Country Walk, the housing development northwest of Metrozoo, is best known today for being brutally victimized by Hurricane Andrew. But not so long ago, in 1984, the affluent neighborhood suffered a different sort of tempest. It was the site of one of the most widely publicized child-abuse cases in U.S. history. The villains in that sordid affair were a 36-year-old Cuban immigrant named Francisco ("Frank") Fuster and his 17-year-old undocumented Honduran wife, Ileana. Together they were accused of molesting at least eight children at the babysitting service Ileana operated from her Country Walk home.
The Country Walk case produced its share of heroes as well. Chief among them was Dade State Attorney Janet Reno, whose national reputation as a vigorous advocate for children's welfare is expected to help propel her to swift confirmation as U.S. Attorney General.
Among child-protection workers nationwide, Country Walk is now the stuff of legend. For one thing it was the only multiple-abuse case in which children's testimony was backed by the seemingly "hard" evidence of a child's positive test for venereal disease. More important, the state's prosecution of the case was buttressed by an adult eyewitness's confession and testimony. The book Unspeakable Acts, published in 1986, and a televison docudrama of the same title that aired in 1990, thrust Country Walk into the national consciousness. Both versions have become a bible for professionals who research, investigate, and prosecute such crimes.
Countless articles have been written noting that while the infamous McMartin Preschool case in Los Angeles County was child protection's biggest fiasco, Country Walk has been its greatest triumph. The McMartin prosecution, which was the most costly legal proceeding in American history, lasted nearly seven years and resulted in not a single conviction. Country Walk, on the other hand, has been portrayed as a textbook example of how to proceed successfully with the tricky business of prosecuting complex abuse cases.
But a closer inspection of Country Walk suggests that the testimony provided by children was the result of questionable interviewing techniques, and that the pivotal confession of the prosecution's star witness was coerced and perhaps false. The re-examined evidence also suggests that this confession -- indeed the entire case -- was fueled by opportunism, zealotry, and highly unusual behavior on the part of Janet Reno.
The case seems to have its roots in an incident in the spring of 1984, when a three-year-old boy who attended the Fusters' babysitting service said to his mother, as she was bathing him, "Kiss my body. Ileana kisses all the babies' bodies." The mother expressed concern to her neighbors, and rumors about Ileana Fuster spread through Country Walk. A few months later, in August, another mother took her toddler to the Fusters. It was the first time she had ever left her boy with a babysitter, and when she came to pick him up, he seemed disoriented, irritable, and sleepy. The mother became convinced her son had been drugged.
The State Attorney's Office, notified of this mother's concern, began an investigation by interviewing several children, who had nothing to say about abuse. Then a five-year-old boy was questioned. His first interview was unrecorded, but the next day two more sessions with him were videotaped. His first recorded interview was hesitant and contradictory. But a few hours later, during his second interview, he provided vivid descriptions -- not directly elicited by investigators -- of the Fusters fondling his baby brother's penis and playing games with other naked youngsters.
He and other children who were subsequently questioned also spoke of activities that came to characterize Country Walk, like McMartin before it, as a prototypical case of "ritual abuse," filled with bizarre charges: that Frank Fuster sodomized the children; that he and Ileana gave them mind-altering drugs; that Frank waved monster masks and killed animals in front of them; that he made kiddie porn; and that during these assaults, he and Ileana chanted prayers to Satan.
Investigation into Frank Fuster's background revealed that several years earlier he had pleaded guilty to manslaughter in New York, and served prison time for the offense. In 1981 he also was convicted of lewd assault, for fondling a nine-year-old girl. (The terms of Fuster's probation in that case supposedly prohibited his involvement in child-care facilities, but Fuster's probation officer was aware of his role in Ileana's babysitting business.) A stranger had also shot Fuster in the head in 1980; relatives noted that afterward he seemed more irritable and emotionally volatile. Finally, Fuster's six-year-old son, who lived with the couple, was tested for gonorrhea of the throat and the laboratory reported positive results.
