For the residents of this orchard town east of the Cascade Mountains, it began in winter and grew in the spring, this feeling - more a hope, really - that the whole nightmarish ordeal was ending.
All but one of the trials was over in what has been described as the largest-ever child-sex-ring prosecution. Of 28 adults charged with rape and molestation, 14 pleaded guilty, five were convicted, three were acquitted and five had their cases dismissed. Nineteen are serving prison sentences.
Town leaders were anxious to bring closure to the divisive matter. And for a while, indeed, the loose ends seemed to fade into judicial oblivion. The lull proved short-lived.
Lawyers for two of the convicted, Harold and Idella Everett, plan to file an appeal this week based, in part, on the recantation early last month of the couple’s 13-year-old daughter, identified in court papers as M.E.
The girl, whose harrowing testimonies of ritualistic sex abuse helped convict at least eight people, said she had made everything up under pressure from her then-foster father, Wenatchee Police Detective Robert Perez, who led the turbulent investigation from the start.
M.E.’s recantation marked the beginning of what appears to be a new chapter in the story, a chapter in which the investigation itself may be investigated.
Critics have likened the prosecutions to a “witch hunt,” led by an obsessed Perez, aided by overzealous social workers and abetted by unquestioning prosecutors. If the Everetts’ convictions are overturned, critics say, the other convictions will soon follow, and legal scrutiny will then rightfully turn toward police and prosecutors.
M.E.’s recantation prompted, or at least bolstered, these developments:
Attorney Robert Van Siclen, who represents Idella Everett in her appeal, this week filed a civil suit in Thurston County Superior Court seeking damages totaling $80 million on behalf of 10 residents who claim they were wrongfully prosecuted for sex crimes. The damages are sought from Perez, Child Protective Services and county prosecutors.
Another lawyer, Steve Lacey, representing four plaintiffs, is expected to file a similar suit seeking $20 million in damages.
At least seven state lawmakers have appealed to Gov. Mike Lowry to open an inquiry into the role of CPS caseworkers in the sex-ring prosecutions.
Residents have started a petition drive demanding that the state Supreme Court conduct a grand jury investigation on police and prosecutorial conduct. And a civic group called the Concerned Citizens for Legal Accountability has once again appealed to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to open an investigation.
Reno in February declined to open such an investigation, stating that her office could not find evidence of “prosecutable crimes” by police and prosecutors. Another review in the same month, done by retired Bellevue, Wash., Police Chief D.P. “Don” Van Blaricom and paid for by the city of Wenatchee, concluded the sex-ring investigation was not perfect but that police did not do anything illegal or improper.
The dramatic turn of events began to unfold June 2, when M.E. ran away from a foster home and sought refuge with her grandmother in East Wenatchee. M.E. and her younger sister, identified as D.E., testified in at least four trials and were considered crucial to the prosecution.
During part of the investigation, both M.E. and D.E. were foster children in Perez’s home. Both were transferred to other homes late last year. M.E. was transferred partly because of physical run-ins she’d had with Perez, who admitted to once twisting her arm during an argument.
After running away to her grandmother’s house, M.E. made a telephone call to Robert Roberson, a lay Pentecostal minister who, along with his wife, Connie Roberson, was acquitted late last year of multiple charges of molestation and rape. One of those who testified against the couple was M.E.
According to Roberson, M.E. asked his forgiveness for lying about his participation in the so-called sex ring. Roberson, with his attorney present, later videotaped an hour-long conversation with M.E.
On the videotape, M.E. tells Roberson that Perez had bullied her into making up lies about Roberson and many other adults, including her own parents. “I had to make it all up. Bob Perez was there, and he pressured me to say it,” she said on the tape.
Neither Perez nor the Wenatchee Police Department would comment.