Wednesday, January 21, 2015

If you could see my heart...

Sometimes it is easy when you hear a news story to pick apart a person in that story whether it be a person who committed a crime or someone who made a choice you don't agree with. The internet has become a place where people are not afraid to very publicly share their opinions. This can be both good and bad! I know my story has been very public (more so than I would have liked), and that has caused people to be very opinionated about me (and the other players in my story). Far too often I see people ascribing feelings and motives to me that aren't mine in any way. While I know I should let these things roll off my back, it is hard! So I thought I'd write a few things that I would like people to know about me.

If you could see my heart:

~ You would see no hatred or bitterness for any of those who have wronged me, only prayers for them to see the error of their ways so they don't hurt others in the same way.

~ You would see someone who would rather not have my story public, but someone who is amazed at what God has done because it has been so public.

~ You would see someone who grieved going through the trial process and only did it because it was the right thing to do so other potential victims could be protected.

~ You would see I share my story not for pity or notoriety, but to bring awareness so others can be protected from the trauma I went through.

~ You would see I am passionate about protecting children!

~ You would see my desire to help those who have been through trauma to see that there is always hope!

~ You would see my love for God and my sadness for how people (often in church leadership) have hurt others in the "name of God".

~ You would see someone who has experienced NO financial gain, rather suffered extensive loss through this painful process, but would chose to do it again in spite of the hardship.

~ You would see that for me if even one child has been protected, or one survivor given hope because of my story than it has been worth it for me!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Dear Church

Dear Church,

Our children are precious. It is not only our job, but our privilege to protect them! If we do not do this, who will?

For so long churches have been complacent about protecting our children, and as a result many children have been hurt. It is long past time for this to stop! There are several BASIC steps that a church can take, as well as many others.

First, a background check of anyone who works with children is essential. This of course will not catch all offenders (some may not have been caught yet), but it is a good starting point. Next, every room that is used for children should have windows in the doors so that someone can walk by at any time and see what is going on inside the room. Another very big thing that is IMPERATIVE is that there ALWAYS be at least 2 unrelated adults in a room with children at all times.

I have heard so many excuses about why the last thing is unreasonable. 1.) We don't have enough volunteers ~ if this is true shut down rooms until you have enough people to help (I'm sure you would get more help quickly if you actually did this). 2.) I really trust the person that is in there, they would never hurt a child ~ FYI most child abusers are amazing at the art of manipulation. They have people (especially those in a church) trusting them completely in very little time. 3.) There isn't a need for more than one person because there are only ___ children ~ This policy is not only for the protection of the children, but it also protects the integrity of the church. Not only that, but it also just makes sense to always have more than one adult. If there is an emergency and you are alone it is much more difficult to get the necessary help because you can't leave the other children alone to take care of that emergency.

I will admit that in the past I have been the only adult in a room with children at church. As I have learned more I have seen how unwise that is. We recently left a church, and while there were several reasons for our leaving, this was one of the big ones. If simple child protection policies, such as the ones I've suggested, aren't put in place and consistently followed, then my children are NOT safe in your "ministry".

As I mentioned before, these are only basic steps. There are many amazing resources out there, such as G.R.A.C.E,that can help. They not only have amazing suggestions on their website, they can come and work with your ministry (if hired) to educate people and help to create protection policies in your ministry.

If you are in ministry I beg of you to see how important this issue is! Our children deserve to be protected! It is time for the church to wake up and step up and do everything they can to ensure that our children are safe!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Trial 2 Part 5 ~ Sentencing and Impact Statement

As I mentioned before when trial was over and we had a guilty verdict that didn't mean that everything was done. The defense had played dirty games and gambled on having that be their whole defense. With the uncertainty of whether the amended charges would stick or not both sides were more ready for compromise.

A couple of days after the guilty verdict was returned the defense approached the prosecutor asking if they would consider offering Daniel another plea bargain. This would really benefit both sides because Daniel would get a significantly reduced sentence, BUT there would be NO chance for appeal and he would have to plead guilty in order to take it.

