthal's brief was filed in federal appeals court in Atlanta. Grant Snowden's legal options were about played out.
ROSENTHAL: What I saw was evidence of a false conviction, of manufactured evidence and a wrongful conviction.
NARRATOR: In February, 1998, the appeals court rendered its verdict. That day in prison, Grant Snowden got the call he was waiting for.
GRANT SNOWDEN: I felt like, "Wow! Finally! Finally, they see it. They finally see that they were wrong. After all these years, finally they see that they were wrong. And I'm going to go free!"
NARRATOR: Snowden was free, but his troubles are by no means over.
DAVID MARKUS: I never thought I'd be sitting here discussing Mr. Snowden's case getting overturned. And I was shocked an amazed that they let this man out of jail.
NARRATOR: The prosecutors say they are not prepared to let Snowden get away.
INTERVIEWER: Do you believe he'll be tried again?
DAVID MARKUS: Yes, I do.
INTERVIEWER: Should he be?
DAVID MARKUS: I believe so. I don't think it should be dismissed, at this point, and have Mr. Snowden become a martyr and an innocent man, and have him go write a book on how he was wronged.
NARRATOR: The prosecutor's office has taken it all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where it is now under review. For now, Snowden is free on bail, poring over the transcripts of his trials, looking for any evidence to ensure his freedom. He lives with his mother- unemployed, divorced from his wife, his children grown.
INTERVIEWER: At the moment of your liberation, had you been able to come face to face with Janet Reno and her prosecutors, what would you have said to them?
GRANT SNOWDEN: I don't have anything to say to them. I want to know what they have to say to me. I want to know what they have to say to me for taking my entire life away from me, 12 years in prison. I lost my children's childhood. I lost my wife, my home, everything that I ever owned. What do they have to say to me? They know they did wrong. They know they maliciously prosecuted me, and they sent me away for something I didn't do. And I'm- I'm not happy about it at all.
INTERVIEWER: If Janet Reno were to come into this room right now, what would you have to say to her? What would you ask her?
BOBBY FIJNJE: "Why?" That would be my one question. "Why? Why did you spend so much money trying to convict a 14-year-old kid? Why- why- 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?"
NARRATOR: In Washington, Janet Reno brought her children's crusade orientation to the Justice Department. One month into her tenure as attorney general, she faced her first big decision. The FBI was pressuring her to use force in a stand-off. Reno resisted. The FBI prompted the reluctant attorney general by telling her that children were being abused. She approved their plan to rescue the children with Bradley tanks and tear gas in a place called Rancho Apocalypse not too far from Waco, Texas.
ANNOUNCER: For more of this story, visit FRONTLINE on-line. Take a closer look at Miami's formula for winning child abuse cases. Read a debate on what gave rise to mass child abuse cases in the '80s and early '90s, and where are we now. And evaluate for yourself the taped children's interviews, and read an expert's analysis and much more at www.pbs.organization.
ANNOUNCER: Next time on FRONTLINE, Fat. We love it; we hate it.
EXPERT: We live in a food-toxic environment.
ANNOUNCER: Now the same industry that's making us fatter is cashing in, trying to make us slim.
EXPERT: People are bombarded with messages, "Eat this." "Eat this." "Eat this." And then on the other hand, they're told, "Don't eat."
ANNOUNCER: Why is it so hard to get rid of fat, and should we?
NON-DIETER: I like being a big woman. And who the hell is out there to tell me that anything is wrong with it?
ANNOUNCER: Watch Fat next time on FRONTLINE.
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