By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
In the unhappy and shameful world of sexual abuse, the case brought by Denver cops in the first week of November last year barely rated at all. It began with a private complaint to friends -- known as an "outcry" among professionals in the field.
Late last summer, the now-22-year-old woman had confided to two co-workers that her stepfather had been behaving toward her in a troubling way. He had begun giving her massages that crossed the line between familial and inappropriate, she told them, and he had bought her intimate undergarments. What was most unsettling, though, was that she'd discovered her stepfather had been using a camera concealed behind a heating vent to secretly videotape her in her bedroom.
The alarmed co-workers went to their boss, who contacted the police soon after. On November 5, after a four-month investigation, Paul Abbott, 68 years old, was formally charged with three counts of third-degree sexual assault, including one charge of incest.
All occurrences of sexual abuse are tragic, yet inasmuch as there can be such a thing, the Abbott case seems to be a relatively minor one. There apparently were no actual sexual relations between the woman and her stepfather or any incident that reasonably could be called a physical attack. In fact, what makes the Abbott case unusually tragic was not what the young woman's stepfather allegedly did to her. It was what her mother did not do for her.
After the young woman's boss contacted the police, the case was handed over to a Denver detective named William Wickersham. The more he dug into the case, the more Wickersham became convinced that the girl's biological mother, Carole Abbott, had been complicit in the matter. For example, she had known about the secret videotaping for months but inexplicably had done nothing to stop it. To the contrary, when the young woman came into possession of one of the tapes, the mother reportedly urged her daughter to destroy it and to say nothing of the incident to anyone.
There were more instances in which Carole Abbott seemed to will herself blind. She apparently had been aware of her husband buying the young woman underwear from Victoria's Secret. At times, Wickersham's investigation revealed, she'd even been present in the same room when Paul Abbott had asked his stepdaughter to remove her bra so he could provide a more thorough massage to the young woman's torso. On the day her husband was charged with sex crimes, Carole Abbott was also charged with being an accessory to the crime.
Many sexual-abuse cases are pocked with inconsistencies and layered with blankets of gray. To someone who knew nothing about her background, Carole Abbott might be excused -- or at least understood -- as a woman struggling to balance her allegiance to her daughter against her love for her husband. But Carole Abbott, of all people, should have known better.
Abbott, now 48, has spent her entire professional life as a social worker. Although she worked as a therapist early on in her career in Iowa, where she'd received her undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work, she soon began to specialize in cases of sexual abuse. Throughout the 1980s, she served on various Iowa state and local councils related to the detection and treatment of abuse. Later she helped develop programs to teach law-enforcement workers and social-service agents how to report and investigate instances of abuse of children and dependent adults.
In late 1997 Carole Abbott moved to Colorado and began working at a nonprofit agency called Children's Advocacy and Family Resources Inc., more commonly known by its trade name, Sungate. The eight-year-old organization states that its mission is "to provide a safe, child-friendly place for children and families to meet with representatives from law enforcement and social services when reports of child abuse are investigated."
Abbott's job at Sungate was as a forensic interviewer -- a professional trained to question young victims of reported sexual abuse in an effort to find out what crime, if any, really occurred. The job is a difficult one under the best of circumstances. Gathering factual information from children, many of them frightened and distrustful, is a delicate balancing act. The interviewer must be friendly but thorough. She must take care not to plant ideas in the child's head, or to unwittingly lead him into "remembering" events that did not occur. Too often, the job is immeasurably sad.
The baffling failure of Carole Abbott to recognize and act on an alleged instance of sexual abuse within her own family and home, despite her lengthy training and daily work, is a private tragedy. She has been fired from her job. Her daughter has since moved out of the family's house, and only the Abbotts themselves (who, through their attorney, declined comment for this story) know how they will rebuild their family, if that is even possible.
Yet the gulf between what Carole Abbott pledged to fight in her professional life but somehow tolerated at home has also caused a public mess that is just now starting to be untangled. Abbott worked for Sungate for just under two years. During that time, she conducted hundreds of interviews with children suspected of being victims of sexual abuse.
Many of those interviews turned into criminal investigations, and those investigations into prosecutions and convictions. Other cases based on Carole Abbott's interviews with children are still working their way through the criminal-justice system. The issue of how Abbott's private behavior affected her professional judgment now looms in those cases yet to be tried and raises serious doubts about those that have already been settled.
Additionally, the unfolding saga has raised questions about the ethics of the Arapahoe County District Attorney's Office. Even taking into account the traditionally tight-knit affiliations between prosecutors and victims' advocacy groups, the ties between Sungate Children's Advocacy and Family Resources and Arapahoe County prosecutors are unusually close.
Although Sungate employees occasionally lend their expertise to law-enforcement and social-service agencies in Denver, Adams and Douglas counties, the vast majority of abuse cases evaluated by Sungate's forensic interviewers end up being prosecuted by Arapahoe County District Attorney Jim Peters and his staff. For its part, the Arapahoe County District Attorney's Office has several employees who sit on Sungate's board of directors. A prior district attorney founded the organization, and the current director of the organization is married to a deputy DA.
The district attorney's office says it is a hand-in-glove arrangement that permits the social workers and prosecutors to work closely together to fight sexual abuse. But it may also explain why Jim Peters did not tell anyone about Carole Abbott -- indeed, continued to let her testify in court -- even though Arapahoe County prosecutors knew of her legal and domestic troubles a full six months before they became public.
On August 12, 1983, the mother of a young boy attending the McMartin preschool in Manhattan Beach, California, alerted local police that her son had been abused by a part-time school aide. The aide -- the son of one of the school's owners -- was quickly arrested.
