The Case From Hell, Part I

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"Since the kids left [their parents], they're doing great," Porras continues. "Now that they're not being abused any more, they're different kids. They're making a tremendous turnaround." Porras also asserts that "anything Lisette Nogues says, anything Andres Nogues says, is a lie."

A week after accusing her parents, Aimee told her friend Eric Schraner she'd lied about the allegations of abuse. (16) Schraner, in turn, took the advice of an attorney and recounted Aimee's confession to investigators in a sworn statement. In the ensuing days, Schraner's grandmother says she received half a dozen calls from Shaw, (17)who described the Nogueses as a family with incestuous tendencies. Shaw's handwritten notes (18) recorded her concerns. Told by Schraner's lawyer that Schraner would testify to the recantation in court, she wrote: "Remedy -- go to judge to stop this."

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.

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Steven Almond