The Case From Hell, Part I

In spite of the private admission to her friend, Aimee publicly held to her story of abuse. On October 3, she told Det. Ellen Christopher (19) she had disclosed the abuse to a Catholic priest during confession. Aimee believed that clergy would never reveal information regarding confessions, and so she also supplied the detective with a detailed description of the man. (20) Christopher tracked him down, explained the situation, and showed him a picture of Aimee. The priest, Father Yordi Rivero, told Christopher there must be some mix-up.(21) He had never heard such a confession or seen the girl. Hoping to clear up the matter, he went to visit Aimee, who had been placed at Jackson Hospital's Crisis Center after threatening to kill herself if her father was sent to jail. But the priest says his entry was blocked on orders from Guardian Ad Litem June Shaw. (22)

Baffled, Rivero later called Shaw. (23) "This lady was extremely aggressive, as if I'd been bought by the parents," recalls the soft-spoken priest of Coconut Grove's Hermita de la Caridad Church. "I didn't even know the parents. She talked like someone completely sold on the abuse." Shaw again recorded the incident in her notes. (24) "I cannot understand," she wrote, "how someone who is saying that Aimee's story is false is an appropriate witness."

Guardian Ad Litem policy prohibits the disclosure of information about a case to anyone but the parties (25) and their attorneys. But Shaw's notes, sworn statements, and interviews indicate she discussed details of the case with a number of people (25a), including court-appointed psychological evaluator Iris Bruel and Dr. Alberto Iglesias, a psychiatrist in private practice who had evaluated Michelle Porras in 1986. Iglesias, for example, says Shaw revealed to him a week after the case began her firm conviction that the Nogueses represent a "classic textbook case" of child abuse and that Andres Nogues was a psychopath. Iglesias did not think it wise, apparently, to share his own professional opinion that if anyone in the Nogues family was a psychopath, it was Michelle. (26)

Attorney Karen Gievers, hired by the Guardian Ad Litem program to represent June Shaw, insists, "Mrs. Shaw has done nothing wrong. She has done a heroic job as Guardian Ad Litem.... We're satisfied that matters eventually will come to light that need to come to light and that the children will be protected in this way." Daniella Levine, acting director of the Guardian Ad Litem program during much of the Nogues case, says that guardians routinely question witnesses, custodians, and others involved in a case to aid in determining the best interests of the children. "The fact that the same guardian [Shaw] is [still] on the case speaks for itself," says Levine.

On October 13, HRS caseworker Shelly Snodgrass filed a "dependent petition" in juvenile court, seeking to make the seven minor Nogues children temporary wards of the state. Among the charges on the petition: that for seven years Andres Nogues had sexually abused Aimee, that he fondled Michelle's breasts in 1986, that he whacked Javier in the head with a lead pipe and threw him into an empty swimming pool repeatedly, that Lisette Nogues physically, emotionally, and mentally abused Aimee, and that both (27) engaged in "dysfunctional rearing practices."

These allegations formed the basis of a later trial, despite the fact that the Nogueses say no HRS investigator has ever interviewed them about the abuse accusations. What's more, Det. Ellen Christopher had already told the court that she found Aimee "not credible," based on two weeks of criminal investigation (28) that revealed glaring inconsistencies in Aimee's and Michelle's stories. When the other Nogues children gave sworn statements, all denied abuse by either parent (29). Occasional spanking, they said, was as lurid as it got.

But on October 27, one of the younger Nogues girls told an interviewer that someone had touched her "peepee." Initially she stated it had happened at her mother's house, then corrected herself and said Michelle's house. "At Michelle's house?" she was asked. "Yes," she answered. (30) Her exam at the Rape Treatment Center three days later showed vaginal redness indicative of a "recent trauma" that occurred after she had been moved to the Porras home. (31) The exam also showed that she had an irregularly shaped hymen with a notch on it. In light of this disturbing information, Assistant State Attorney Esther Blynn, the lead prosecutor in the case, proposed immediate removal of all the children from the Porras home, but HRS caseworker Shelly Snodgrass successfully opposed the plan, saying she would have to investigate first.

In her subsequent report, Snodgrass attributed the girl's vaginal redness to overzealous washing by two of her sisters, (32) even though both sisters denied the claim, and the girl -- in a videotaped interview (34) -- clearly stated that she washes her own peepee. HRS officials concluded that she had not been abused in the Porrases' custody, but they did add an allegation against the Nogueses, claiming the young girl had been abused while in the custody of her parents, based on the irregularity of her hymen. (Though Snodgrass stated she would like to add her comments to this article, she was constrained from doing so by confidentiality rules governing HRS juvenile cases. An HRS spokeswoman confirmed that Snodgrass could not comment.)

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