In South Florida at that time, and in the rest of the country, I believe, these
types of cases were receiving a great deal of attention. People were becoming
more willing to contact law enforcement and get involved with the criminal
justice system and the prosecution of these cases. The State Attorney, Miss
Reno, made a decision that our office would have a sexual battery unit that
specialized in these type of cases. And most of the child sexual abuse cases
were handled by members of the sexual battery unit, of which I was a member.
So I got involved in this case, not out of the blue, but because I was a member
of the sexual battery unit I had had experience with these types of cases, and
I was assigned the case....
This unit, was it something of a prototype? Was it something that every
local prosecutor across the country in every county had?
I don't think it was the first in the country, but it was certainly one of the
first. And it was the State Attorney's feeling that sexual battery victims
were poorly treated by the criminal justice system, and needed to receive a
little extra attention and support, because those cases are a little bit more
difficult for the victims to prosecute.
For example, we had a separate waiting area. We had separate facilities within
the office. We had a little bit more investigative staff assigned us, than
ordinary prosecutors did. And we had less cases, so that we had an opportunity
to spend more time on the cases that we had. The unit was the product of Miss
Reno realizing that these types of cases were being underserviced, and she made
a commitment by staffing the office in that manner to the successful
prosecution of these type of cases. Then, as the unit existed, we realized that
child sexual abuse cases were even more of a problem to prosecute, because of
the manner in which the system treated children in particular. We learned that
the system subjected children to many different interviews by different members
of the police and prosecution offices. And what we sought to do was have a
child abuse center, where the State Attorney's office would control the
investigations and spearhead those type of investigations in cooperation with
the police. And thereby minimize the numbers of times that children were being
interviewed, because it was thought, and I still believe this, that it's very
traumatic for a young child to be interviewed about a sexual battery. And the
least amount of times that we could do that, the better it would be for that
This was a departure from the way these types of cases were usually handled.
For example, let's say somebody calls and reports that their child has been
sexually battered. The uniformed officer would go out and interview the child.
The uniformed officer had absolutely no training in how to interview children.
How to ask leading questions. How to be sensitive. Then the uniformed officer
many times would give it to a sergeant, who would then interview the child
again. The sergeant likewise had no training or sensitivity in these types of
And I don't mean to criticize the policy, but that was a reality. Then it
would get assigned to a sexual battery detective; that detective did have
specialized training in these types of cases, because the police department
realized that they needed a separate unit for these types of cases. So, by the
time the State Attorney's office got involved, the child had already been
interviewed three or four times. And, at this point, many parents were saying
"I don't want my child to go through this process anymore. This is more
traumatic to my child -- this process -- than the actual crime." And we had a
big problem getting parents to allow their children to be involved in the
prosecution of the cases. We sought to make it more user friendly for the
Exactly. And in this new model, the user-friendly model, how did it
Well, now it's become more systematized, but at the time... we had the children
brought directly to the State Attorney's office when there was some suggestion
of abuse. And in the Snowden... case, we did investigate other children, who
had access to the defendants, because it was our belief that most sexual
batterers do not sexually abuse one child, and leave it at that. And statistics
and experience have borne out that statement. So we would bring the children
directly to the State Attorney's office. The Bragas were involved in
interviewing them. Joseph and Laurie Braga, they were experts in child
psychiatry. They had a background in interviewing children, and they were
involved in the case as interviewers.
The Bragas then worked for the State Attorney?
The Bragas worked as consultants to the State Attorney's office in these types
of cases. And 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... so the jury could
evaluate the method that the child disclosed the information to the State
As a prosecutor how did you feel about the videotaping of these
At the time it was new, and change scared us. I had mixed feelings about it.
Now, that I've had the benefit of 14 years of experience in these cases, I
think it's an excellent idea. I think it's good both for the defense and for
the State Attorney, because it provides a true record of what occurs....
So the Bragas are a new component in this new model. Which is to say, they
are taking the place of in the old model, who?
Me. Instead of me interviewing the children, the Bragas interview the
children. I thought that was a good idea.
So they're surrogate prosecutors in a way.
No. They were employed as interviewers. They simply interviewed the children.
And that's how it is today in all of these cases. That model has been used
today by the State Attorney's office in this county, and most other counties.
Forensic interviewers interview the children on tape, instead of prosecutors.
My training is as a lawyer. I don't have training in how to communicate with
children. And frankly at the time I didn't have any children. I was just
married, and I was terrified at the prospect of having to interview a child
about such things. So I was pretty comfortable with the idea of somebody doing
it for me.
Explain to me literally what it is that Joe and Laurie Braga can literally
do that you couldn't have done?
They could get on the floor, and talk to a child on a three- and four- and
five-year-old level. Because they speak a different language than an adult.
And they were able to speak in the language of the children. Whereas I, not
being trained in that type of work, not having any children myself, was not
competent to do that.
And the significance of that is?
