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Updated Oct. 16, 2006
Mary and Robert Halsey
The courtroom testimony of twin 8-year-old boys – a concoction of fantasy and fear – led to a life sentence for Robert Halsey in 1993. In 2004 the National Center for Reason and Justice took up his case, but all of its appeals have been denied and the Massachusetts Supreme Court has denied Halsey's Application for Further Appellate Review. Now in his 70s and in failing health, the former bus driver will most likely die in prison, a victim of the child sexual-abuse hysteria that put him there.
by Lona Manning
Robert Halsey is in prison in Massachusetts. He's in his 70s, in poor health and he's been behind bars since 1993. Officially, he was convicted of sexual assault on children, but in another sense, he was convicted of being the bogeyman. His trial transcript makes for chilling reading -- and not for the reason you might expect. It raises the frightening possibility that an innocent person was accused and convicted of a childish concoction of fantasy and fear.
Halsey lived with his wife Mary in a modest house in the town of Lanesboro, in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. He was an uncomplicated man. When he was younger and in better shape he enjoyed hunting and fishing. But as he entered his 60s, he was more likely to settle down in front of the television after a day of driving the school bus. His wife was more likely to be bustling around in the evening as Halsey, like many men of his generation, neither cooked nor cleaned. Mary Halsey relates how one evening, when she was working late in her craft room, her husband brought her a bowl of fruit cocktail. She was amazed that her husband had managed to find the can opener -- and that it had even occurred to him to be so thoughtful. It wasn't that he was a selfish man, but he was a man of limited imagination.
The Halseys had a grown daughter, but no grandchildren. "Children were very precious beings to both of us," says Mrs. Halsey. Her husband talked about the kids on his bus route "all the time," she recalled. "He enjoyed the kids, we always talked about them -- the things they said, if they did something funny."
In the fall of 1990, Beverly Walker arranged for bus service for her twin sons, who were entering a half-day kindergarten program at the local elementary school. The family lived on a winding, steep, dirt road, where no regular school bus could go, so the bus company (after some reluctance), bought a four-wheel-drive passenger van. Robert Halsey was the children's bus driver. Although Halsey picked up other children who lived on the outskirts of town, for a portion of his route, the twins were his only passengers.
He grew particularly fond of them. When the gas station was giving away Matchbox cars with every fill up, Halsey saved them to give to the boys, Jason and Justin Walker (all children's names and other identifying details concerning them have been changed). The Walker twins are teenagers now, but when they were 8 years old, they played a key role in sending Robert Halsey to prison, where he will most probably die.
How did Robert Halsey become the bogeyman of Lanesboro?
Robert Halsey's ordeal started in February of 1992 when the parents of 5-year-old Monica Kelly complained that he had tickled their daughter. Halsey, who had grown up in an era when it was all right to tickle children, pinch their cheeks and give them candy, got a crash course in the sensibilities of modern child rearing. He was quietly taken off that bus route and only allowed to drive for the high school students. Halsey was worried and embarrassed and he missed the Walker twins. In the summer of 1992, he went to their house and brought them a present of some baseball bats. He asked Mrs. Walker to please not believe the rumors she had heard. (Later, Mr. Walker testified that he and his wife suspected Halsey might be a molester because he was taken off the bus route.)
In early 1993, when the twins were in first grade, their mother gave birth to her third child. Her husband brought Jason and Justin down to the hospital on Saturday afternoon and he also brought along some cigars.
It was the cigars that prompted something in little Justin's memory. Something about Mr. Halsey. All we know is that on Monday, the children's school counselor, Jane Satullo, interviewed the twins in the presence of the town's police chief.
Later, Police Chief Stan Misiuk took each child separately to Cheshire Lake, which was spanned by a causeway called Nobody's Road. The locals went fishing lake for bass, gill and pumpkinseed. Mr. Walker sometimes took the twins there.