While this evidence appeared to be incriminating, much of the investigation tended to be exculpatory. When Reno's office ordered exams, Frank and Ileana both tested negative for venereal disease. Frank's relatives described him as normally affectionate, nonviolent, and nonsexual in his relations with children. He had been married once before, and his ex-wife denied he had any interest in deviant or violent sex. Investigators found no pornography in the Fuster house. Several children were examined at Jackson Memorial Hospital's Rape Treatment Center, but none had genital or anal injuries that would point directly to sexual abuse. And except for the five-year-old boy, no children described graphic sexual acts or ritual and sadistic behavior until being exposed to repeated, leading questions during interviews.
After a seven-week trial in late 1985, Frank Fuster was convicted of all fourteen charges against him and was sentenced to six consecutive life terms in prison. Ileana did not stand trial. Instead she confessed to twelve counts involving child molestation and also testified for the prosecution at her husband's trial, accusing him of initiating numerous sexual assaults against the children in her care. Following her confession and testimony, she received a ten-year prison sentence. In 1989 she was released after serving three years and was deported to her native Honduras.
The only comprehensive account of the Country Walk case, and Janet Reno's role in it, is Unspeakable Acts, by Tampa author Jan Hollingsworth. When they can be checked against the discovery and trial records, the facts Hollingsworth selects for her story -- excerpts from depositions, memos, and trial testimony, for instance -- are reliable and can be cited with confidence, as they are in this article. Apparently the State Attorney's Office agrees. In a recent interview, Hollingsworth said that after Unspeakable Acts was published, Reno sent her a letter praising the book for its accuracy.
The problem, though, is what Hollingsworth leaves out. In addition to the consistent omission of information that might raise questions about the state's case against the Fusters, Hollingsworth has omitted from Unspeakable Acts a fact that, until now, has never been publicized, and which casts serious doubt on her objectivity as a journalist: She had a direct relationship to the Country Walk prosecutors. According to a sworn deposition she provided in 1985, Hollingsworth quit her job as an assignment editor at WCIX-TV (Channel 6) within a month after Reno's office began its investigation of the Fusters. She then became a paid consultant to the husband-and-wife team prosecutors recruited to interview Country Walk children.
In 1984, while at Channel 6, Hollingsworth became interested in "ritual" daycare sex abuse, which had exploded into the national media after the McMartin Preschool case surfaced. The station, she writes in Unspeakable Acts, frequently took calls from Joseph and Laurie Braga, local child development specialists who offered tips for stories concerning child-welfare issues.
In May, according to Hollingsworth, the Bragas phoned Channel 6 and suggested the station do a "tie-in" story to McMartin. The idea piqued interest, and Channel 6 staffers began researching an investigative series on daycare regulation. Hollingsworth spent almost three months helping to produce it. The finished piece was sharply critical of Florida's failure to check criminal records of people applying for positions in daycare centers, and of prosecutors' inability to bring accused perpetrators to justice because of children's perceived inability to testify in court.
The series, with its damning view of the child-protection prosecution system, was broadcast in mid-July. Joseph and Laurie Braga appeared in a follow-up story and stressed the need for reforms. The couple then approached State Attorney Janet Reno. Hollingsworth writes that Reno, who faced an election in November, was concerned about the competition to her incumbency posed by challenger Jose Garcia-Pedrosa, a Miami attorney. According to Hollingsworth, Garcia-Pedrosa was thought to be considering the issue of child protection as one of his campaign issues. Reno had already demonstrated interest in the topic by successfully lobbying for a change in state criminal codes that would allow children's personal appearances in court to be replaced with videotaped testimony.
When the Bragas gained their audience with Reno, they suggested she organize a special section of the State Attorney's Office in which child sexual assault cases could be processed and the children's testimony recorded. Reno was reportedly excited by the idea.
Two weeks later, in early August, Hollingsworth got a call from the Country Walk mother who was convinced her child had been drugged at the Fusters'. Hollingsworth herself lived in Country Walk, and the worried mother was her neighbor and a long-time friend from high school. She was also a former criminal prosecutor, and she had heard rumors circulating through the community about the Fusters being child molesters. Hollingsworth's friend feared that her son, too, was a victim.