The significance of that is I think a more accurate fact-finding process occurs
if an experienced forensic interviewer does the interviewing, and it's
videotaped and recorded forever, than if a prosecutor does it, in his office
without any witnesses, without any memorialization. And from the prosecutor's
point of view, if the tape is done properly, they have nothing to fear, because
it will completely refute the only defense that's available in most of these
cases, and that is that the children were somehow brainwashed by the
prosecutor, the police, their parents or somebody, who has an interest in the
And conversely, I guess, if in fact these interviewers are overly
suggestive, are in fact implanting ideas in the heads of these kids, then that
record exists also.
That record exists. And as a defense attorney today, I'm happy to have that
record to check for those things....
You mentioned that Janet Reno and this office were looking at these cases in
particular as a means of finding better ways to prosecute such cases. Why did
they need better ways...?
Because it was obvious that we were getting a lot of cases where parents were
reluctant to subject their children to the criminal justice system. And we
were looking for ways to make our system more user friendly, by limiting the
amount of interviews that the police could take, by limiting the amount of
interviews the prosecutor would take. Instead of dragging a child in five or
six times, and having him go over it and over it and over it, and
re-traumatizing that child each time, we would tape record his interview. And
then the prosecutor could study it, instead of having to start over from zero.
That's one way that I think we made it more user friendly, and made for better
The office got a conviction on Fuster, got a conviction on Snowden.... did
the office have any sense of, aside from the conviction, a validation of its
new approach? Was it emulated elsewhere?
I know within the office that became the way these cases started to be handled.
And I know that a lot of other State Attorney's offices called for our opinion
on how to handle these types of cases. I think there was a lot of validation
by the convictions. There's no doubt about that. But I think the real
validation comes from the fact that this methodology is now copied by most
prosecutors' offices across the country. Most prosecutors' offices in big
cities have forensic interviewers. They do taping. They have separate units
for child abuse cases, and the proof is in the fact that this is how it's done
You all developed a method, a technique, a successful way of prosecuting
these cases. Is that to say that before you did that, there weren't perverts
in our midst? The cops and prosecutors weren't sensitive, society didn't care?
What had changed?
I think what changed is the public awareness that came with Country Walk and
Snowden changed how people viewed reporting these types of crimes. I don't
know that the sexual abuse rate is any higher now than it was 20 or 30 years
ago, but the reporting rate is certainly higher. And I think there's a lot of
stigma to being a sexual battery victim. And a tremendous stigma to being a
child sexual battery victim. And these types of cases told people it was okay
to report these types of crimes, and it wasn't their fault. And that they were
not bad people. And I think the more public acceptance there is of prosecuting
these types of cases, the easier it is for the next child or the next adult who
has been raped to come forward and prosecute one of these types of cases.
That's the true contribution that I think that these two cases made to our
society in Dade County....
[So] the system turned. What I would like to know is why did it turn here?
Why did it turn then?
Because of the leadership of Janet Reno in this area. That's why it turned.
Because she saw this problem, and she did something about it. She changed how
these cases were prosecuted. And the result was that the public became more
comfortable with the idea of reporting these types of crimes. So I attribute
the change directly to her leadership in this area....
The significance of [the Snowden conviction]; that moment, that time, your
victory. What was the significance?
The significance is that children would be believed by jurors and would be
respected by the prosecutor's office and the criminal justice system, and the
result was that more parents of children were willing to allow their children
to be involved in the criminal justice process....
And how was it viewed inside your office?
Inside the office it was viewed as a victory, which is what it was.
But a validation of--
A validation of our procedures. We continued with the same procedures. We
systematized them. Today they are several; three or four or possibly even five
interviewers who work for the State Attorney's office and exclusively interview
children. The sexual battery unit consists of half a dozen attorneys. And
these cases are so frequent in the criminal justice system that there are too
many of them for the sexual battery unit to handle. So line prosecutors are
now prosecuting these types of cases again, because there are so many. So the
result has been that this problem has been addressed a little better than it
was 20 years ago.
These cases; you mean multiple [victim child sexual abuse cases]?
No. The multiple child sexual battery cases are very rare at this level. But,
you know, the case of the relative, the case of a boyfriend, those cases are
being prosecuted with greater frequency.
You're a defense lawyer now. You're on the other side now. Isn't it so
that that very model that you helped to create when you were prosecuting Grant
Snowden, now works against you?
It does. Rather effectively.
Because I can't make the brainwashing argument as simply, and as easily as they
were able to do. People are more sophisticated in how they handle the cases,
how they question the children. And the public is more willing to support the
State Attorney's office, and laws passed by the Legislature restrict the
ability of the defense attorney to depose victims under certain circumstances.
It allows a lot of hearsay evidence into evidence that wasn't allowed
previously. It expands the use of other crimes evidence... [more] than would
have been allowed in Snowden's case....
So, if you're a man charged with sexual battery, especially sexual battery
against a child, coming into the system now--
I'd be terrified. And I'll tell you how it affects me personally. I would not
give my babysitter a ride home by myself, because if I'm accused of a sexual
act by her, and she's a fine young lady, but just as an example, it's really my
word against hers. And even if I win I lose.
Is that a good thing?
I don't know that it is. I don't know that it is....
Read David Markus's full interview.