It was here, the twins later testified, that Mr. Halsey frequently detoured on his way to school. He shot and stabbed fish, crayfish and turtles while they watched in fear. He made a house of cards, put crayfish in it and set fire to it. These strange goings-on continued all through the fall of 1990 while they were going to pre-kindergarten, although they didn't mention any of it to their parents. Then in the spring of 1991, Halsey began to molest them. He would drive uphill from the pond into some secluded fields and tie them up with rope and duct tape and take them, one after the other, off the bus and sodomize them. Then he ripped the duct tape off and dropped them off at school. These alleged tortures continued through the rest of the school year and resumed the following school year.
Until the day little Monica came home and complained to her parents that Mr. Halsey had tickled her. James Zarvis, the owner of the bus company, stepped in to drive the Walker boys. According to Zarvis' later testimony, Jason and Justin told Zarvis that they missed Mr. Halsey and wondered where he was. The criminal allegations against him would not come until almost a year later -- when they were at the hospital meeting the new baby.
The initial interview with the school counselor and the police chief was not recorded. In other cases of this sort, it's the interview transcripts or videotapes that have helped to set the defendant free. They have clearly shown adults coaching and coaxing young children into accusing their parents, their teachers, other people in the community, of sexually abusing them. In the infamous McMartin Daycare case in California, chief interrogator Kee MacFarlane dressed in a clown suit and interviewed children with puppets. A social worker in the Wee Care preschool case cajoled: "All the other friends I talked to told me everything that happened. Randy told me. Connie told me...And now it's your turn to tell. You don't want to be left out, do you?"
At trial, the counselor, Jane Satullo, would tell the jury that she didn't ask the twins any leading questions. But she is a therapist, and not a detective, as is made evident by her remark: "I try most of all to open the child's -- open the child -- really, in some ways, opening their heart, feeling safe, it's okay, they can talk, they can tell their story in their own words."
After the children were interviewed, the police chief sent several officers to search Halsey's house and arrest him. The police seized knives from the kitchen and tool shed, they seized rope, tackle boxes and fishing poles, they took his late father's .38, his pellet gun and a starter pistol. They took his penknife off his key chain. "They took my duct tape out of my craft room," said Mrs. Halsey. "It was my tape." In the bedroom, they found Mr. Halsey's stash of adult pornography, some magazines and videos. Police noticed that the house was filled with clutter, including cardboard boxes.
Halsey, unable to meet the $500,000 bail, waited in jail. The day after his arrest, all 350 children at Lanesboro Elementary were sent home early so the teachers and school officials could meet to discuss the shocking allegations. In the days that followed, parents jammed into the school for information meetings. Jane Satullo and the school principal, Thomas Gillooly, were both quoted extensively and both spoke as though the charges against Halsey did not merit any doubt, and both dispatched the presumption of innocence. "We all feel violated," the principal said. "This has rocked the entire community." He added that everyone had discovered "how unsafe our world can be." Satullo called the boys "heroes." A parent complained that the school "has been victimized by a predator."
Halsey had been driving the bus and tickling children, for over 20 years, but no grown victims came forward, even though the case was well publicized. On the other hand, nobody publicly came to his defense. One of his fellow bus drivers said the charges against Halsey, "Baffle me... He was a simple, uncomplicated guy. I can't even imagine this happening."
In the months before trial, the children were in therapy and they developed even more accusations. Halsey made them hold up targets while he shot at them. He sprayed them with a "sleepy spray." He made them eat urine, feces and vomit. He threw them in the lake, then took them to his house and stuffed them in cardboard boxes and made them watch adult pornographic videos.
