Reno Reconsidered (Part B)

The evidence was not there. The kids' stories were outrageous beyond belief. But that didn't stop Janet Reno from trying to destroy Bobby Fijnje.

"To some extent those allegations do detract, or make one look more carefully at other allegations," Hogan admits. "But one of the things that's true in every one of these multiple-abuse cases is that children often say things that are difficult to understand. That doesn't mean a child should be disbelieved."

The absence of physical evidence didn't bother Hogan, either. "The reality is that you don't expect to find physical trauma in these cases," he contends, disregarding Muram's testimony. "The core argument in Fijnje was simply one of numbers. All these children have independently made disclosures and they are independently worthy of belief. Taken as a whole, the case is overwhelming. The real problem with this kind of case is that people don't want to believe that this happens. They'd rather blame it on the interviewer or the therapist than accept that children are being raped."

Attorney Mel Black, who spent two years defending Fijnje, is surprisingly forgiving these days. Though he vociferously opposed several state decisions during the case, he defends Janet Reno's supervisory role. "Even in the worst moments of the case, I never felt she was being unfair or blind," Black says. "The decision to file on this case was based on sound rationale. She was being told there were multiple allegations, damage to girls' hymens, even a confession. Any hysteria in this case was outside her office."

Black says he was impressed by Reno's decision to meet with local child therapists after the case for evaluation. "There was never any bitterness," he says. "She just didn't want the mistakes repeated. That says a lot about her. She'll make a wonderful Attorney General. I just hope [the Fijnje case] isn't retried in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee."

David Raskin says that's precisely what he wants. "This should come up at the confirmation hearings," says the University of Utah professor. "She needs it conveyed to her that she's playing on a national field now and that she's got to be more careful."

Stephen Ceci says invoking the Fijnje acquittal could have a boomerang effect. "Given the concern over child-abuse issues, she may be trumpeted as kind of a hero, a woman who will go the extra mile to make sure our children are safe. The crucial point -- that Bobby Fijnje himself was a child throughout this ordeal -- may be lost."

Ceci notes one final point that has been obscured in reviewing the case: "That boy would almost surely have been convicted if the [Old Cutler Presbyterian Church's] insurance company hadn't poured well over a million dollars into his criminal defense." Without that aid, Bobby Fijnje, like Frank Fuster, would likely be incarcerated right now.

As it is, he's in Holland with his family.
The Fijnjes, though, are less forbearing than Mel Black. Bob Fijnje, Sr., a retired diplomat who moved his family to Holland after the trial, has set about sending angry letters to the States blasting Reno. "Sir, you don't know what it's like to watch your only son in shackles for two years," he says shakily.

At age seventeen, Bobby Fijnje has nearly outgrown the awkwardness of adolesence. He stands six feet, six inches and plays center for a basketball club in his new hometown, 90 miles south of Amsterdam. A member of the Model U.N. club, Fijnje expects to graduate from high school in June, just a year behind schedule. His plan is to become a marine biologist, and he has requested an application from the University of Miami. He says he misses his friends here, though he's not sure he wants to return.

With the help of a psychologist, he has exorcised most of the painful memories of his case. There's one, however, he can't shake: the excruciating wait that ensued after the jury filed into their wooden box with a verdict.

During those minutes, time dilated. The seconds crawled. "I just keep thinking about what my life would be like if the jury said guilty," he recalls. "I couldn't figure out what the jury was waiting for." Finally, after 90 minutes, the source of the delay entered the courtroom: a tall, gangly woman with thick glasses who had requested that the verdicts not be read until she arrived.

It was the first and only time Bobby Fijnje saw Janet Reno.

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