the child terror
the 'miami method' of prosecuting
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In this excerpt from his interview with FRONTLINE,  David Markus,  who led the  State's prosecution in the second Snowden trial in 1986, explains the new approach and procedures Janet Reno's office developed for pursuing child sexual abuse cases.

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 child....

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 cases.

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 children.

Exactly. And in this new model, the user-friendly model, how did it work?

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 Attorney.

As a prosecutor how did you feel about the videotaping of these interviews?

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 case.

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 cases....

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 today.

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.

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