Halsey's public defender, Richard LeBlanc, was skeptical about whether Halsey had time to do any of these things. In the second year, particularly, Halsey had 45 minutes to pick up all the morning kindergarten children and deliver them home, then pick up children attending the afternoon session, and deliver them to school. Halsey's only bus-driving peccadillo, which had gotten him into trouble in the past, was his income-supplementing practice of stopping to pick up bottles and cans he saw at the side of the road. Nobody had a record of the exact time Halsey's bus pulled into the school yard every day (although he had never been in trouble for being late), still, it was difficult to understand how Halsey would have time to detour down Nobody's Road, tie and tape the kids up, whip out the fishing pole, catch fish, kill the fish, drive up the hill to the cornfield, sexually assault the children, then rip the duct tape off their mouths, untie them, and still finish his route on time.
Judge Daniel Ford, who had been the prosecuting attorney in the Bernard Baran (http://www.freebaran.org) case, would hear the case. Baran, a daycare worker in nearby Pittsfield, Mass., was the first person to be convicted of bizarre crimes of this type against children. Halsey's prosecutor, Timothy Shugrue, was a specialist in sexual-abuse cases who would go on to co-found the Kid's Place, an agency for screening and counseling abused children.
At trial, "the courtroom's high ceiling and adult-sized witness stand dwarfed the two boys," reported the Berkshire Eagle. Jason, the elder twin by five minutes, testified first. He claimed after Halsey had been driving them for about a week when he detoured one day to Nobody's Road, drove over some concrete barriers and took them into some secluded fields, and pulled out his .38. He made the children hold up targets, which he shot at.
But when Justin took the stand, Shugrue had trouble pulling the same story out of him. He introduced the target shooting testimony with, "Could you tell me, at some point in time did things become not okay with Bob?"
"Yes," answers Justin. "He started hitting us and pulling down our pants."
When Shugrue tries to clarify that he's asking for the first strange incident, which according to the other twin, was the target shooting incident, "the first time he did something that made you feel kind of uncomfortable," Justin responds: "He pulled down our pants and stuck his penis into our butt." Shugrue attempts to clarify by asking Justin:
Q. I want to ask you about the times you said he started to hit you and stuff... When did that start?"
A. The second day of school. He was hitting us and putting our heads in the pond.
Q. What happened at first?
A. First I hit him because he said something to me, and then he started hitting me, then dunked my head in the pond.
Shugrue then shifts gears and leads Justin through a discussion of how Halsey had tickled him and how Justin pushed his hand away. Justin is shown a map, and is asked to point out where the van went. After six pages of laborious coaching and looking at maps, Shugrue has placed Justin and Halsey past the lake and in the field, all ready to talk about the target- shooting incident.
Q. What happened once you pulled into that field?
A. He started hitting us and pulling our pants down.
Shugrue repeats, "I want to talk about the very first time that something happened." He suggests to Justin that he is a little uncomfortable and nervous and wants to say everything at once. Justin agrees. Okay. Shugrue asks again, what did he do?
A. Pulled down our pants.
Q. I'm talking about the first time you went in there." [Shugrue repeats, and adds a hint] "I'm talking about the first time you went in there. Did he ever use guns?
Q. What did he do with the guns?
A. He was putting guns to our heads and he was putting knives to our head.
After eight pages of effort, Shugrue throws in the towel, and asks directly, "Do you remember ever seeing any targets?"
The light finally dawns for Justin: "He used to make us hold them up and shoot at them."
Here, Justin is supposed to testify that Halsey unzipped his own pants, placed candy in his crotch, and invited the children to fish for it, but Shugrue is momentarily sidetracked by a new allegation;
Q. Where did he put the candy?
A. Up his butt.
Q. Did he tell you he put the candy up his butt?
Q. Did you actually see him do that?
Q. Tell us, when you were on the bus, did you see him do something with the candy?
A. He licked it.
Q. You started to tell me, and I interrupted you before, that he unzipped his pants?
Often, when the children said something particularly bizarre or impossible, Shugrue asked them if they were frightened. Mary Halsey says the children didn't appear frightened to her: "The one boy (Jason) was very much in control but the other twin (Justin) was sort of fidgety like, but he didn't appear to be frightened. They looked like they had been well rehearsed, which I imagine they were."
