The Case From Hell: Part 3

State investigators take a new look at the Nogues family's horror story. And reach a new conclusion.

More than two years after the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) removed Lisette and Andres Nogues's seven youngest children from their Kendall home, citing alleged physical and sexual abuse, department officials are seeking a stunning reversal. According to motions filed this past Friday at an emergency hearing in juvenile court, investigators from both HRS and the Governor's Office of the Inspector General have concluded that the case was woefully mishandled from the start and are calling for immediate removal of the four youngest Nogues children from the home of their sister Michelle, and her husband Rick Porras.

Juvenile court Chief Administrative Judge William Gladstone barred the press from last week's hearing and has forbidden all parties from speaking to the media, counteracting a long-standing precedent that proceedings in the highly publicized case remain open. Lisette Nogues (pronounced no-guess) argues that Gladstone's gag order is a desperate measure aimed at keeping the case's many alleged improprieties from coming to light. "They have taken my liberty, infringed on my constitutional rights, and now they have taken the only means that I have left to regain my children," Nogues fumes. "I will keep quiet for now, but I honestly believe the only way that Gladstone is going to give me my kids is if public scrutiny is brought to bear on him through the media. He can put me in jail, but he can't put the truth in jail."

Aimee Nogues, now seventeen, initiated what observers have dubbed "The Case From Hell" in September of 1989, telling police a sordid story of regular sexual assaults by her stepfather Andres, and physical beatings by her mother. Aimee later admitted that she had fabricated the claims, and for the past twenty months has maintained she made the accusations at her sister Michelle's bidding, hoping to escape her mother's strict household. Det. Ellen Christopher, of the Metro-Dade sexual battery unit, reached the same conclusion in the course of a painstaking, seven-month criminal investigation. She dropped sexual-assault charges against Andres and later wrote a complaint alleging that the court-appointed guardians ad litem in the case had tampered with witnesses, withheld evidence, and obstructed justice. But the guardians and officials from HRS and the Dade State Attorney's Office believed Aimee's claims. So did former juvenile court judge Seymour Gelber. In March of 1990, following a contentious, seventeen-day trial, the judge - now a candidate for mayor of Miami Beach - found Andres Nogues guilty of sexual abuse and Lisette Nogues guilty of endangering her children by ignoring the abuse. The couple has since sought to reclaim their children, while refusing to confess to crimes they insist they did not commit.

The Nogueses, once-prosperous physicians whose legal fees have plunged them into bankruptcy, contend that her (their) children are the victims of a cover-up by the Guardian Ad Litem program. "They know they've done so many things wrong that if they ever backed down, it would be the end of them," Lisette says. Indeed, HRS's latest investigation - initiated by Steve deMontmollin, chief inspector general for the governor's office - supports many of the Nogueses' most damning allegations. Ironically, HRS officials who investigated the handling of the case six months ago concluded that "no policies or statutes were violated during the initial investigation or subsequent court proceedings." Among their more recent findings, presented to Judge Gladstone during Friday's emergency hearing:

* That HRS never conducted appropriate background checks of Rick and Michelle Porras before placing the Nogues children with them.

* That Michelle Porras has a significant history of emotional problems and may have encouraged her younger siblings to make false allegations against Andres Nogues.

* That two separate allegations of sexual abuse against Rick Porras were dismissed without proper investigation.

* That the four youngest Nogues children are living in an atmosphere of turmoil

that threatens their physical and emotional welfare.

The department also removed the original HRS investigator, Shelly Snodgrass, from the Nogues case and all other new cases until HRS's investigation is completed.

Despite HRS's abrupt reversal - and despite the fact that deMontmollin and Linda Harris, chief general counsel for HRS, came down from Tallahassee to present the department's motions on Friday - the Nogueses may be no nearer to reclaiming their children. According to a motion filed last week, the guardian ad litem assigned to the case, June Shaw, and her attorney, Karen Gievers, are pushing for the children to remain in the Porras home. Citing the judge's gag order, deMontmollin refused to comment about the case. A final ruling on custody will have to come from Judge Gladstone, who inherited the case from Seymour Gelber.

*not this past Tuesday, which would be Nov. 12

This past Tuesday, November 5, Robin Greene - who along with Shaw was the subject of Det. Ellen Christopher's thirteen-page complaint - surrendered her role as co-guardian/attorney ad litem, citing a "heavy caseload." Just five days before her resignation, Greene sent a letter to Judge Gladstone, recommending that the Nogues children be placed permanently with Michelle and Rick Porras. Neither she, Shaw, or Gievers would comment. Michelle and Rick Porras, who also attended last Friday's hearing, also declined to comment.

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