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RICHARD HANSEN, Attorney
Name withheld, Defendant

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Friday, July 5, 2002

Tracy Johnson
P-I Reporter




Psychological disorder suspected in abuse case

Woman may have fabricated stories to gain sympathy

Handcuffs gnawed at the man's wrists as he sat in the passenger seat of the patrol car, fending off some of the most revolting accusations imaginable.

Two detectives were talking about how he had hurt his wife of more than 40 years. How he had raped her, sadistically and frequently. How he pushed her off a rockery, breaking numerous bones in her foot. How he scalded her with a cup of tea in a jealous fury.

The man, a 67-year-old grandfather planning to retire from the aerospace industry, said he thought it was a joke. Maybe it was a bizarre mistake that, when it was all cleared up, would be a funny tale to tell.

But that morning last summer, he went to jail.

The man, who now lives in Bellevue, didn't see his wife again until late May. He was sitting next to his lawyers, facing 18 to 23 years in prison. She was sitting on the witness stand, making accusations that the jurors quickly concluded weren't true.

In a trial that ended last month, a psychologist testified that the woman likely suffers from a "factitious" disorder, a condition that usually means a person feigns, exaggerates or even self-inflicts medical problems.

Known in a severe form as Munchausen's Syndrome, a person with a factitious disorder often makes repeated trips to the doctor and thrives on sympathy.

Jurors say they weren't sure whether this was the case -- they simply saw too many flaws in her disturbing account. The couple's grown daughters say they sadly agree.

Case looked grim

In the beginning, defense attorney Richard Hansen had to admit the case looked pretty grim. The man's wife told her doctor that she'd been forced to act out pornographic videos, and detectives had found evidence that the man's home computer had been used to access hundreds of pornography sites.

Hansen said he talked with the man and thought he probably didn't harm his wife but acknowledged that "you never really know."

The woman had been telling her doctor of rapes and assaults for more than two years before the doctor -- apparently fearing the woman might not come back from an upcoming vacation with her husband -- called police.

"She went to the doctor nearly weekly, telling increasingly disturbing stories," Hansen said. "She was getting a lot of sympathy from the doctor's nurse, who would hug her and cry with her."

Hansen and attorney Cassandra Stamm began looking into the allegations and enlisted the help of a computer expert. What they found later made an impression on jurors.

They say they learned that the many pornographic sites had been visited at least twice after the man's arrest, when he no longer lived at the home.

And the computer in the man's office showed he opened a new file the same morning his wife suffered the foot injury, showing he'd been at work at the time, Hansen said.

The attorneys say they found veterinarian records that disputed another facet of the woman's story. She apparently told her doctor that her husband had threatened to harm the couple's dog, a terminally ill golden retriever, if she didn't comply with his demands.

She later told people her husband had the dog killed without letting her say goodbye, Hansen said, but records showed she was actually the one who took the dog in.

Last month in King County Superior Court, jurors heard evidence that the woman was having an affair with a longtime friend in England. They also heard conflicting medical testimony about whether there were any physical signs that the woman had been raped.

For some jurors -- who acquitted the man on three rape charges and five assault charges in just two hours of deliberations -- one piece of evidence was key: a stamp on her husband's passport.

According to Hansen, the woman showed up at her doctor's office on day in February 2001, complaining that her husband had raped her the night before. The stamp, Hansen said, shows the man had been in New Zealand.

Investigators weren't aware of the passport stamp until the trial, according to King County Sheriff's Sergeant Greg Dymerski, though he said the lead investigator still believes justice was left undone.

Hansen said the woman also visited more than 100 web sites about various diseases and still others about losing weight, though she is thin.

But whether Munchausen's Syndrome could explain her allegations left the jurors split.

"It all seemed to lead that way," one juror said, noting that the woman went to the doctor well over 100 times in a 2-1/2 year period.

Another juror wasn't sure. "I'm not a psychiatrist -- I don't even want to go in the direction of why she would do something like this," she said.

"I feel good about what we decided."

Another juror said simply that sharp inconsistencies in the evidence clearly made "reasonable doubt."

Condensed from original story by P-I Reporter Tracy Johnson.

 


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