But even if the correct answer was not forthcoming, prosecutor Shugrue supplied it. Shugrue was convinced that Halsey kept his arsenal of guns, knives, baseball bats, ropes, tape, etc., hidden behind the last bench in the back of the van. But his star witnesses almost never said that. They testified that Halsey wore a knife on his hat and one attached to his boot. They said he wore a gun on his holster, even when he was picking them up or dropping them off. He also kept a gun in his pocket, baseball bats under the front seat, and filled the glove compartment with knives. Almost every time the twins were shown a gun or a knife in the courtroom, they said they had seen it "under the seat," "in his pocket" or "in the glove department." Almost every time, Shugrue would prompt them: Ever see them in the back as well?... Did you see a bunch of knives also in the back?... Do you remember ever seeing any guns in the back?... Did you see them in the back as well? Yes, the children would agree, yes, they also saw weapons in the back.
The concrete blocks on Nobody's Road.
The question of the concrete blocks demonstrated how quickly the Walker twins could accommodate their testimony to fit what the questioner was asking. Nobody's Road was blocked off by large dividers in the winter to prevent cars from using the unpaved portion past the causeway which spanned the lake. (The prosecution argued that there was enough room for Halsey to maneuver the Suburban around the blocks.)
Halsey's lawyer asked Jason: "(You said in direct examination) that the van just drove right over (the blocks), is that right?"
Q. You went over the blocks, is that right?
The blocks in question are three feet tall and three feet wide. On redirect, Shugrue moved to repair the damage:
Q. Did you actually go over the blocks? Did you go around the blocks? Explain that to us.
A. We went around the blocks.
On re-cross, Jason adapted his story when Halsey's attorney persisted by asking him:
Q. Well now, did you go over them or did you go around them?
A. Around them. One wheel just hit on the blocks and went over them.
Shugrue also corrected 7-year-old Monica Kelly, who testified that "the first day" she saw the guns and knives on Halsey's bus, she told her parents at that time and they even had a conversation about it. She also claimed that when her grandmother picked her up at the bus stop, she pointed the guns out to her grandmother. Shugrue repaired her credibility by telling her that what she really meant was that she told her parents "more recently," and that she was "still afraid" of Halsey. She agreed with him.
The remaining witnesses were sisters who had moved to Florida. According to the original allegations described to a grand jury by Mr. Walker, Justin said Halsey lined up the children on the school bus and sexually assaulted them one after the other. Justin and Jason named the other supposed victims, and these children were in turn questioned. Monica and the Carter sisters would eventually testify to seeing knives and guns on the bus, or to having their mouths taped, but none of them corroborated the sexual assaults. At trial, no child testified to seeing another child sexually assaulted.
Another child who had been named by twins as having been a victim denied, in spite of repeated questioning, that anything unusual had happened on Halsey's bus, and did not testify.
Halsey's lawyer was able to establish that like the other children, Carter sisters' testimony had changed and become more damaging to Halsey since their initial interviews with the police, but he was unable to do more than suggest contamination of their testimony, since the interviews were not recorded. The investigating officer's testimony clearly showed that she asked leading questions such as, "Did you see knives and guns on the bus?"
The children seemed to move from milder to wilder accusations when asked, what else? what else? Monica was the girl who initially said that Halsey had tickled her. By the time of the trial, she said that he had also waved a knife at her and choked her. In this excerpt, Jason recalls being forced to eat sushi, and after a "what else," comes up with more.
Q. What kinds of things would he have you do with the fish?
A. He said he made me eat it, he's going to make me eat it...
Q. Did he do anything else with the fish.
A. Shot them in the water, and he --
Q. Go ahead.
A. Made us eat them.
Q. Anything else?
A. He stuck them up our butts.
The prosecution called as its expert witness psychologist Jeffrey Fishman, who testified that children who have been molested, often, out of sense of shame, delay revealing all the details of what happened to them. Fishman also explained to the jury how sexually abused children behave -- the tummy aches, the trouble swallowing, the sudden modesty about being seen naked.