Hollingsworth promptly called Christopher Rundle, then head of the State Attorney's sexual battery unit, and reported the allegations. Rundle lost no time opening an investigation, and immediately discovered Frank Fuster's previous conviction for fondling the nine-year-old girl. Reno quickly made available an office in which to conduct and videotape interviews with Country Walk children. And according to Hollingsworth, Reno also suggested that Joseph and Laurie Braga do the interviewing. The Bragas, whose family money has supported their child-welfare activities, agreed to interview the children at no charge -- a volunteer relationship they maintained throughout the case. Jan Hollingsworth soon left Channel 6 to become a paid consultant to the Bragas' Coconut Grove-based National Foundation for Children. Things started to snowball.
Five days after prosecutor Rundle began his inquiry, interviews and medical exams of neighborhood children were in full swing, and their parents began gathering at nightly meetings to discuss the situation. On August 10, Frank Fuster was arrested. Two weeks later Ileana was also taken into custody. She was still seventeen years old and legally a child. The Fusters had been married only eleven months.
Frank hired attorneys Michael Von Zamft and Jeffrey Samek to represent him and Ileana. The Fusters were soon declared indigent, and Samek and Von Zamft were court-appointed to continue their defense. According to private investigator Stephen Dinerstein, who worked for Samek and Von Zamft on the case, both attorneys were convinced at the outset that Frank Fuster was a pedophile. Their main interest, Dinerstein says, was that their clients find a way to plead guilty. (In a recent interview, Von Zamft said that though he "was not convinced Frank was innocent from the beginning," he did not recall telling Dinerstein he wanted the Fusters to plead guilty. Samek died several years ago.)
In any case, the Fusters insisted they were innocent, and their protestations were unwavering. According to Hollingsworth, this became increasingly touchy for the prosecution. Intense media coverage of Country Walk had thrust Janet Reno into the glare of public scrutiny during her re-election campaign, and her handling of the case was sure to be a factor in its outcome. Reno's response was to assume high visibility, a marked change from her customary style of prosecuting and campaigning. Public outrage at the allegations against the Fusters was answered by Reno's vows to "do everything humanly possible to see that justice is done" in Country Walk.
There can be no doubt what "justice" meant to Reno. She assigned to the Country Walk case senior prosecutors such as Dan Casey, chief of the robbery division, and John Hogan from major crimes, and promised them all necessary resources. She appeared at a Fuster pretrial hearing and argued before the court, which for Reno was highly unusual. She described the Country Walk children as "victims of a horrible crime." She wanted the Fusters convicted.
But as the investigation progressed, the Fusters continued to proclaim their innocence, and the children had little or nothing spontaneous to say about their experiences at the couple's house. In fact, videotaped records of those interviews show investigators subjecting children to methods that research psychologists and other experts have condemned as being far too leading and suggestive to develop evidence for criminal investigations or prosecutions.
In early interviews, all children -- with the exception of the five-year-old boy -- denied having been abused. Only later (in some cases, months later) did they give affirmative statements. And the videotapes make it clear that these were produced only after the children were pressured by either the investigators or their own families or both. (See sidebar for an extended excerpt from one such interview.)
Even the child who provided prosecutors with their "hard" evidence -- Fuster's six-year-old son, who had tested positive for gonorrhea -- required intense pressuring. When the boy denied that his father had molested him, interviewer Joseph Braga insisted that since he had gonorrhea, he must not be telling the truth. After Braga became notably coercive, the child stated that he had fellated his father.
But in a deposition taken a few months later, the boy repeatedly told prosecutors he had no memory of his father molesting him, and that the reason he earlier had told Braga otherwise was because Braga refused to end the interview unless the boy made such claims. The text of the deposition strongly suggests that he was not recanting because of pressure from his extended family. Rather, its tone suggests a child thinking out loud, trying earnestly to figure out if he could have been molested without knowing it. At one point, for instance, he speculates about whether his father could have gotten on his bed at night while he was asleep, just like his pet cat sometimes lies down with him without his knowing.
