the child terror
Interview: Peter Miller
see below for text
Peter MillerPeter Miller is a private defense attorney in Miami who participated in the defense of Bobby Fijnje.

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

What are the relevant facts of the Fijnje case?

It was a case of mass hysteria--started off small, got much bigger. [It was a] case with a very large church that became split apart by those that believed something had occurred, and those that thought it was all absurd. And it was a very, very big tragedy for Bobby Fijnje.

Who was Bobby Fijnje?

[The charges against Fijnje} ranged from cannibalism to Freddy Kruger coming out of the ground, to little boys flying, to Bobby and his family being on the roof of their home with the children on a trampoline jumping up and down nude. I mean, the allegations got more and more bizarre. The police and the prosecutors quite often were, what I thought, somewhat grasping at straws. Bobby Fijnje was, at the time of his arrest, I believe, [14] years old. He was a boy who came here with his parents from Curacao. They came to the United States so that they could get a better education and better opportunities. Bobby was a very, very religious boy. Went to church every Sunday. Volunteered for all the church functions. Bobby's father was a deacon at the church. His mother was active in the church, his sister was active in the church. Bobby was an all A student type of boy that anyone would be proud of.

And the demographic of the church?

Demographic of the church was upper middle class. Very respected membership, leaders of this community.

When did Bobby Fijnje's troubles begin?

I believe his arrest was in 1989, if memory serves me right. His troubles began when the police came to his home and asked his dad to let him come down to the station. And [then] began a very, very lengthy interrogation outside the presence of the parents for many, many hours....

What are the charges? What are the police digging for?

I'm not really sure what the police were digging for. At the time they went to Bobby's house, they also executed a search warrant and seized all types of family photos and other photographs. Bobby is diabetic and Bobby went without any food and without any type of sugar for something like ten hours. I don't remember the exact time, but it was a very, very long period of time.... These are charges that then compounded. It started initially with three or four children--one, primarily.

Basically, what we were able to determine during our investigation with regard to the little girl who the whole thing started with, was Bobby was a volunteer worker at the church, taking care of kids during Sunday services, during church meetings ... along with a number of other children volunteers.

One of Bobby's problems was he was a kid himself. He liked horsing around with kids. And some of the younger kids, the five year olds, got scared by being rolled around and tossed around. And apparently this little girl was a little bit afraid of playing rough like that.

Had she had nightmares or something?

She apparently had some nightmares of a big bad wolf. And apparently, according to the mother, was drawing some stick figures with inappropriate genitalia on it. And they didn't quite know where would she get this from. During our investigation we learned that with regard to the nightmares of the big bad wolf ... her favorite video was a "Little Red Riding Hood" video. And every day when she came home she would put that on. That, certainly, could lead to the fear of the big bad wolf.

With regard to how this little girl knew about the genitalia, during our investigation we found out that she would take showers with her parents. Certainly, that could very easily explain it.

How does her mother, or whoever in authority it is, decide that Bobby Fijnje is the target of the little girl's fear?

Apparently, because the little girl, when she would go to church or the daycare, the mom says she wanted to not be left with Bobby. She seemed to be afraid of Bobby. And the mom's first concerns were shared with HRS [Health and Rehabilitative Services]. She contacted them and an experienced case worker came out to the house, spent a good hour or so with the little girl and determined that there was absolutely nothing that had occurred. That if anything, Bobby had played a little bit rough with the kid, along with other kids.

How does it go from this to what it finally becomes?

I think that this particular mother became a believer that she was right and the other people were wrong. And went on a mission. I think the mother also had some spiritual beliefs that added to this. We did determine during the case, and there was testimony, that this particular mother believed that the leadership of the church had become possessed by Satan. And when she appeared before the leadership of the church, she requested that they all reaffirm their faith. She was convinced that they had been possessed.

At the end, what were the final charges?

Anything from cannibalism to Freddy Kruger coming out of the ground, to little boys flying, to Bobby and his family being on the roof of their home with the children on a trampoline jumping up and down nude. I mean, the allegations got more and more bizarre. The police and the prosecutors quite often were, what I thought, somewhat grasping at straws. And by that, I mean they executed a search warrant down at the church and they went into the area where the youth groups would meet ... and they seized ropes that they decided were being used for tying children up. They seized candles that they decided were being used for satanic rituals. They seized costumes that they said were being used for satanic rituals and they seized a skull that they found.