The twins' mother took the stand to describe how her children behaved from the time Mr. Halsey began driving them -- the tummy aches, the trouble swallowing, the sudden modesty about being seen naked. What the jury never heard was that Dr. Fishman was also the children's therapist and that he'd worked closely with the family, a collaboration that routinely involves discussing symptoms to look out for. And the defense never called an expert to counter Fishman's testimony and explain that cognitive psychologists had clearly shown how easy it was to influence children to say things that weren't true and that of course many children get tummy aches.
The defense did call the twin's teachers who testified that the children behaved normally at school, and were happy, alert and well dressed. The prosecution had an explanation for that, too: Traumatized children can appear to be happy, Dr. Fishman explained, because they are "dissociating" -- blocking out the terrible things that had just happened, to protect themselves psychologically.
And indeed, the children had trouble remembering some things that one might suppose were impossible to forget, such as in this exchange between Shugrue and Jason:
A. He stuck his finger into my butt.
Q. What did it feel like?
A. I don't remember.
A few minutes later, Shugrue takes no chances, and phrases the question differently:
Q. What did it feel like when he had it (his penis) inside you? Did it hurt?
Words didn't fail Shugrue when he came to his closing argument. Speaking as though he were the abused boys, Shugrue told the jury what he thought the boys really meant to say: "And with that came (the words), 'he would insert his finger into my rectum as he made me get down on all four of my hands and knees, how he would 'wiggle his finger around in and out of my rectum because my pants were removed', and the words, 'I had to get on my hands and knees, and I felt him put something in my rectum, my bum and he moved it in and out until he peed on my back..." (In fact the children always described sodomy, whether penile or with an object, as a twirling, not a thrusting, sort of activity. The children always say, "he moved it around," and one even demonstrated a circular motion with his finger. Only Shugrue uses the term, "in and out.")
Perhaps the greatest blow to Halsey's case was the medical evidence. Pediatrician Matthew Sadof testified that both boys had scarring on their anuses. One boy in particular, had a "lack of rugae" (no puckering) on almost half of his anus. But if this anomaly was indeed a scar, how big was the wound? A wound that size -- half the anus ripped or scraped away, would leave a child screaming in pain and bleeding profusely. Their mother testified that she sat with her children while they had their bowel movements because they complained of constipation. She looked at their stools before flushing them, she wiped their bottoms. She mentioned the children were in the habit of bending over, spreading their cheeks, and saying, "look at my butthole," as part of their bath time play. (This exhibitionism was blamed on Halsey's influence, as was the excessive modesty their mother also complained of.) And obviously she laundered their clothes and underpants. Would wounds of any size escape this mother's detection?
This brief review of the medical evidence is not intended to be the final word on the subject, simply to suggest that Sadof's testimony is not beyond dispute and in fact it was disputed in the civil proceedings that followed the criminal trial. The expert for the insurance company questioned whether what the doctor saw were scars at all, but the normal lumps, bumps and ridges which are variations in human anatomy.
The defense argued that Halsey's bus schedule didn't allow for extensive molesting in the fields. But Shugrue's aggressive cross-examination of the bus company owner Zarvis, raised the specter of doubt. "You don't really know when and where people were picked up!" he accused Zarvis. "It was three years ago," Zarvis countered, complaining that because the prosecution had subpoenaed his company's records, he couldn't remember how many children Halsey picked up on each part of his route. "You don't have any firsthand knowledge of what Mr. Halsey did and where he went." Shugrue accused. "No," said Zarvis.
