The Case From Hell, Part I

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But on October 27, one of the younger Nogues girls told an interviewer that someone had touched her "peepee." Initially she stated it had happened at her mother's house, then corrected herself and said Michelle's house. "At Michelle's house?" she was asked. "Yes," she answered. (30) Her exam at the Rape Treatment Center three days later showed vaginal redness indicative of a "recent trauma" that occurred after she had been moved to the Porras home. (31) The exam also showed that she had an irregularly shaped hymen with a notch on it. In light of this disturbing information, Assistant State Attorney Esther Blynn, the lead prosecutor in the case, proposed immediate removal of all the children from the Porras home, but HRS caseworker Shelly Snodgrass successfully opposed the plan, saying she would have to investigate first.

In her subsequent report, Snodgrass attributed the girl's vaginal redness to overzealous washing by two of her sisters, (32) even though both sisters denied the claim, and the girl -- in a videotaped interview (34) -- clearly stated that she washes her own peepee. HRS officials concluded that she had not been abused in the Porrases' custody, but they did add an allegation against the Nogueses, claiming the young girl had been abused while in the custody of her parents, based on the irregularity of her hymen. (Though Snodgrass stated she would like to add her comments to this article, she was constrained from doing so by confidentiality rules governing HRS juvenile cases. An HRS spokeswoman confirmed that Snodgrass could not comment.)

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.)

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Steven Almond