There is a time for mercy and a time for justice. I think that it HAS to be up to the victim to determine what they feel like needs to be given. Every victim, and every case is different. For many reasons I felt like mercy was needed in this case. NOT for Daniel, but for the sake of my mother. I did however agonize over the decision. Ultimately Daniel got a very short prison term IF he gets into counseling and the sex offender treatment program (this will be followed by a significant term of probation). If he does not cooperate with the program his sentence will be extended. In the end, it is up to him how much time he will spend in jail.

I think the best way to understand my thought process is to read my victim impact statement that I shared in court. I know it is long, but I think it is worth the read.

               When a person makes the choice to abuse a child whether that be physically, sexually, emotionally, or spiritually they impact the rest of that child’s life in ways most can’t even imagine. Daniel, when he chose to abuse me, forever changed my life.
                As a child my life was ruled by fear. Fear of Daniel, fear of God, fear of not being perfect and the punishment that would bring. I also feared being honest with people about what life was really like and learned to keep my mouth shut. I was even threatened about what would happen if I didn’t keep my mouth shut.
                When Daniel chose to abuse me he stole so much from not only me, but also my family. From me he stole my innocence, my sense of security, my ability to trust, my mother, and my sense of self-worth. Daniel’s abuse continues to have repercussions today in my home. My children sadly do not know my mother, their grandmother, because he has manipulated her into choosing him over everyone else and in doing so has taken the ability of knowing their grandmother from them. They also do not get to do things (such as sleepovers) that many of their friends do because Daniel taught me it isn’t safe to trust most people with your children. My husband also has paid a steep price because of my trust issues and my flashbacks which cause issues with intimacy. The emotional toll on our entire family as we have walked this process has been immense.
                Daniel is a master manipulator, and knows how to use people to get what he wants. In his selfishness he thinks only of himself and not those he has hurt. This was seen even in the trial. Not only did he scoff at people on the stand, but he also worked with his attorneys to pull a dirty, underhanded move to try to get the charges thrown out after the state had already presented its case. This was not only distressing to me as a victim, but a potential waste of the court’s time and resources. This is just one of the many ways Daniel, and in this case his attorneys as well, shows a total lack of character.
                Daniel deserves to spend the rest of his life in jail because of what he has done. He deserves to pay for his crimes. Frankly, any person who would sexually abuse a child should be locked up forever so they never have a chance to hurt another child.
                Regardless of what he deserves it is my desire that Daniel get help more than punishment. I would love to see him fully admit what he has done, realize how his actions changed my life, and get into therapy so he can get the help he needs. I understand that he appears to be a help to my mother who suffers from MS, and it is not my desire to take away her help. It is however my desire to see Daniel have accountability so that he can’t hurt another child. It is my belief that unless a person understands the ramifications that their actions have and truly desires to make things right and change, that they never will. For these reasons I want Daniel to be in the sex offender treatment program.  

                In closing, while I never thought that I would ever see justice, or that my story would be as public as it has been, I really hope that my story will show the need for reform. Our children need to be protected! When a child makes a disclosure it is important that they be believed and that the authorities not only be contacted, but that the authorities have the ability to speak with the child in a timely manner. Our churches need to not harbor these offenders and protect them, but instead protect the children. Our legal system needs to be reformed so that victims do not endure even more trauma because of the unethical tactics of defense attorneys. I hope that my story will be the catalyst that spurs even some of these desperately needed changes.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Trial 2 ~ Part 4 ~ Tim's point of view

I was so grateful to have my husband with me for this trial. He has been my greatest supporter throughout the entire process and I'm glad he was able to be with me in person this time! Here is his viewpoint of the trial.

