More About Martha Coakley and the Souza Case

[Note: Friends of Justice is a personal blog. I speak only for myself.]

Dear Friend of Justice,

A while back, I asked if a reader of this blog might be interested in pulling together a brief summary of Martha Coakley’s career. My friend Frank Kane volunteered. His short summary, however, eventually grew to 15,500 words.

Eventually I want to post the entire document, which Frank is still working on. Meanwhile, I would like to post a few excerpts.

First, I would like to post his summary of the Ray and Shirley Souza case. Frank was a frequent visitor to the Souzas during their many years spent under house arrest. Much of what follows is based not only on news reports but on conversations he had with Ray and Shirley.

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Case of Raymond and Shirley Souza, Lowell, Mass. Grandparents [1991 to 1993]:

Coakley was assigned to the case of Raymond and Shirley Souza, grandparents who had lived all their lives in Lowell, Massachusetts. Their story began when a college-age single daughter, Shirley Ann, went to a therapist for issues with a near-date rape.  The therapist ranged beyond that incident to suggest that Shirley Ann had been sexually abused by her father, Raymond Souza, and her mother, Shirley Souza. In a nightmare subsequent to the initial sessions in which she was convinced she’d been repressing her memories, Shirley Ann dreamed that she’d been raped by her father with a crucifix, and that her mother had participated. [Note: the satanic ritual aspect of this “dream,” as well as the repressed memory facts, never made it to trial.]

In a panic, Shirley Ann immediately told her sister-in-law, Heather, and her married sister, Sharon, that she had been sexually abused by Mom and Dad, and that their children were also probably being sexually abused. Heather brought her kids to a therapist, who basically told Heather to ease up, that she was overly pressuring the kids. Heather then took the kids to another therapist, who confirmed that the children were suffering from sex abuse trauma. And so it went with the other Souza adult children
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The Department of Social Services (DSS) was called in and had the children checked out by doctors and therapists. The initial outcome was that DSS saw no need to pursue the case, and so ruled, perhaps because Sharon, the oldest daughter, had not joined the push for indictment, as well as awareness that Heather had been pressuring her kids to disclose.

And so the DA took no further action until the daughter-in-law, Heather, protested vehemently at the Office of the DA, and somebody told Sharon she’d lose her kids if she didn’t cooperate. The DSS reversed itself and decided to go forward, when Sharon, panicked, also went to the therapist, and joined the indictment. By this time, six months had passed and Sharon was ensnared in the repressed memory trap.

The Souzas were told a child sexual abuse expert would interview the children. They later learned it was Jeanine Hemstead, a then-unlicensed social worker.

The Souzas hired a lawyer, Robert George, who counseled them to go with a bench trial — a judge, but no jury. The first judge available demurred on the bench trial; the next available judge was Elizabeth Dolan. George told the Souzas she was a good judge, knew child sex abuse matters very extensively, but failed to inform them she had been Gerald Amirault’s judge. The Souzas did not fully understand the significance of a bench trial, which, in effect, was like a grand jury hearing, in which the judge could allow or disallow most anything.

Judge Dolan informed George that she would not allow any of that recovered memory garbage in her court room, and threatened to throw him out if he tried to bring it in. Therefore, the true start of the Souza fiasco, the recovery of repressed memories of Shirley Ann, never saw the light of day in the Souza trial. All would hinge on the testimony of little children, just as in the Fells Acres Case. I’m sure Coakley and the D.A. were not displeased with that decision. And, the children came up with similar bizarre accusations as in the Fells Acres trial. They said Granma and Grampa had locked them up in a cage in the basement (there was no cage), that they’d been molested by a machine as big as a room, and that they’d been forced to drink a green potion. When one of the kids, as she was being questioned by the social worker, pushed around one of those sexually-explicit dolls lying on the floor, with the toe of her shoe, it was entered in evidence that the girl had been sexually molested by her grandfather, using his toe.

Judge Dolan gave short shrift to the one Souza expert, Dr. Richard Gardner, a well-known psychologist who had written books on child sex abuse cases, especially the Salem Witch Trials. She barely acknowledged his contribution of his extensive experience in the field, whereas she listened intently to what Dr.Andrea Vandeven from Children’s Hospital had to say, in regard to an anal “wink” and to a hymenal anomaly, later called a “tear” in the media after the trial session (Lowell Sun), as “not indicating sexual abuse but not inconsistent with the existence of possible sexual abuse.” Later, when the Souzas appealed that the doctor had contradicted her own reporting of physical symptomology, Judge Dolan said that she had made her decision on their guilt, with little to no regard to the testimony of the experts in the case, so the matter they were appealing was irrelevant.

George did not try to call the therapist who had told Heather she was overly pressuring her kids. He also failed to call a medical expert to counter Vandeven’s claims. He never tried to challenge Jeanine Hemstead’s credentials by calling her out. In short, George didn’t object to much of anything of substance, which could have helped the Souzas on appeal.