(Three years after Frank Fuster was convicted, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control warned that the procedure used to test his son is highly unreliable as an indicator for gonorrhea. During 1983 and 1984, more than one-third of samples from children around the United States who tested positive by that newly introduced procedure were later confirmed by the CDC to actually contain other organisms. The Fuster boy's positive test results were introduced as evidence at his father's trial, but because his mouth and throat cultures had been discarded, they could not later be retested.)
Jan Hollingsworth writes that Reno's office, faced with little in the way of incontrovertible hard evidence, concluded the best strategy would be to develop an adult witness: Ileana. In October 1984, shortly before Reno was re-elected by a landslide, Deputy Chief State Attorney Abe Laeser offered to recommend a drastically reduced sentence if she would plead guilty and turn state's evidence. Assistant State Attorney Dan Casey formalized the offer in March 1985. The next month Reno herself repeated it in writing to Ileana's attorneys, Michael Von Zamft and Jeffrey Samek. But Ileana refused.
Her intransigence was becoming as tricky for the defense attorneys as it was for the prosecutors. According to Hollingsworth, the case was so notorious, and the Fusters so vilified in the media, that Von Zamft was losing clients and being ostracized in the community simply for defending them. The pressures on him apparently were becoming unbearable. Was there any way he could continue as one of the Fusters' court-appointed attorneys without suffering the negative consequences?
The dilemma was resolved when Von Zamft, in effect, became one of Frank Fuster's prosecutors. In April 1985, he and Samek decided a conflict existed in their joint representation of the Fusters, and within weeks the couple's defense was legally separated. Von Zamft chose Ileana as his client. Samek took Frank.
Von Zamft began developing his strategy: to admit that Ileana was indeed a perpetrator, but only as a result of being a child victim herself -- of her husband Frank. For Ileana to convincingly present herself in this light, she would have to testify that even though she and Frank both abused the children, she did so only under duress. Logically, the way to elicit such testimony from Ileana would be to cast her in the role of a battered wife.
In fact, evidence did emerge that Frank Fuster had hit his wife. Shirley Blando was a chaplain at the Women's Detention Center, where Ileana was detained during 1984 and 1985. In a sworn deposition, Blando stated that she often talked with Ileana; the two became so close that Ileana called her "Mom Shirley." Sometime after her defense was separated from Frank's, Von Zamft confronted Ileana with some Country Walk parents' statements that they had seen her with a black eye. She then admitted to Blando that Frank had hit her. But she denied that he did so more than once, and according to Blando, the denials were consistent. Moreover, Ileana wrote Frank love letters almost every day and regularly told Blando that he was "a loving husband, that he was good, and that there were no problems."
In contrast, Blando testified, Ileana often told her that "she did not trust her lawyer; how she was afraid of her lawyer.... She would say: 'They want me to say something that is not true, and I cannot say things that are not true.' ...She thought that about the District Attorney [sic]. She thought that about the lawyers for both of them. She thought that everybody wanted her to say: 'I saw my husband do these things,' and that it was the thing that everybody wanted from her."
Around the time Ileana was expressing these protests and distrustfulness, she was placed in an isolation cell at the detention center. She had already spent more than seven months in isolation, and Blando said the earlier experiences had been traumatic for her. According to private investigator Stephen Dinerstein, who frequently visited Ileana in jail, "She couldn't take that. She was often kept under under suicide watch -- kept naked. When I would visit her, the fact that she was in isolation would be half the conversation. She really had it tough. She was just a kid."
In early July, Ileana began to change her story about her one-time black eye. She was now saying that Frank, from whom she'd been separated for almost as long as she had been married to him, had hit her often. Soon she was refusing his mail and no longer calling him. Later that month, according to Hollingsworth, she began claiming that before they were married, Frank "forced" her to have sex -- though she denied that the force included physical harm or even the threat of it. Ileana also said that Frank hit and slapped his son. Now, according to her, Frank Fuster was a wife batterer and a child beater. Yet she continued to insist that no sexual abuse had occurred at the babysitting service.
