The Case From Hell, Part I

On November 16, almost two months after Aimee first accused her parents of abuse, she told another friend, Bruce De Costa, that she had lied. June Shaw tracked down the boy and called him the next day. In a later sworn affidavit, De Costa said that Shaw told him not to contact anyone about Aimee's confession (35). When he called Shaw back weeks later to see if he needed to appear in court, he says she told him his testimony would not be needed. Ellen Christopher and the Nogueses' lawyers only found out about De Costa's involvement a year later. (36)

The day after Aimee's meeting with De Costa, attorney Robert Koeppel, acting in his judicial capacity as a juvenile court general master, began to question the placement of the seven children with the young Porras couple. He might not have been familiar with records that cast doubt on the credibility of the Porrases (37); he might not even have been familiar with Michelle's past, which included two unsettling previous psychiatric evaluations, and a 1983 incident in which police suspected her of mutilating her pet rabbits. (38) What set off Koeppel was seeing Rick Porras lunge at Javier in the juvenile court building. (39) "He was about to erupt, if I didn't get a bailiff to intercede," Koeppel told the court at a hearing. (40) "Violent, no word can describe it more aptly. Aimee's care was entrusted into that atmosphere, not by my doing. I would not have done that." Koeppel even considered removing the children from that atmosphere, before two phone conversations with therapist Robert Kelley helped to ease his concerns. (41)

Indeed, Kelley, a clinical social worker with Dade County's Victim and Family Services Program, along with psychologist Iris Bruel, played a crucial role in building the state's case against the Nogueses. For example, Kelley wrote his initial report based largely on a single interview with Aimee, (42) and then called at least eighteen people to inform them that Aimee had, in fact, been abused. (43) Without interviewing either Andres or Lisette, without even filling out the sections of the agency's form regarding Aimee's development, family dynamics, or background, Kelley later proffered his opinion to the court and in sworn deposition that the Nogueses were an incestuous family, that Andres was a pedophile, and that Lisette was emotionally abusive. (44)

Bruel, the court-appointed psychological evaluator, compiled reports that mirrored prosecutors' vision of the case. In Michelle Porras's glowing evaluation, for instance, Bruel recounted Michelle's version of her family history (45)without questioning its veracity, while including no information from a previous psychiatric evaluation that described Michelle's "tendencies to exaggerate or misinterpret events and project her own sexual impulses onto others." (46) Bruel also reviewed, but neglected to mention in Michelle's evaluation, the letters of recantation Michelle wrote following her 1986 accusations against Andres. (47) So too, Michelle's admission that Andres denied abusing her back then -- recorded in Bruel's handwritten notes -- (48) was not included in her final report. (49) (Bruel and Kelley were asked for comment regarding the Nogues case and allegations discussed in this article. Both of them declined to be interviewed.)

By mid-November of 1989, Aimee recalls, (51) she was ready to put an end to the hoax. Her quick ticket to freedom had caused her brothers and sisters to be dragged from their home, and had landed her in Jackson Memorial Hospital's Child Crisis Center for a month. But Aimee says Michelle was not about to give up the ruse, especially with regular child-support payments coming in. (By court order, the Nogueses paid Michelle and Rick Porras more than $8300 for child support in the first eight months of the case.) (52) So Aimee says she hatched a plan, again employing the threat of suicide. This time she would fake a suicide attempt: "I thought, maybe if [Michelle] thinks I'm that upset, she'll see I can't go through with this." When Aimee told her sister she'd attempted suicide by taking a handful of aspirin tablets, Michelle responded by telling her (53)she could be institutionalized for life. According to Aimee, her sister said it didn't matter that her "attempt" consisted of swallowing seven aspirin, the only way to avoid being categorized as suicidal (54) would be to claim that some specific incident set her off. Out of this quandary, Aimee says, Michelle fabricated a traumatic meeting at a Kendall convenience store between her sister and Andres, and convinced her to go along with it. Michelle contacted HRS and the guardians -- with dramatic results.

Without the Nogueses or their attorney present, Judge William Gladstone on November 17 approved a motion (55) denying the parents all contact with their children. After a total of four supervised visits, each conducted in English by court order, despite the youngest children's difficulty with that language, Andres and Lisette Nogues were completely cut off from the children.

But of all the actions taken in the name of protecting the Nogues children, an HRS-ordered medical examination marked the low point. On December 11, Jeanette and two of her younger sisters were taken to the Rape Treatment Center, to be probed in the anus and vagina for about an hour each (56). The tests were considered a necessary precaution in light of the other young Nogues girl's exam six weeks earlier (57).

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