Ray Souza had a hearing problem, following a near-electrocution on his job, but nothing was done by the court to assist him. There is no record of George trying to file an objection to it. Ray and Shirley were badly prepared to go on the stand in their own defense and came across as angry and defensive, as any innocent set of grandparents might under those conditions.

Despite the fact the Souzas’ story was featured in a lead article about repressed-memory cases in Newsweek, with the Souzas appearing on the cover, Martha Coakley responded to all queries about her case against the Souzas — on the TV program Greater Boston and elsewhere — that the trial was not about repressed memories. It was about the sexual abuse of the children.

The case, begun in 1991, finally ended in a courtroom in 1993 with Dolan convicting the Souzas. If the scenes from news stories in the media of the unfettered jubilation among the Souza adult children can be judged accurate, in the court room after Judge Dolan decreed the guilt of their mother and father, then, it seemed that the female members of the family had totally fallen under the Repressed Memories spell. There was unbridled glee, shared with the prosecution sex abuse team’s gloating over their “victory.”

When Judge Dolan, at the sentencing hearing, allowed the Souza adult children to read from letters purportedly written by the children, something happened to Dolan’s stern resolve, which had taken on an almost impassive and implacable aspect when it came to matter before her — the alleged horrendous molestation of the Souzas’ grandchildren, accompanied by unbelievable, unproven, and unsubstantiated claims by the prosecution team, led by Martha Coakley and including the experts from the Children’s Hospital’s Abuse Prevention Group, headed up by Dr. Eli Newberger.

What affected Dolan no one will ever know, whether it was the stand taken by experts, not in the trial, but in the media, that the Middlesex D.A.’s Office had over-reached and over-charged, or perhaps the reading of those letters from the children, filled with hateful and barbed animosity, not sounding like words any child would say, let alone know.  Dolan seemed to react with a measure of mercy by allowing the Souzas to remain under house arrest pending appeal. She still found them guilty, however, while never addressing the true source of their prosecution, the repressed memories of the youngest Souza daughter — an element  she had barred from testimony, without objection by the Souzas’ lawyer, Robert George.  She sentenced the Souzas to 9 to 15 years.

Later, in 1995 and in 1998, Dolan turned down all points in their appeal, but then revised their sentence to nine years.  She did not remand them to prison, over the objections of the adult Souza children and the Middlesex County DA’s Office, voiced by Martha Coakley. So Ray and Shirley Souza spent the time until 2002 at home, but with ankle bracelets and a constantly-monitoring phone system, all of which they had to pay for.  At least they were together, and he not in Bridgewater and she not in Framingham. Ironically, Dolan did not set any home visitation restrictions on the Souzas, despite the conviction for child abuse. Friends of their adult children often brought their own little kids on visits to the Souzas’ home. Dolan refused to amend her guidelines for children visiting, despite the complaints from the D.A..

Lest one might think Coakley later changed her mind about her much-maligned and oft-criticized prosecution of the Souzas, she continued to argue that the couple should be behind bars.  In a Boston Globe article dated November 28, 1999, following her election as Middlesex D.A., Coakley reaffirmed that position.  “I didn’t feel at all there was pressure for us to go on some witch hunt to clean up child abuse,” Caokley said.  “If you look across the board at the abuse cases we did, there are a lot we didn’t go after. I’m pretty proud of my record on that.”

In the same article, in assessing Coakley’s future role as the new Middlesex County D.A., the writer speculates, as follows:

“Just what she will do in the office remains unclear. Even though crime is down statewide, those who take her measure from her years in the child abuse unit are watchful for signs of an aggressive attack on crime. Defense attorneys are generally unwilling to talk publicly about Coakley, in whose hands their clients’ fates may lie, but some regard her as having been unrelentingly zealous. Charges of over-reaching echo particularly in the Souza Case, which Coakley helped prosecute.

“Last year, a judge [Elizabeth Dolan] ruled that the elderly couple did not have to go to prison, as prosecutors had wanted, but could remain under house arrest. In doing so, the judge revoked their original prison sentence of 9 to 15 years and placed them on probation until 2002, causing some to criticize Coakley for slamming the couple too hard in the first place.”  (Actually, they remained under house arrest until April, 2002.)

“Martha Coakley was one of the people who believed that all victims and children were telling the truth when they said they were abused,” declared lawyer Robert George , who defended the Souzas. “Did she go too far in prosecuting the Souzas? Absolutely. I don’t think Martha Coakley ever stopped going 100 miles an hour in her efforts to convict them.”

Raymond Souza died in 2007, of complications of Alzheimer’s. His wake and funeral, although not announced by Shirley Souza in the media, for fear of continuing media persecution, drew an amazing crowd of hundreds of his family, friends, neighbors, work associates, and Lowell-area luminaries, worthy of any well-loved and respected personage.  A  cortege consisting of scores of automobiles wound through the streets of Lowell. At the cemetery, Ray was accorded honors as a World War II veteran of the U.S. Navy, and Shirley was given the ceremonially-folded U.S. flag.

Shirley Souza, in 2009, remains categorized as a registered sex offender according to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB). While Martha Coakley runs for Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat in Washington, D.C..

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