The day the trial started it was cold and raining. I remember thinking that the day reflected how everyone, especially Tina, was feeling with the trial about to start.  The months leading up to this were not any easier, especially since the mistrial in June and the postponement of the second trial from October to November.
I spent the first couple days in a small room in the courthouse waiting my turn to testify. I had a very small part to collaborate Tina’s story of how Daniel had asked us for his forgiveness about ten years ago. I was very nervous about it. I can only imagine how drastically worse Tina’s anticipation was leading up to her testimony.
I was able to watch Tina’s mom testify. I never saw her acknowledge or even glance at Tina. Her thoughts were for herself and her husband. She was distraught over situation but not what Tina had been through.
Watching Chuck Phelps on the stand was just disgusting. The lying that poured out of that man was incomprehensible. He denied being in charge of the church, especially the money. Most of his answers were, “I don’t recall that.” He hemmed and hawed and tried to come up with answers without taking any responsibility for his actions, or in-actions. I have nothing kind I can say about him or the people that respect him or call him pastor and so I’ll just keep quiet. His true lack of character was demonstrated to everyone involved in this court case and he did more harm to the name of God than even Daniel Leaf.
Closing arguments was the most interesting part to me. It was interesting to hear the defense spin their tale. I was really impressed with the prosecutor and his skill of laying out the facts and presenting his argument. The prosecutor really had his hands tied in what he could and couldn’t say throughout the trial and his carefulness, deliberateness, and professionalism in and out of the courtroom was impressive.
I loved hearing the words of the judge as he praised Tina for the awesome woman that she is and what she had to overcome to become a successful, intelligent, capable woman overcame the odds of her abusive past. The prosecutor, when it was all done and behind closed doors, started to express his admiration for Tina and was very emotional and almost lost his composure in expressing himself to her but he was interrupted before he could finish.
The greatest encouragement was Tina’s friends who came out to see her. Some came to the courtroom and sat with her. Fran, one of her biggest supporters, was there every day, along with Tina’s uncle, Girouard. We had a big gathering at a local restaurant. We even had one friend, Jeffrey, drive up from New York to show his support. We know more would have like to come if it had been possible and we appreciated everyone’s love and support throughout this trial.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Trial 2 Part 3 ~ A guest post

There were several amazing people that were with me during this trial. One of them has been like a mother to me, and I can't even begin to express how grateful I am for her! She is truly an amazing lady and someone I'm so grateful to have her in my corner. Today, you get to hear some things about the trial and sentencing from her point of view. So, here is Fran Earle's point of view...

After I testified for the state of New Hampshire in the trial of Daniel Leaf I was finally allowed into the courtroom to hear the closing arguments.  As I sat there I looked around and saw the detective from the Concord Police Dept. who worked so hard to bring Daniel Leaf to justice for Tina, I then focused on the prosecutor who also with almost nothing but the credibility of the witnesses he had brought into the courtroom had brought this trial before a judge.  Then I looked at the judge and saw a fair man who in open court had told Tina that he was in "awe" of what she had done with her life.  My attention was then drawn to Tina's mother, and I used that term loosely because she is an obsessed woman who put the "man" she married before her children and left them open to his horrible temper and his perversion. She was crying, but not for her daughter but her husband!   Then I just looked at Daniel Leaf and thought of all the years it had taken for this moment and the smug look he had on his face.  THEN I heard the words the prosecutor was saying to the jury and all of a sudden it hit me, that this young woman who I love and admire greatly lived in such fear in her own home as a child!  As he spoke I felt myself get sick and I started shaking.  I was shocked at what I was hearing had a very violent emotional reaction.  I left the courthouse with Tina and Tim, but had to cancel our dinner plans because I was so upset.  

I had a hard time pulling myself together so was not present when the guilty verdict was read.  I turned down an invitation to join Tina and Tim and friends for lunch because I was still crying!  But my husband pushed me to go to be with my friends and I am so happy that I did.  That was in Nov, then in January I was present to hear the sentence and viewed the bailiff put the handcuffs on this man and I was so lighthearted leaving that day!  

I have no words for the admiration I have for Tina and all she has been through.  I want to adopt her and be her mother!  I also greatly admire her husband Tim.  How many men can sit and listen to how such horrible things happened to his lovely wife as a child and still keep his composure?  He was a rock, just supporting his wife.  It was and experience that I never thought I go through, but I'd do it all again for Tina.  

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Trial 2 Part 2

Day one of the trial opened with a detective on the stand first, and then I took the stand. I was FAR more nervous than I had ever been taking the stand (other than when I was a young child) because the last time this case went to trial it ended in a mistrial because of me. I was asked by the prosecutor: "Did your mother ever intervene when Daniel was physically abusing you?" I simply responded: "Only one time and Daniel pushed her down and she fell and broke her wrist.". The defense attorneys contended that this painted Daniel and my mother (because she chose to stay with him) in too bad of a light and that it would bias the jury against him. Therefore a mistrial was declared.