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. So, it's somewhat--what is your view of what's in front of you...?

Tell me about Suzanne Keeley.

Suzanne Keeley was a local psychologist. Several of the children ultimately went to her. For some reason, and I'm not sure why, but I'm glad it occurred, Suzanne Keeley began tape recording her sessions with the little girl, one of her patients.

During our defense, we learned about and were able to obtain copies of those tapes. What was interesting is there were no tapes for about the first two to three months of therapy; but, then the tapes start. Basically, what the tapes, according to all of the experts that we had listen to them, show was that she was being very leading and suggestive and had an agenda. And the agenda was that she was going to assist in having Bobby Fijnje convicted....

She was planting things, accidentally apparently, in the little girl's mind?

Accidentally, and in some cases I think very intentionally. 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 and they utilized the anatomical dolls. Keeley even allowed the little girl to take the anatomical dolls home so she could practice that night.

What conclusion do you draw from that?

That Suzanne Keeley had an agenda. We also later found out--this is interesting and significant--that there were regular meetings among the various psychologists that were treating the various children.

To what end?

Well, that it was just very interesting that they would all be getting together, and it was the same group of people that were referring back and forth these various children.

And the charges begin to accelerate. Do they become more absurd or wild as time goes on?

Yes, and the numbers get much greater. They started off with, I believe, one child, then three, and by the time they're done, we're up to about 32.

And what's happening with Bobby during this time?

Unfortunately, Bobby from the time that he went down to the police station until he was acquitted at trial, remained incarcerated. Fortunately, he was not in the Dade County Jail. He was incarcerated in a juvenile facility. I do give the judge a lot of credit for insisting on that at least. But, every time that we try to get him bail, the arguments the prosecutors would make were, "If you let them out these children are going to be scared, they're not going to be able to sleep. At least they're at peace because they know he's behind bars."

Hysteria had set in, I take it?

We believed that explained a lot of what was going on. There was some real craziness that went on too. Early on in this case, the lady that ran JSAC, along with one of the assisted ministers at the church, without the police's knowledge, without our knowledge, hired and brought in a satanic investigator to conduct an investigation at the church.

Later down the road, I learned about his involvement and ended up taking his deposition. He explained how he had climbed up the rafters looking for evidence of hanging children from the rafters. He'd looked down drains for bones. He was looking for all types of satanic signs he said would have been evidence of satanic involvement.

And what was interesting also is when we did some background investigation on this fellow, we found out he was a convicted felon convicted of child abuse, involving his own child.

How could people believe this?

A lot of people really believed it, and a lot of people thought it was totally crazy. It was tearing the community and, particularly, that church apart.

Where was the State Attorney's office on it, or the prosecutor's office on this?

From very early on a decision was made, I don't know specifically by who in that office, that they were going to take this case in front of a grand jury and have this boy indicted as an adult. And that's what they did.

Mr. Black, who lead the criminal defense, asked for the opportunity to address the grand jury, and that request was refused. Why this case ended up being tried--making this kid be tried as an adult, I can't answer you. I know that this is supposedly the most expensive criminal case ever tried in the state of Florida.

This case?

... we've been told that the expense on the state side was over $3 million....

So, Bobby Fijnje is sitting in jail through this entire time, a 13-, 14-, 15-year-old boy. What happens to him in jail?

Basically his development, other than physically, stops. The thing that got him through that, really and truly, was his religious beliefs. He was a great inspiration to myself, to Mr. Black, our co-counsel. His belief in his being found innocent never wavered.

You had no doubt that he was innocent?

I had no doubt that he was innocent after we completed a very, very thorough and all encompassing investigation. The materials, the information reviewed by the best experts we were able to find anywhere in the world. And everyone was absolutely certain that there was just no merit to these claims.

Why was the state so aggressive in its prosecution of it?

I can only really speculate on why they were so aggressive. I certainly don't think that they have ever had anyone put on the type of a defense that was put on in this case. One of the fortunate things for Bobby was that there was a church involved. The church had insurance. And, therefore, there is an insurance company involved that had the resources to be able to fight a battle such as this. I don't think that anyone had ever challenged the state like they were challenged in this case. Nor had they ever come up against the quality of experts that they'd come up against here.