A key witness in the case also made a significant change to her testimony about the amount of time Halsey was alone with the children. Police Chief Misiuk's initial report says that Mrs. Walker told him the twins were "ready" to be picked up at 11:30 a.m. for the afternoon session. At trial, however, she changed her story: "And it was about 11 o'clock that they would have their lunch, and it was -- the latest he would ever pick them up would be quarter after or 20 after, the latest," she said.
This time change added at least 15 minutes to the time Halsey supposedly had alone with the children.
But even if he did have time to spare on his mid-morning run, he apparently squandered most of his opportunities. He wasted precious time catching fish, stabbing frogs and turtles, playing mumblety peg and setting fire to crayfish. Perhaps every perversion is explained with the all-purpose answer that he's a twisted child molester. Or perhaps this entire tragedy could have been avoided if just one of the adults involved in the investigation had said, "Wait a minute, wait a minute -- he did what with the crayfish?!"
Another major setback for Halsey was that his defense attorney did not put Halsey on the stand in his own defense. What else could he say, his lawyer felt, but "I didn't do it." Halsey could have spoken volumes. In giving his side of the story he could have put his simple, straightforward nature and his loving regard for the twins on public display. His attorney could have taken him through every accusation step by step and allowed him to refute them, each of them, in great detail. They never heard, for example, that Mrs. Halsey was saving the infamous cardboard boxes to cut up to make starter fuel for the wood stove. All the accusations about guns and knives in his bus could have been debunked. His 20 years of reliable, caring service could have been put on the record. With a life sentence in the balance, Halsey's jury needed to hear -- and no doubt expected to hear -- Halsey say he was not only totally innocent but totally incapable of committing such terrible crimes. Instead the jury only got to hear that Halsey would not take the stand in his own defense.
The jury deliberated for only three hours. What started with tickling ended with three life sentences, with the third life sentence to run concurrently with the second. Robert Halsey, who drove a generation of Lanesboro children to school, became the bogeyman.
After the trial, when it was too late, his lawyer told the court that there were people who knew a different Robert Halsey: "(Before trial) my office has gotten a number of anonymous telephone calls from different people... who said, 'You know, I just can't believe that this could be true of Mr. Halsey because he was the bus driver for my kid...' and it was story after story of, 'I can't believe this. He was so good to my kids. I never had any problems with him. He would do this, he would go out of his way to do that.'"
Mrs. Halsey said, "accusing him of hurting children was like accusing Santa Claus. He would never do anything like that."
After Halsey's trial, the Walker family sued the bus company and settled out of court.
Halsey's one publicly funded appeal, which centered mostly on the question of whether the prosecution should have used his adult pornography stash against him at trial, was turned down in 1996. Halsey's appeal lawyer did not raise the issues of suggestibility of children's testimony, nor did she question the medical evidence, nor the credentials of the "expert" therapist, who had held 11 different positions at 11 different facilities in the 10 years previous to his testifying, and had never done formal research or been published. Halsey is incarcerated at Bay State Correctional Center in Norfolk, Mass.
Shortly after the Halsey trial, Timothy Shugrue left the district attorney's office and went into private practice. (Shugrue did not respond to requests for an interview for this article, nor did the Walker parents.) One of Shugrue's first clients was a woman divorcing her husband, a project manager for a civil engineering firm named Bruce Clairmont. Clairmont was eventually accused of molesting the couple's youngest children. Clairmont maintains his complete innocence and refuses to enter a treatment program in prison.
Carol Clairmont Weissbrod, Bruce Clairmont's sister, has fought for her brother steadfastly ever since. "I thought the system worked," she explained. "I was raised to believe that if you didn't break the law, then everything would be fine and you wouldn't go to prison." She says that with her brother's case "I found out the hard way that that's not true."
When she learned about Robert Halsey, in particular the fact that Shugrue, Dr. Fishman and others who had been involved in her brother's case, had also worked on the Halsey, she contacted Mrs. Halsey to commiserate. Weissbrod discovered that after Mary Halsey's husband became the monster of Lanesboro, she stayed on in the same town, in the same house, too poor to move away. She is also too poor to phone or visit her husband more than once a month. In early 2002, Mary Halsey had a stroke and is now legally blind.