I was far more careful to simply answer questions and not elaborate or share details unless specifically asked to during this trial.  It is always hard to share painful details of your past and have to re-live those times. Thankfully, I was able to make it through my testimony without causing another mistrial!

Other than testifying one of the hardest parts of the trial was listening to my mother get on the stand and lie about me. While I love her it became painfully clear that she only cares for herself and Daniel. As a mom I simply can't understand how she can make the choices that she has made. I know Daniel is a master manipulator, but it breaks my heart that he has been able to manipulate her into choosing him over her own children. She knows who he is and what he has done (he admitted it to her), and yet she defends him and lies about me. There just aren't words to express the heartbreak that her choices cause.

Chuck Phelps was once again subpoenaed and had to testify. The trial was put on hold for several hours because he failed to make it to court on time even though the state of NH had paid for him to fly in for the trial. His testimony directly contradicted the testimony of several police officers, a former youth staff volunteer from Trinity Baptist Church, and a DCYF (division for children and family services) worker.

Many others including my own husband testified. When the prosecution rested the defense pulled a dirty, underhanded move. They literally had NO defense, not one single witness. Their entire strategy of defense was to try to get the case thrown out on a minor technicality in the laws at the time the crime was committed. These kind of technicalities are supposed to be brought up before a case ever goes to trial so that the charges can be amended if necessary.

Based on the actions of the defense, after looking at case law and hearing arguments the judge allowed the jury to deliberate on what would be the amended charges. The jury deliberated and returned a guilty verdict on both counts. While I was relieved at the verdict, I knew that the case wasn't really over because we weren't sure if the amended charges would stick or whether we would have to go back to the grand jury for another indictment and go back to trial all over again.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Trial 2 Part 1

In many ways this trial was completely different, and much harder than the other trial was. I think in many ways it can be much more emotionally difficult when you are testifying against an abuser who is either a part of your family, or has very close ties to your family.

In this trial I testified against my step father who is still married to my mother. While his actions are no less heinous, and in fact may be even more heinous than those of Ernie Willis in some ways, I felt conflicting feelings about being willing to cooperate with this investigation. The knowledge that I was speaking truth didn't make it any easier emotionally. While I have no attachment whatsoever to Daniel, he is still married to my mother. And even though she refuses to have any contact with me because she thinks I have been wrong to testify against my abusers, I will still always love her.

For me the decision to cooperate with law enforcement was not based on any kind of anger, resentment, or desire for revenge. I ultimately decided to cooperate because I know the stats about those who re-offend. I've researched enough to know that most people who would hurt a child would hurt many and not just one. With this knowledge I felt it was important to protect other potential victims from the men who abused me.

Ultimately the choice to report or to cooperate with law enforcement has to be the choice of the victim. The legal process is exhausting, long, unfair to victims, and often traumatizing. Getting justice in this country is far from easy. If I hadn't been fully convinced that this was the right thing to do, I may have given up long ago.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Dear Younger Me...

For quite a while I have been mulling around doing a series of posts about the last trial. I have decided to start that sometime this week. I have put it off because I know it will be a tough series to write. But, I do believe that now is the time.

Today our family was blessed to be able to go to a GCU basketball game and then a Mercy Me concert after the game (Thanks HopeKids!). Their lead singer, Bart Millard, has a story of abuse that has similarities to mine, and has a heart of gold from what I could see. Anyway, one of the songs that he sung tonight really resonated with me, especially with the series of posts that are coming up.

If I could go back and talk to my "younger me" what would I say? There are so many things that I could think of, but the words of the song really resonated with me, so I will share those. I hope that this will encourage you and remind you of truths the way it did me!

If I knew then what I know now
Condemnation would’ve had no power
My joy my pain would’ve never been my worth
If I knew then what I know now
Would’ve not been hard to figure out
What I would’ve changed if I had heard

Dear younger me
It’s not your fault
You were never meant to carry this beyond the cross
Dear younger me

You are holy
You are righteous
You are one of the redeemed
Set apart a brand new heart
You are free indeed