The state prosecutes Bobby and wants to try him as an adult. They hold him without bail for 18 months at least. They spend maybe as much as $3 million, more than they ever spent on anything else.

As far as we know, yes.

Why?

You'll have to ask the state that. We really questioned the use of resources in that way.

What's your guess?

My guess is they became committed to this case and they were going to win it at all costs.

But, why?

I'm not sure if it is because somebody challenged them, and it is because they were afraid of the political ramifications and not continuing to pursue it, given the church that was involved or whether they were just not willing to admit that their people made some mistakes, and this case should never have got to where it got....

So, the jury listened to all evidence, hears all the experts. You know the verdict is coming.

They announced they had reached a verdict. Then we had to wait several hours for Janet Reno to get there before the judge would let us hear the verdict.

Why did she want to be there?

Again, you'd have to ask her....

So, the jury has made its decision and announced that it has a verdict. The judge is ready, you are ready, Bobby Fijnje has been in jail more than 18 months is ready. The court room is ready. The parents of Bobby Fijnje are ready. The parents of the children who are the victims are ready. And they all wait for Janet Reno to show up. Janet Reno, who has not been there the entire time.

Correct.

When she comes in finally, how long did you wait?

A few hours....

He had no prior record.

Never been arrested, never been picked up. Never been reprimanded. Was an all A student. Good kid....

Give me one example of what one of your experts said in Bobby's defense.

I think Steve Ceci was probably the most knowledgeable person in the entire world on young children's susceptibility to suggestion. And Steve Ceci had never before, to my knowledge, testified in a case for anybody, refused to be compensated for his work because he felt it would take away from his objectivity. In fact, refused to get involved in this case, initially.

And I prevailed on him to watch the interview tapes that were done by the state attorney's office. He agreed to do that and after watching those tapes and then seeing the transcripts of the interviews with some of the psychologists, was just outraged with what he saw going on.

And it just amazed me, I wonder how many people are sitting in jail today because they didn't have the resources to be able to talk to a Steve Ceci and bring him there to tell the jury what's really going on.

Basically what did he say in a nutshell?

That clearly these children, their statements, were absolutely not reliable because of the method of interrogation and all the contamination.

What has happened to Bobby?

Bobby ended up going back to Holland. And starting his life over again basically, picking up at school where he had left off. The last I knew, Bobby has remained a very, very religious boy/man, but has not been able to bring himself to go back to any kind of a church. I can't say given what he went through that I could really blame him.

What is the lesson you learned from this?

That 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?

After Bobby Fijnje was finally exonerated, was that it for the state? Did they stop prosecuting child abuse cases?

I'm sure that they did not stop prosecuting child abuse cases, nor do I think should they. But, I think, they were taking a careful look at cases, or at least a much more careful look.

The other thing that came out during our case, and I would say is extremely sad. Initially the charges of the evidence of the state was that there was physical evidence of abuse. And obviously, as Bobby's lawyer, that was one of the things that troubled me the most. If there's physical evidence of something occurring, then how do you explain it?

Well, again, we went looking for the most knowledgeable people in the area of pediatric gynecology that we were able to find. And one of the people we found was a fellow ... who was a professor of pediatric gynecology at the University of Tennessee in Memphis, and also the editor of the Journal of Pediatric Gynecology. When I had contacted him he had never before testified or worked for a defendant. Testified hundreds and hundreds of times for the police and the prosecutors. Again, I asked him merely look at these photographs and tell me whether they, in fact, demonstrate what the state claims.

He agreed to do that. After seeing the photographs, he too, was outraged. He said these people don't know the literature, don't know the science. He gave us study after study that had been done recently that demonstrated things that they were saying were physical evidence of abuse were, in fact, normal anomalies and did not in any support abuse.

For example?

Little girls who would have notches in the hymen on examination. The doctors for the state who, by the way, were all ... interns, with about five hours of instruction in how to conduct such an examination, were testifying that this was clear evidence of abuse. They were totally unaware of the fact that there were a number of studies that showed these were absolutely normal anomalies and could not be used to support a claim of abuse. That's pretty frightening.

The result of this case has been?

The result of the case has been that all of these children have been put through terrible, terrible experiences. Even if they were not abused, and I don't believe any of them were abused by Bobby Fijnje, they certainly were abused by the system. And they were certainly all damaged by the system. Certainly, Bobby was abused by many of us.




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