In further attempts to elicit information from Ileana, Miami psychiatrist and hypnotherapist Dr. Charles Mutter was called in by both prosecutors and defense attorney Von Zamft. Mutter, who has evaluated witnesses and defendants in numerous Florida criminal cases, said in a recent interview that Ileana's "was a very unusual case. This is the first time in my life I was ever called by both the state and the defense to evaluate a person." Mutter conducted at least fourteen sessions with Ileana; in none of them did she ever admit that either she or Frank had sexually abused children.
The psychiatrist considered various methods by which he might prompt Ileana to reveal the truth. He informed her that a lie detector test had found deception when she answered she had neither seen nor been aware of Frank molesting children. Ileana replied that the test might have registered a lie because when asked the question, she thought about a child who once had been scared by a Halloween mask belonging to the Fusters' son.
Mutter even considered hypnotizing her, but decided against it because he concluded that Ileana did not have any amnesia or memory disturbance. Instead he believed that if Frank had molested children, Ileana was denying it either because she truly didn't know about it or because she was afraid of her husband. He also felt that she fit the profile of a battering victim rather than a sex offender.
July turned to August. It was now almost a year after the investigation had begun, and Ileana was still insisting on her and her husband's innocence. "I would tend to believe her," said jail chaplain Blando during her August 1 deposition. Assistant State Attorney John Hogan then asked Blando what the chances were that Ileana "would ever take the stand and say: 'Frank abused the children, and I did not say anything because I was afraid of him.'"
"I do not believe that she would, and there is nothing to indicate to me that she would do that," Blando answered,
"...because her feeling and belief is that she did not see him do those things.... She will only testify to what she sees as being true -- to the truth, and what she believes is the truth."
Regardless of Blando's assessment, the push to convict Frank Fuster by having his wife testify against him was in high gear. Psychologist Norman Reichenberg, who had examined Ileana in late July, testified in a deposition that her basic functioning was that of "an extremely needy child" who "would have come under the domination of Francisco Fuster while living with him" and "done things that she would normally not have done if he demanded it of her."
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...."
On September 11, 12, and 18, Frank Fuster's attorney interviewed Ileana under oath so he could anticipate what she would say when she testified against her husband. By judge's orders, Frank was not allowed to watch these depositions; he was forced to listen from a separate room. News organizations were barred altogether. Surviving transcripts make it clear that as she testified, Ileana broke down in tears several times, just as someone reliving real trauma might do. But Richard Ofshe, the expert in false confessions, explains that people who have had their memories contaminated through irresponsible hypnosis also can act highly emotional, even if what they are "remembering" never happened. When Ileana's depositions are read chronologically, they suggest that many of her statements were fantasies or lies cued by her jailhouse visitors.
On September 11, for instance, she talked mostly about violence Frank committed against her. She described him assaulting her in the shower and urinating on her, giving her drugs, sodomizing her with a cross, threatening to hurt her with a drill and other tools, burning and cutting her on the groin and legs. Some of Ileana's claims also involved children: she said Frank once ripped her shirt off in front of them; that he put suppositories up children's rectums; fondled and kissed a small boy and made Ileana fellate the child's penis; put his hands into a little girl's shorts; and made his own son orally copulate him.
But by September 18, Ileana was talking about more stereotypically "ritual abuse" acts against the children as well as herself. Now she said Frank hung her in the garage by both hands and hung his son by the ankles. She also said Frank rubbed feces on her legs and put snakes in both her and children's genitals.
During all these depositions, Ileana was flanked by two people: psychologist Michael Rappaport and State Attorney Janet Reno. According to Hollingsworth's Unspeakable Acts, while Ileana testified, Reno often held her hand. In a recent interview, Hollingsworth said that her source for this information was Ileana's attorney, Michael Von Zamft. Interviewed after the announcement of Reno's nomination as U.S. Attorney General, Von Zamft said he was sitting on the other side of Reno and Ileana, so he "didn't see Reno offer her hand," but Ileana "may have grabbed" it.
