OLD LITTLE GIRL LOST

part 2 of 2
Chris tried to commute between Denver and Atlantic City for a few weeks, but soon realized this was not possible. After losing his job at a laboratory where he had been hired several weeks earlier to assemble iron lungs, he moved to Atlantic City and found a place to stay, paying his rent with money earned from parking cars at a casino.

The attorneys for both sides began sniping at each other--Chris had hired Seth Grossman, a fiery former Atlantic City politician who had never handled a custody case before. But the acrimony between Chris Perry and his family and the Bucks grew at an even faster pace. The Bucks said Julie had referred to Chris as nothing more than a "sperm donor." Later, according to court documents, they claimed that Chris bruised Alexis's arm and dragged her across a carpet during a court-ordered visit. They also hired a private investigator to follow Chris for several hours; the biggest discovery made by the P.I. was that Chris once failed to properly signal a turn while driving.

For their part, the Perrys criticized the Bucks' small, ranch-style house, noting that the seams of the Strawberry Shortcake wallpaper in the room where Alexis was staying were uneven and that the family's pet birds were allowed to fly free and defecate wherever they wished. They also accused the Bucks of poisoning Alexis against her father; Chris says she was told that he was a friend of "the bad man" who had slain her mother (the Bucks deny this allegation). Friends, family members, acquaintances and neighbors of Julie and Ron were deposed, and Alexis was repeatedly questioned and examined by therapists paid either by the court or by the opposing parties. Allegiances shifted, and shifted again, during the summer of 1993.

And then there was the press. Television stations in Philadelphia and Atlantic City kept viewers apprised of developments in the dispute, and the Bucks, who today criticize Chris Perry for cooperating with this article, were not shy about making their feelings known in the media. They also gave permission to at least two journalists to interview Alexis directly.

The anticipation and the arguments came to a head on September 20, when the custody trial opened and the characters' lives were laid bare. Chris was quizzed about a number of outstanding traffic tickets and the 1990 conviction for stealing copper from an abandoned Central City mine (he says he was railroaded). He was also taken to task about his work history. In spite of his claims that he had spent the previous several years mainly working for his parents, he was shown to have skipped from one low-income job to another--between several periods of unemployment. The Bucks had to speak about Don's affair with Julie, Debra's decision to pay for Julie's abortion and allegations that they were exaggerating the closeness of their relationship with Julie and Alexis.

Seth Grossman, Chris's attorney, argued that what the Bucks described in an early deposition as a "close, personal friendship" that lasted three years was genuinely intimate only during the last few months before Julie's death.

Each side accused the other of allowing Alexis to hear too much about the competition for her. On one occasion, the Bucks brought Alexis with them to court; Don says an associate of Alexis's psychologist advised them to let the child tell the judge why she wanted to stay with the Bucks. Judge Garofolo responded by criticizing the Bucks for bringing her. Alexis played in an anteroom elsewhere in the courthouse until the gavel was pounded at the end of the day.

Sixteen days and more than twenty witnesses later, Judge Garofolo handed down his verdict. He ruled that the Bucks had proven neither that they "stood in the shoes of the parent" nor that Chris Perry was a neglectful or abusive parent. Alexis was awarded to Chris--and because the Bucks had implied at the outset of the trial that they would not appeal a negative decision, the matter seemed closed.

But it didn't stay that way.

When Chris and Alexis boarded a train bound for Denver, he says, "she hated me. She thought I was the worst person in the world." He claims that she didn't begin to warm up to him until they pulled into Chicago. After that, he maintains, their relationship steadily improved.

A report by Deborah Garcia, a court-ordered psychologist who began seeing Alexis shortly after her arrival in Colorado, is more of a mixed bag. In a letter to Seth Grossman, Garcia wrote that Alexis slept and ate poorly and was "quite depressed and guarded" during her first weeks in her new home--actually, Chris's parents' house. Garcia also noted that Alexis's relationship with Chris was moving forward in fits and starts. One moment she would eagerly seek his attention and enjoy playing with him; the next she became "angry and oppositional, depressed and withdrawn." This behavior, Garcia wrote, was perfectly understandable given that Alexis was grieving for the loss of her loved ones even as she was adjusting to an entirely new environment.

The psychologist added that "a positive signal that [Alexis] is beginning to develop a positive relationship with her father occurred in our most recent session, when she decided to make a gift for her father--a house made of Play-Dough." She was also encouraged by Alexis's willingness to share her feelings about her dead mother and sister during sessions, and by the good reports she received from the girl's kindergarten teacher and school psychologist.

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