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THE RITUAL ABUSE CASE IN "SMITHFIELD, NC"

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Patrick Figuered and Sonja Hill in Smithfield, NC were convicted in 1992 of ritually and sexually abusing three children, aged 2 to 5.

When they were charged, Patrick agreed to a plea-bargain in which he entered an "Alford" plea. (Here, the accused states that he is innocent, but pleads "no contest" because he believes that the evidence against him would convict him if he went to trial). One of the terms of the agreement was that all charges against his girlfriend, Sonja Hill, would be dropped. In violation of the agreement, the prosecution reinstated charges against Ms. Hill a few months later. Patrick then changed his plea to not guilty, and his trial was held in 1992. He received three consecutive life sentences. His girlfriend Sonja realized that if her case went to trial, she might get a similar sentence. So she agreed to a plea-bargain and entered an Alford plea to some minor offenses and received the maximum sentence: 10 years.

Sonja Hill's mother operated an informal baby sitting service in her rural home. One of the children, a two year old, was suffering from an intestinal problem. A pediatrician diagnosed that he was possibly a victim of sodomy. Social worker Nancy Berson took over the case; she claimed to have had experience in Satanic ritual abuse (SRA). She is believed to have used direct questions which may have communicated to the children her suspicions that Patrick engaged in sexual and ritual abuse. She used anatomically correct dolls which are now known to increase the risk of generating false accusations. She is reported as having shown screwdrivers to the children, and asked about tools at the farm house; she allegedly implied that they might have been abused with a tool. Apparently, only one of the children's interviews was videotaped; the Attorney General's Office discourages the videotaping of interviews.

A total of three children were similarly questioned. All eventually disclosed descriptions of Satanic symbols, Satanic rituals, ritual abuse, etc including:
bulletbeing sodomized with a screwdriver
bulletbeing forced to engage in Satanic rituals
bulletwatching while Patrick dressed like a devil burned Bibles
bulletbeing forced to drink urine and blood
bulletbeing sexually abused in the presence of a video camera
bulletwatching Pat, his girlfriend and daughter have sex in front of them
bulletbeing drugged
bulletbeing whipped with a branch from a thorn bush
bulletreferences to "white powder" and "black poison"
bulletbeing forced to drink a dog's urine

The children said that they were abused while Sonja's mother was outside cutting the grass. But Sonja's mother testified that she only cut the grass after the children had been picked up by their parents. She also testified that at no time was Patrick alone with the children.

The only physical evidence of abuse was a positive result during "anal dilation" tests. This test has been generally discredited, because both abused and non-abused children have been found to have the same reaction to anal stimulation. There was some discussion of variable pigmentation of some tissues; but these are also common among abused and non-abused children.

Some witnesses testified that they visited the home often and unannounced, but had never seen Pat there. Other witnesses had seen Pat at the home rarely when children were present, but had never seen him alone with the children. He had limited access to the children; he worked in a city that was almost an hour away from the scene of the alleged abuse; his fellow workers testified that he came early to the office and worked late.

There were three very serious errors made in the prosecution of Patrick's case:
bulletPatrick was jailed for almost four years, waiting for the trial. It is doubtful that he could have received a fair trial after such a long delay. In the words of the defense attorneys:

"The prosecuting witnesses were two and five years old when defendant was first indicted. They were involved in weekly therapy sessions with psychologists who, over three years, were able to "lock in" the children's story. By the time the children got to trial they were six and nine, well-practiced in telling their tale of abuse, and indubitably believing that what they told was the truth."

bulleta Psychologist expert witness testified that the children were abused and that, in his opinion, Patrick Figured was the perpetrator. The latter was an opinion only, and was not based on any direct knowledge. His statement undoubtedly biased the jury heavily against the defendant. The jury was not instructed by the judge to disregard the testimony
bulletwhen Patrick was picked up by the police, he was informed that he was being charged with having statutory rape of a minor. The officer testified that Pat replied "Who, Brooks?" (Brooks was Sonja's 13 year old daughter who lived with her mother in the farm home). Pat denies asking this question. Assuming that he did ask, his query was a reasonable one. Brooks and the young children would have been the only underage people that were at the house, and he had never been alone with the children. So, if he were charged with sexual abuse of any child, he would most likely suspect Brooks.

The judge instructed the jury that, by his question, Patrick had admitted being guilty of having sex with Brooks. But he was never charged with sexual impropriety with Brooks. Sonja's daughter denied having been abused and even testified for the defense. This charge by the judge may well have had considerable influence over the jury.

During the appeal the defense concluded that:

"In this case, the evidence against the defendant was weak. There was little opportunity for him to have committed these acts, and no evidence of motive. The physical evidence was equivocal and inconsistent with the initial statements by the children....The statements of the children were the result of lengthy, repeated interviews by zealous interrogators. The children were either reluctant to talk to the interviewers, or tried to tell the adults what they thought the adults wanted to hear. They denied as much as they admitted. The eventual statements, as remembered by the interviewers four years later, were tainted with improbability."

It would seem that it is quite likely that no abuse occurred in Smithfield, and that Patrick Figuered and Sonja Hill are both innocent of any felony.

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