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OLD LITTLE GIRL LOST

Chris acknowledges that he has received more than $50,000 from the insurance policy the Bucks took out on Julie, but beyond noting that "the only things that've been spent have been for Alexis's well-being, because it's her money," he won't talk specifics. He and Alexis are no longer living at his parents' place; Chris just bought a new trailer in Federal Heights. One wall there sports a photograph of Julie Storkson; the frame is slightly off-center and the glass over the picture is cracked.

New Jersey prosecutor Murray Talasnik declines to say whether Alexis will be called as a witness at the Reaves trial and won't discuss the possibility that she might testify via videotape. No trial date has been set, he adds, because a flurry of motions filed by the defense have not yet been ruled upon. Reaves's attorney, Kohath Shuler, confirms that he's filed "90 or 100 motions" on his client's behalf, including documents that question the manner in which members of the original grand jury that indicted Reaves in July 1993 were chosen. He believes that the case will not be heard until December at the earliest and says he would not be surprised by additional postponements.

Neither would Grossman. "This really says something about our justice system," he says. "No matter what anyone says, there's no trial date in sight. I guarantee you that the O.J. Simpson trial will have come and gone, and they'll probably be on the second one--and there still won't be a trial scheduled here."

And the New Jersey appellate court has not set a date to consider the Bucks' appeal--meaning that Alexis has two traumatic, life-changing incidents hanging over her head. And no one seems ready to raise the white flag.

"During the trial," Chris says, "the Bucks argued that even if they may have been wrong in obtaining custody of Alexis in April, it would be harmful to take her away from them because they'd been living as a family unit for nearly six months. Well, she's been with me for almost a year now. They claimed that Alexis required stability--so why are they doing this?"

"If the original trial court's decision is upheld," Don counters, "there are certainly other legal options. If the court decided it would be in Alexis's best interest to return her to us, we would be elated, but I would expect that Mr. Perry would probably initiate some kind of litigation. That's just the way it is."

By the time Chris and Alexis drive from her school to the trailer they share, most of the Perry family is there. Chris's father, Doug, is playing video games, his mother, Cleta, is cleaning up, and sisters Sandra and Jennifer are chasing their kids--Sharaya, 2, and Richie, 3. Alexis is brusque with Richie but extremely sweet with Sharaya. "We think she reminds her of Gloria," Cleta says. "Gloria was about this age when she was killed."

Alexis does everything in her power to avoid talking about her mother, her sister, the Bucks or the trial. Her kin are not nearly so reticent.

"The Bucks were trying to delay everything they could," Doug claims, "and I firmly believe they were trying to bankrupt us. And they damn near succeeded. We spent every dime we had, and a lot we didn't have, to get Alexis back with us, and if the judge hadn't ruled for us when he did, I don't know what we would have done." He adds, "Chris is family. The Bucks aren't. Chris is Alexis's blood."

Cleta nods vigorously. She'd never been a big fan of Julie, whom she describes as "a very loud person--kind of a Lucille Ball-type loud. She wouldn't have been my first choice for Chris. Definitely not." But she says she loves Alexis with all her heart and feels that the little girl, after being put through so much trauma, is starting to blossom. "She was quite spoiled when we got her," she says, "but now she's getting to be a pretty good little girl."

"She still won't say `I love you' to Chris," Sandra notes, "but she shows it, the way she runs and jumps in his arms and gives him kisses. And I think the reason that she's not saying it yet has a lot to do with--well, brainwashing isn't a very nice word, but that's what I think the Bucks did to her."

A few minutes later Alexis throws a tantrum and charges into her bedroom. When she's coaxed out by Cleta and Chris a few minutes later, she's wearing a bicycle helmet. She climbs aboard her bike, which is mounted with training wheels. Alexis rolls into the street that runs in front of the trailer and begins riding from one end of it to the other.

Finally, Chris convinces his daughter that it's time to talk with a reporter. Alexis coasts her bike up to him, her complexion red, her breathing labored. She's tired. Chris hugs her, then places the bicycle's rear tire over a slight gap in the curb at the edge of the street. Because the training wheels straddle this gap, the rear tire does not touch the ground. When Chris holds the front tire in his hands, Alexis is able to pedal in place without going anywhere. The tire spins, but she remains stationary.

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