Trial begins in sex abuse case Accusations date back 25 years

July 14, 1993|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

A church-going Grasonville man allegedly molested three of his daughters in their Severna Park rancher 30 years ago, an Anne Arundel County jury was told yesterday. He is being charged now because the daughters recalled the alleged assaults in recent therapy.

The 59-year-old man, who now lives in Grasonville, went on trial in Circuit Court, charged with sexually abusing his daughters from 1963 to 1969 as the family led what a prosecutor described as the portrait of a traditional suburban life.

Deputy State's Attorney William D. Roessler said the family attended a local Baptist church three and four times a week, and that the man earned a good income as a marketing representative for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

"They appeared to be a normal, happy, healthy, holy family," Mr. Roessler said in opening statements. "But appearances can be misleading."

Defense attorney George Lantzas charged that Patricia Hartge, the Annapolis therapist who treated the three women, could have suggested the abuse to the victims, planting or creating "false memories" of events that never happened.

"In this case, there was a suggestive treatment regime that says if you are to get better you must acknowledge that you were abused," he said in his opening statement.

He asked jurors to keep an open mind, and to imagine what it would be like to be expected to account for the events of 25 or 30 years ago.

"Look and see if there is any scientific or physical evidence at all," he

said.

The trial before Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr., is expected to last several days.

Yesterday, the man's youngest daughter, a 30-year-old Gambrills woman, testified that her father often got into her bed after tucking her in and sexually abused her when she was 5 or 6 years old.

On some nights, she would try to keep him out of her bed by lining up stuffed animals and dolls to show him there was no room. But it wouldn't work, she told jurors.

"It was not unusual for my father to sleep through the night with me in my bed," she said.

She said she entered therapy with Mrs. Hartge in February 1991, after she was divorced and depressed about it.

When she began suffering from bulimia, she checked into the Minirth Meier Byrd Clinic, a Washington, D.C., clinic for patients with eating disorders, she testified.

She said she began to recall the alleged abuse during sessions when she was able to completely relax, as a therapist reassured her about her safety.

"It was the first time in my life that I ever went somewhere that I ever felt completely safe," she said.

Judge Thieme yesterday granted Mr. Lantzas permission to have a defense psychiatrist and a psychologist review the women's psychiatric records as they prepare questions for prosecution therapists.

Mr. Lantzas said he needed the expert opinions because the defense hinges on his ability to effectively question whether the victims' memories are real or imagined.

"This is a repressed memory case from the get-go," he said.

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