A 10-year-old girl taken from her San Diego family and kept in foster homes for 2 1/2 years because authorities wrongly accused her father of raping her returned home Saturday to a reunion her father called “the end of an incredible nightmare.”
The reunion of the family had been scheduled for late next week, but it was accelerated when county officials closed Juvenile Court proceedings in the case Friday.
“It’s like having a new daughter and a new chance at life,” said the girl’s father after the reunion. “They are finally out of our lives. It’s like getting out of jail.”
The father, Jim, didn’t want his last name used to protect the identity of his daughter, Alicia.
Juvenile Court Referee Yuri Hoffman apologized in dismissing the case, expressing her regrets to the family “for the pain they have been caused through this horrible process.”
The action came one week after the district attorney’s office dropped criminal charges against Jim, a 37-year-old Navy man.
The family’s ordeal began in May, 1989 when Alicia, then 8, was raped and sodomized as the family slept in their apartment at a Navy housing complex.
Alicia told police, doctors, social workers and others in authority for more than a year that a stranger had come through the window, taken her outside, attacked her and then returned her.
But authorities focused on her father as the rapist, convinced that Alicia’s story was a fabrication that didn’t fit the standard profiles of molestation.
They continued even after another man, Albert Raymond Carder Jr., was arrested and convicted about the same time for attacking other young girls in the neighborhood. Carder, 25, is serving a 25-year prison sentence.
After Alicia’s rape, county social workers filed a Juvenile Court petition recommending her placement in protective custody because her parents allegedly were unable to safeguard her at home.
Jim and his wife, Denise, then pleaded no contest to a neglect charge when prosecutors offered them a plea bargain that would enable Alicia to return home within weeks.
Instead, the girl remained isolated from her family so therapist Kathleen Goodfriend could work with her. A year later, Alicia changed her story and said her father was the rapist.
Jim was arrested and Alicia, who testified against him at a preliminary hearing, was put up for adoption with her foster family. While Jim faced up to 16 years in prison if convicted, his wife was hospitalized to prevent a suicide attempt.
The case turned again when semen stains previously overlooked by police investigators were discovered on the panties and nightgown Alicia wore the night she was attacked.
Genetic tests completed last month concluded the the sperm was not Jim’s and pointed instead to Carder, who is among about 5% of the general population who matched DNA characteristics found in the semen stains.
A second, identical round of tests completed last week confirmed the initial results, prompting prosecutors to drop the case.
Friday’s court hearing negated all the legal actions which the county had taken against the family.
Jim’s attorney, Michael McGlinn, thanked Hoffman for dismissing the petition that placed Alicia in county custody in the first place, saying he hoped the legacy of this case would be “that the quest for truth is never forgotten (and) that we keep families together and not take them apart.”
Jim described the 2 1/2-year emotional nightmare as “like being put on an assembly line and forced along no matter what you do.”
“We were threatened at every turn with the loss of our son if we tried to fight back,” Jim said. “It was the most incredible nightmare that just kept getting worse day by day.”
Now Alicia, who turns 11 on Thanksgiving Day, and her family must pick up the pieces.
They face thousands of dollars in bills for lawyers, therapy and foster care and already have spent more than $125,000, Jim estimated. Most was provided by his mother, who tapped her life savings, he said.
The family plans to leave San Diego immediately after Jim retires next year following a 20-year Navy career and move to Missouri, where he grew up.