Because of Carol Weissbrod's efforts, Robert Halsey's case has been take up by the The National Center for Reason and Justice, an advocacy group for the wrongfully convicted. Tax-deductible donations may be sent to:
Boston MA 02123-0414
Update: October 2006
Thanks to the efforts of Robert Halsey's supporters at the National Center for Reason and Justice, http://www.ncrj.org/, Robert Halsey was assigned a public defender, attorney Charles K. Stephenson, in the early spring of 2004. When Stephenson investigated the case, he discovered startling revelations that are here disclosed publicly for the first time.
As bizarre and sensational as the accusations against Halsey at trial had been, it turned out that two of his young accusers, twin boys Jason and Justin Walker, told even wilder stories while continuing in therapy with Dr. Jeffrey Fishman after the trial. (It was Fishman who served as Berkshire County's "expert" on child abuse for Halsey's trial.)
According to Fishman's clinical notes, which Stephenson obtained, the therapist was convinced that the children had not told all there was to tell about their encounters with Halsey. Fishman encouraged the twins to confide in him by comparing secrets to fish swimming in an aquarium, waiting to jump out. "Rather than offer slight variations on similar stories," Fishman wrote, "the boys were directed to think about new varieties of sex things that hadn't been let out at all." Thus encouraged to come up with "new varieties of sex things," the twins poured out ever more grotesque accusations against Halsey in bi-weekly therapy sessions. At times, the sessions took on a flavor of a contest, as the twins "took turns…telling new stories of their abuse."
The Walker children (the confidentiality of the family is preserved throughout this article by the use of pseudonyms) catalogued a long list of perversions, mostly centering on feces, urine, fire, and small animals. Many of the alleged tortures had no sexual component, and many of the sexual accusations betrayed a typical child's ignorance of human anatomy. Attorney Stephenson wrote in his appeal brief that Fishman "extracted scores of preposterous claims of abuse…[and showed] himself to be distressingly gullible, praising the children for their courage in disclosing what was plainly impossible."
In addition to encouraging the boys to talk about perverted and grotesque activities, Fishman would occasionally remind the boys that their own parents had failed to protect them from Halsey. His notes – ironically called "progress notes" – blandly catalogue the inevitable results.
Justin and Jason became increasingly neurotic and unhappy, suffered from nightmares, had furious temper-tantrums, and even threatened suicide. They would not go to bed without "elaborate safety rituals and reassurances." One of the twins used disclosures as a bartering chip – in exchange for sleeping in his parents' bed, he would tell a "big secret." The parents, meanwhile, were drifting apart, each locked in his or her own private despair, wracked with guilt over what had happened, but also sick of having the trauma dominate their lives. (By September 1994, the parents were beginning to express doubts about the therapist's strategy of pressing the children for more revelations. Dr. Fishman acknowledged that his "treatment may in fact be exacerbating traumatic memories.")
While reviewing the therapy notes, Stephenson uncovered a bombshell revelation. Two months after the trial, the twins told Fishman that Halsey was not the only one who molested them on Nobody's Road. At first, they alleged another man, whom they called "Mister," rode on the bus and joined Halsey in abusing them. The following month, the accusations grew to include another man and a woman. "The parents," Fishman wrote, "were somewhat incredulous and unsure what was really true. They were clearly distraught over continued allegations that seemed unending."
No allegation of multiple offenders had been made during the trial, and according to the available records, none of the other children who were questioned mentioned an old man with a dark beard, or an old fat lady. The children's parents reported the accusations to the police, but there is no indication that the district attorney ever looked for these phantom attackers – or ever questioned the reliability of the original accusation against Halsey. If the district attorney believed that the accusations against Halsey were true, why were these later accusations ignored? And since the later accusations were obviously false, (for example, one boy claimed the female offender "stuck her vagina in my butt") then why do they continue to defend the case against Halsey?
