Abuse Case to Challenge New Law on Limitations : Courts: Santa Clarita man’s defense is latest attack on ‘recovered memory’ syndrome. Encino woman’s story spurred legislation.
An Encino woman’s sad story of sexual abuse she suffered as a child prompted a new state law which allows victims of such abuse to file criminal charges against their alleged attackers years after the incidents occurred.
But that law, only 5 months old, is already under attack by a Santa Clarita man who stands accused of sexually molesting four girls more than 20 years ago--years after the statute of limitations expired. His ex-girlfriend also stands accused of aiding and abetting the molestation of her own daughter, who recalled details of the alleged attacks during therapy two years ago.
Attorneys for the pair said the law is unjust and improper, especially if applied retroactively. The only other crime in California not subject to the statute of limitations is murder.
The planned attack on the new law is the latest assault on “recovered memory” syndrome, which has divided the mental health profession since it surfaced in the late 1980s.
Some psychologists contend that child victims repress their memories of sexual abuse and retrieve them, sometimes in great detail, years later. Others maintain the practice consists of overzealous therapists using questionable techniques to plant false memories in the minds of their patients.
In a landmark malpractice suit involving repressed memory therapy, a Napa jury on Friday found that two therapists destroyed a man’s life by implanting false memories of sexual abuse in his daughter’s mind and awarded him $500,000.
Gary Ramona, 50, filed a suit against his daughter’s former therapist and psychiatrist after his daughter accused him of sexual abuse in 1990, triggering the collapse of his marriage, the abandonment of his family, a damaged reputation and the loss of a $400,000-a-year job with Robert Mondavi Winery.
Holly Ramona, now 23, testified last month that she recovered buried memories in 1990 of her father’s hand on her stomach, of him stroking her inner thighs and of him being on top of her with his penis inside her. She testified that he raped her repeatedly between the ages of 5 and 8 and that neither her former therapist Marche Isabella, nor psychiatrist Richard Rose, helped her manufacture any memories.
Friday’s verdict was a sharp contrast to what was perhaps the most highly publicized case involving repressed memory, the case of George T. Franklin. He was sentenced in 1991 to life in prison for the 1969 fatal beating of Susan Nason, 8, of San Mateo.
The trial was prompted after Franklin’s daughter, Eileen Franklin-Lipsker, suddenly recalled a long repressed memory while looking into the eyes of her own daughter. It was then that Franklin-Lipsker recalled watching her father rape Nason in the family van and beat her with a rock. He then threatened to kill her if she ever told.
But that was a murder case. The case involving the Santa Clarita man, 64-year-old retired aerospace worker William Lynch, will be played out in another courtroom and under the new state law.
Lynch was arrested in April and subsequently charged with 14 counts of lewd conduct with a child stemming from alleged attacks on the four women when they were between 7 and 13 years old from March, 1967, to July, 1972.
Lynch’s former girlfriend, Mildred Fleetwood, 61, who was arrested in Florida, faces eight criminal counts as an accomplice.
Fleetwood’s daughter set the case in motion when she recalled during a 1992 therapy session details of Lynch molesting her and her childhood friends, Deputy Dist. Atty. Francesca Frey said.
The three other alleged victims are sisters who Lynch frequently baby-sat when their mother was attending air traffic control school. Frey said her case is bolstered because two of the three other victims fully remember the sexual molestations, but never came forward with them. The women, now 37, 33 and 31, live in Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida.
By challenging the law, attorneys for Lynch and Fleetwood will make the case a test of a state law that became effective Jan. 1. It allows prosecutors to file charges in certain types of sex cases within a year of the date the crime is reported to police, regardless of when it was committed.
The law was written by Assemblywoman Paula Boland (R-Granada Hills) after learning of the case of Susan Jarreau, an Encino resident who says she did not remember being sexually abused until more than 10 years after it happened.
Jarreau, who says she was abused from the age of 6 to 14, could not file criminal charges against her abuser because a state law covering all crimes but murder imposed limits for prosecution ranging from two to six years from the time the act occurs.
The new law also requires that the victim be under 18 when the crimes occurred and that evidence exists that corroborates the victim’s allegations.
“The law allows us not to reward people who choose children as victims,” Frey said.
Defense attorneys for Lynch and Fleetwood said they plan to file motions challenging the validity of the law.
“We’re saying the complaint is defective on its face value,” said Frank DiSabatino, an attorney representing Lynch. “My client is devastated by this.” Legal technicalities aside, DiSabatino said his client is innocent.
Verah Bradford, an attorney representing Fleetwood, said that although the law could apply to crimes committed in the future, it should not apply to her client because it was passed after the statute of limitations in the case expired.
“My client is a nice Christian woman who has been going to church for the last five years,” Bradford said. “She knows her daughter has problems, which will be revealed as this case continues.”
In the Lynch case, Frey said that Fleetwood’s daughter had vague memories of what Lynch allegedly did to her and her friends, but it was during the therapy session that she recalled many of the details of what had happened.
Frey, the prosecutor, said the 35-year-old woman, who now lives in Santa Clarita with her husband, had undergone voluntary treatment in 1992 for severe depression.
Frey also said that authorities uncovered evidence during a November, 1993, search of Lynch’s home that may link him to the crimes.
Lynch, who is free on $100,000 bail, and Fleetwood, who is married and has a husband in Florida, are scheduled to be arraigned in Los Angeles Municipal Court on June 9. A bail hearing for Fleetwood, who is now in custody in Los Angeles, has also been set for Thursday.