Boy Wonder

Raoul Wuthrich caught the Jeffco Juvenile Justice System with its pants down.

Mehmert says she didn't bother calling the next day when she saw smoke again, or when she saw one of the daycare kids standing on the back deck lighting matches and tossing them to the ground. She figured no one else seemed to care what was going on over there, so why should she?

Mehmert says she didn't know about Raoul's August 30 arrest until she returned from a trip out of town on September 12 and found a subpoena in the mail. But by then, the rest of the Wuthrich family had gone to Switzerland, leaving their ten-year-old son behind in the Mount View Juvenile Detention Facility. And of all the odd behavior she'd seen since they'd moved in, that seemed to her the oddest.


James Bludworth
Seen of the crime: Laura Mehmert looks out her window at the former Wuthrich yard.
Brett Amole
Seen of the crime: Laura Mehmert looks out her window at the former Wuthrich yard.

Normally, when someone makes an allegation of child sexual abuse, the police begin their investigation by interviewing the victim, the victim's parents and the witnesses, trying to gather as much information as possible regarding the allegations before confronting the accused. Investigators also pull up any reports of prior contact by police or the Colorado Department of Human Services. Then they put all of the information into a "filing packet" and take it to the district attorney, who decides whether to file charges.

In some jurisdictions, such as Jefferson County (in which Evergreen is located), child advocacy centers conduct "forensic interviews" as part of such investigations. These are similar to other interviews of crime witnesses, except that they are geared to be "child-friendly," done by social workers specially trained in interviewing children. The workers avoid badgering or asking the same question repetitively -- which might be seen as leading the victim -- but they will ask the question in different ways to check a child's story for consistency. They also listen to see if a child tells the story as though it happened to him, using "child-appropriate" language, instead of sounding as if he's merely repeating something he's been told by an adult. All of the interviews are videotaped.

Investigating child sexual abuse becomes more complicated when the victim and suspect are in the same family. Then the department of social services joins in the interviews with the police or the advocacy centers, so they don't have to ask juveniles for the same information twice. And if the social workers feel it's warranted, the department initiates a "dependency and neglect" proceeding against the parents, sometimes weeks or even months before they ever take the filing packet to the district attorney's office. At the start of a D&N, the child is removed from the home and usually placed in a temporary foster home; within 48 hours, a magistrate reviews the case to determine what should happen next. The magistrate may allow the child to go back home (with or without certain conditions, such as drug and alcohol treatment or locks on the victim's doors to prevent further abuse) or order that the child be kept in protective custody out of the home.

If the judge or social workers want more information before they make a decision, they can ask for a "placement evaluation" by private therapists, who have contracts with the department of human services but are not part of the agency. Sometimes those therapists recommend that the child be placed with a family friend, relative or church member who doesn't have at-risk children.

But the social services actions are independent from the police or DA investigations. Large counties often have special crimes-against-children units staffed by prosecutors who specialize in child-protection laws, and they may decide to file charges, decline the case, or send it back for more investigation. Often, when prosecutors decide to press charges, they ask the court to issue a summons ordering the parents to show up in court with the suspect child rather than going out and arresting the child. That's how the system is designed to work.

The Wuthrich investigation was convoluted from the beginning. Instead of talking to as many of the people involved as possible, Miklic and a Jeffco patrol officer talked to Beverly Wuthrich on June 3. Wuthrich asked if the accusation had come from Mehmert, who she complained was being unreasonable and interfering in family matters, according to an affidavit for Raoul's later arrest. She said she was concerned about what Mehmert had reported to her but that both of her children told her that Raoul was simply assisting his sister by unbuttoning her pants and holding her legs so that she could urinate. She said she took "corrective action" and considered the incident resolved.

Miklic and the deputy did not speak to Raoul, his sister or Mehmert. The Jeffco sheriff's office left it to social services to follow up on the case. It wasn't until two weeks later that Dan Jarboe, the director of investigations for the Jefferson County Children's Advocacy Center, and Miklic interviewed the five-year-old Wuthrich girl. According to Jarboe's report, the girl told them that Raoul had pulled down her pants and underwear, kissed her vagina and fondled the exterior of her vagina with his fingers; she said she was "going potty" when this occurred but that Raoul was not assisting her. She also said that her half-brother forced her to submit to this touching and warned her not to tell their mother and that she and Raoul were observed by their neighbor, who spoke to them. She added that Raoul "always touches my body."

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