By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Frank Fuster was not the only person deemed capable of molding Ileana's behavior. According to Reichenberg, he himself could "get her to respond in any way that I pushed her...and she would be interested in pleasing me so I wouldn't be mad at her."
Von Zamft quickly capitalized on the idea of Ileana's malleability. Just two days after Reichenberg's evaluation, he told the court that she was so immature and dependent on her husband that if she had to stand trial with him, she could not be expected to defend herself. "The only valid defense that counsel perceives in this case requires that this defendant be prepared to give testimony against the co-defendant," he said. Hollingsworth cites a memo the state wrote three days later, indicating that Von Zamft would proffer that Ileana had confessed -- even if she hadn't. (Von Zamft recently said he actually told prosecutors that "by the time my client testified, she would be capable, because she had psychiatrists and psychologists working with her to bring back her memory.") Von Zamft was thus basing his defense on "memory" that wasn't yet "back," on a confession that so far did not exist. A trial was scheduled in less than a month, and if he wanted to avoid it, he would have to produce a guilty plea fast.
In a 1991 interview, Von Zamft said that after Dr. Mutter's sessions with Ileana had left her "unable to say anything clearly," he contacted Miami psychologist Michael Rappaport and his partner, Merry Sue Haber, who ran a business called Behavior Changers, and the two began visiting Ileana in her isolation cell. In a separate 1991 interview, Rappaport boasted, "The prosecutors say the only reason they could convict Frank was because of Ileana." Earlier he had bragged to the Miami Herald that "if it wasn't for me, Frank Fuster probably wouldn't have gone to prison." Rappaport, in his 1991 interview, said he saw Ileana at least 34 times and that he put her through "relaxation" and "visualization" exercises.
According to UC-Berkeley social psychologist Richard Ofshe, such procedures (in which a subject is given commands such as "close your eyes...empty your mind...pay attention...imagine") can put a person into trance as effectively as traditional hypnosis techniques. Ofshe, an expert in the study of methods used to extract false confessions, points out that visualization and relaxation have been been used increasingly in recent years to produce testimony. But, he says, they are considered highly problematic, because when used by careless or unskilled investigators who suggest details of allegations to the person in trance, the exercises can create false memories and even false confessions. Based on Rappaport's comments, Ofshe says there is a good possibility Ileana had been hypnotized.
Rappaport, in his 1991 interview, characterized his techniques as being "almost like a hypnotic thing," and added that he and Haber had spent "hours and hours and hours" suggesting to Ileana that if she confessed, she would be sentenced very lightly, but if she were convicted, she would get life in prison. "We said, 'There's a deal being made.... If you don't talk, Frank could be released and you could go to prison for a long time.'" Rappaport likened his methods to "manipulation" and "reverse brainwashing."
According to Ofshe, this description leaves "no question" that Rappaport and his partner were involved in coercing a confession.
During this intense period of sessions, Ileana, according to Rappaport, met with another influential individual. In his 1991 interview, Rappaport said that while he was working with Ileana, she was visited by State Attorney Janet Reno -- at least 30 times. Contacted again this past week regarding Reno's visits with Ileana, Rappaport equivocated and said his earlier estimate of more than 30 visits was an exaggeration. He refused, however, to elaborate on the circumstances of Reno's jailhouse visits or his precise knowledge of them.
Neither Janet Reno nor any representative from her office responded to repeated telephone calls and written questions submitted for response to this article generally and her alleged visits with Ileana Fuster specifically. But Ileana, in a sworn deposition taken in September 1985, claimed she had never met Janet Reno until after she had decided to plea bargain. (Reno was present at that deposition.)
Michael Von Zamft, Ileana's defense attorney, today says he doesn't know if Reno met with his client prior to her guilty plea. "To the best of my knowledge," says Von Zamft, "no state attorney ever got with Ileana without my knowledge. If Reno had visited without my knowledge, it would have been a violation and I would have protested. Ileana never told me anything about that." (Visitor sign-in logs at the Women's Detention Center are not available; they are discarded every five years.)
On August 22, 1985, one year after her arrest, Ileana Fuster finally pleaded guilty to twelve of fourteen counts of sexual abuse. But the speech she made in court that day was hardly a definitive admission. "Judge," she said, "I would like you to know that I am pleading guilty not because I feel guilty, but because I think -- I think it's the best interest...for my own interest and for the children and for the court and all the people that are working on the case. But I am not pleading guilty because I feel guilty.... I am innocent of all those charges. I wouldn't have done anything to harm any children. I have never done anything in my life.... I am innocent. I am just doing it -- I am pleading guilty to get all of this over...for my own good...."