If Reno did hold Ileana's hand, her behavior was highly unusual, according to Raymond Parnas, a law professor at the University of California-Davis and coauthor of a series of texts on criminal justice procedures that are widely used in U.S. law schools. "I have never heard of anything like this. It sounds like something strange was going on. It indicates an unusual relationship" between Reno and Ileana "that gives at least an appearance of a conflict of interest."
Whatever else was going on during the depositions, there is little doubt that Reno witnessed signs that Ileana was being coerced. For instance, when she said she could not answer a question because she did not remember, Rappaport would often intervene. In one exchange, when asked to describe an incident of abuse, Ileana answered, "...I couldn't do it. I don't recall." Rappaport then interrupted: "...It's not that you can't recall; it's that you don't want to recall."
"Oh," Ileana answered.
"They don't understand. I understand you better than they do," Rappaport continued.
In another exchange, Ileana was asked, "What did Frank do to you that night?"
"I can't remember now," she answered, "just remember he did afterwards [sic], but I was hurt...."
"You can't remember," pressed Rappaport, "or you don't want to?"
"I don't want to remember," agreed Ileana.
"If you can remember, you have to tell them," said Rappaport.
"I don't want to. It's not there," insisted Ileana.
"You don't remember?" said Rappaport.
"Uh-uh," said Ileana.
Often, when she answered this way, Rappaport would ask for and receive "breaks" in which he and Ileana would retire for several minutes, in private. Then they would return to the proceedings and Ileana would supply an answer.
For example, Ileana was once asked to describe Frank assaulting her. She could not give any details. Rappaport requested a break so she could "put her thoughts together." On returning, Ileana remembered a "tool thing" or "crowbar" that Frank put around her vagina.
When she returned from other breaks, she claimed to have just recovered memories of Frank wanting to be diapered, forcing his son to perform fellatio, his kissing a five-year-old boy and making Ileana kiss the child's penis.
Ileana also continuously generated new testimony alleging extraordinary events. For instance: "He took me from my hands and my feet and he threw me in the shower in our bedroom and he turned the water on. I just remember today." There is also evidence suggesting that at least some of her memories were based on fantasy. One of her charges against Frank was that he had put snakes in her and the children's genitals. The testimony was developed as she was asked to elaborate about Frank's abuse. "Well, I remember a snake," she answered.
"What about a snake?" asked an attorney.
"Having bad dreams about it," she replied.
Even after her guilty plea and her testimony at Frank's trial in late September 1985, Ileana still came forth with new stories. Interestingly, Dr. Charles Mutter, the psychiatrist who examined her before psychologists Rappaport and Haber, had once concluded that she had no memory impairment or amnesia. But after reinterviewing Ileana during her pre-sentencing evaluation, he wrote, "Ileana claims that, at this point, her memory has been refreshed by repeated sessions with Drs. Rappaport and Haber." He also wrote that Ileana suffered from a "posttraumatic stress disorder" which had made her "suppress" how she "touched and put her mouth on three boys' penises (but only because Frank pushed her shoulder). Frank took a gun and placed it on Ileana's vagina and fired it. Frank poured acid on her blouse in the shower -- it made smoke."
Ileana was sentenced to ten years in the state prison for women at Lowell. While incarcerated she divorced Frank and became a self-professed born-again Christian. In 1989, after serving three and a half years, she was released and deported by the INS to Honduras. She was accompanied by members of the First Baptist Church of Perrine, who befriended her in prison. Evangelical associates in Honduras then assumed sponsorship and have since financed her education. Ileana refuses to speak publicly about the Country Walk case, and church members in Florida and Honduras refuse to let the media talk to her directly.
Frank Fuster's conviction is being appealed. He remains in custody at the Henry Correctional Institute in Immokalee, though he is about to be transferred after an incident in which other inmates attacked and tried to choke him. In court documents filed this past November, Fuster's son, now fifteen years old, swore that his father never sexually abused him.
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