Armed with this strong evidence that the children's accusations were the product of misguided therapy, Stephenson filed a motion for a new trial in March of 2004. He also argued that Halsey's trial lawyer had failed to mount a proper defense. (For example, Halsey's trial attorney, Richard LeBlanc, called no expert witness to challenge the testimony of the prosecution's "expert" witness Dr. Fishman and failed to challenge the medical evidence.) The appeal was heard in October by the original trial judge, Judge Daniel A. Ford, who once prosecuted a young daycare worker named Bernard Baran in similar circumstances (http://www.freebaran.org/#Short).
Judge Ford rejected Halsey's appeal. His February 2005 ruling argued that though the accusations made in therapy "may seem difficult to believe," they were similar to the "implausible claims" made at trial – and the jurors had "still believed the twins testimony." Even if the jury had heard these new revelations, he ruled, it would not have changed the outcome of the trial.
In September of 2005, Stephenson presented a powerfully written, carefully reasoned 54-page brief to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Appeals Court. The brief was supported by a 268-page appendix which laid out in detail the injustices and absurdities of the case:
[T]he claimed multi-victim orgies and torture could never have occurred within the time constraints of a school bus run… had Robert Halsey drugged several of the children, inserted drill bits into the complainants' penises, broken bones and … beaten them repeatedly… there would have been physical manifestations apparent to even the most myopic caregiver.
Stephenson was armed with an affidavit from one of the nation's most eminent experts on child memory and suggestibility, Dr. Melvin J. Guyer, who reported that the children's accusations "are characteristic of the bizarre and scatological stories told by impressionable children when they are interviewed by adults who have an obsession with abuse which blinds them to the ease with which children can fabricate…" Guyer noted that the children's stories centered around "poop" and "pee" "In most instances," when children start talking about poop and butts and killing animals, "responsible adults tell children to stop acting silly." But in the Halsey case, zealous and gullible counselors like Jane Sattullo and Dr. Fishman encouraged the children to elaborate on their bizarre stories. As a result, a man was sent to die in prison.
Stephenson and Mr. and Mrs. Halsey, as well as all his supporters, were hopeful that the appeals court would see the case against Halsey for the preposterous nonsense it is. But on May 31, 2006 the appeals court dismissed Halsey's appeal. The appeals court judges did not provide a written opinion, destroying in two short sentences Halsey's hopes for release.
Stephenson filed an Application for Further Appellate Review with the Massachusetts Supreme Court, which was denied in July of 2006. Stephenson was shocked and disappointed: "I thought this was the best case, the best argument, the most compelling appeal in my entire (25 year) career." Stephenson is convinced Halsey did not have a fair trial and hopes that further publicity about this case will bring more public support for Halsey.
Dr. Fishman continues to practice as a therapist in Massachusetts. In a telephone call from this reporter, Dr. Fishman declined to answer any questions about his role or his findings in this case. There is no indication that Mr. and Mrs. Walker have had second thoughts (they sued the bus company and were paid a handsome settlement), even though they doubted some of the wilder accusations their sons were making. The National Center for Reason and Justice http://www.ncrj.org/ continues to support Robert Halsey's claim of innocence and to accept donations on his behalf to finance further legal appeals on his behalf.
More information on the Halsey case
In 2002, Professor Ross Cheit of Brown University published a lengthy article about the Halsey case in which he argued that Halsey was guilty and the children's accusations were "credible." That article is rebutted at length here.
Update: September 2002
In response to this article and another scholarly paper written by Lona Manning, Ross Cheit has posted a website, www.ManningDebunked.org, in which he attempts to dispute Manning's research on the case and her critique of his article.
Manning has responded in turn with a page: http://members.shaw.ca/imaginarycrimes/Halseydebunked.htm.
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