Charges against the man were soon dropped for lack of evidence. But rather than let the incident die, the police chief took matters into his own hands. He circulated a "confidential" memo to 200 parents of current and past McMartin students, warning that their children may have been exposed to sexual abuse at the school. The letter urged parents to question their children closely to seek confirmation of the abuse.
The parents took the chief's directive to heart. By the following spring, 360 children had been diagnosed as victims of abuse at McMartin. And not just run-of-the-mill sexual abuse, either: The children reported to social workers that they'd been forced to act in kiddie porn videos and watch the mutilation of animals. They claimed they'd been sexually abused in hot-air balloons and on airplanes, in underground tunnels and public markets and car washes.
The ensuing legal battles were a spectacle, chewing up untold hours and millions of dollars. After nearly six years of trials and appeals, the heads of the McMartin preschool were at last cleared of all charges. But a movement had already been set into motion.
A series of high-profile prosecutions, of increasingly more vast and complicated incidents of sexual abuse, started popping up across the country. An investigation of the Wee Care Nursery Center in New Jersey revealed 235 counts of sexual abuse involving nineteen children and including such bizarre activities as "nude pileups." An inquiry into the Faith Chapel Charismatic Church in San Diego yielded claims from children that a mildly retarded caregiver had brought an elephant and giraffe to school, then killed them to warn of what would happen to kids who told of the supposed sexual activity going on there.
In 1989, in the North Carolina city of Edenton, twenty adults -- including the sheriff and mayor -- were accused of 429 instances of sexual and satanic ritual abuse at the Little Rascals daycare center. The children at first denied that anything "funny" had gone on at the daycare. But when pressed, they began to remember with a vengeance. One child recalled seeing another hung upside down from a tree and set on fire. Others were suddenly reminded of being taken aboard a spaceship, or an ocean-going ship surrounded by sharks, where they were then abused.
The hysteria reached its peak in 1994 and 1995, in the small Washington town of Wenatchee. There an aggressive investigation produced a staggering 30,000 charges of sexual abuse against thirty adults, supposedly involving four dozen children.
In each case, nearly every charge against every adult was subsequently dropped, proved false or deemed inconclusive. Although each instance of supposed abuse had its own set of circumstances, what stood out in the ensuing investigations is how the truth was distorted by the people whose job it was to gain it, among them the forensic interviewers.
In 1989, Dr. Phil Esplin of Phoenix began working for a long-term, government-sponsored research program called the Child Witness Project. Among other goals, the project set out to determine how to get children to tell the truth in alleged cases of sexual abuse. In the meantime, Esplin has also made it his business to study what went wrong in that McCarthy-like decade of mass panic.
"When you look at what happened, you see some common features," he says. "One is that investigators had a pre-conceived idea of what happened; they were not neutral observers. In addition, there was a belief among therapists that there was more going on than what the kids were saying. As a result, under this pressure, the kids would acquiesce to what they thought the adults wanted and end up giving wilder and wilder stories."
Most experts agree that rapid advances have since been made in the practice of forensic interviewing. "I like to believe we've come a long way in the past few years," says Esplin.
Gone, for instance, are most uses of anatomically correct dolls to encourage children's recollection of abuse. Once widely employed by interviewers as a technique to help a child describe unfamiliar actions by adults, the dolls have since been shown to confuse children more than they clarify. Long -- and frequently ambiguous and contradictory -- lists of symptoms that purport to be indicators of sexual abuse have also proved virtually useless. Videotaping of interviews, meanwhile, once shunned as too intrusive, is now considered standard practice.
Perhaps the biggest changes in the profession of forensic interviewing, however, have been made in the actual interview techniques. Today a good interviewer strives to pose open-ended questions and erase any biases in his wording or voice -- indeed, to avoid using phrases like "inappropriate touching" or give any indication that a crime may have occurred. "Children, left to their own devices, can be reliable," explains Esplin. "It's when the adults get too involved that we run into trouble."
Despite the advances, Esplin's research has uncovered continuing problems in the field. For example, studies show that interviewers educated in the proper technique often ignore what they've learned. Particularly when they are in stressful situations, forensic questioners rely on old, interrogation-style techniques. In addition, while instances of an interviewer influencing a child's recollections through the use of biased questions are fewers these days (and the methods more subtle), they can still crop up. (To get around this persistent problem, Esplin recently developed a written script for frazzled interviewers to fall back on.)
Still another problem, he says, is the continued use of social-service workers at self-described advocacy centers as forensic interviewers. Is it possible, Esplin wonders, to advocate for and provide support to victims of sexual abuse for five hours a day, and then on the sixth go into a small room, sit across from a frightened four-year-old and be a dispassionate listener?
"You're not there to be a therapist," Esplin notes, "or to make judgments. The potential problem is, Does the interviewer see himself as a member of the prosecution team? Is he using techniques that are scientifically based? Or are they instead based on gathering evidence?"
For now, there is no way of telling how long Paul Abbott had been videotaping his stepdaughter's bedroom before he was caught. According to court documents, however, Carole Abbott was aware of the hidden video camera at least as far back as September 1998, a fact established when the daughter gave police a photograph of the video camera hidden in the heating vent. The picture, reportedly taken by Carole Abbott, had been developed with the date printed on it.
Carole and Paul Abbott alone know what was said between them following her discovery of the camera in the fall of 1998. But Wickersham's investigation concluded that the videotaping continued even after Carole Abbott discovered her husband's secret camera. This was deduced when the daughter later viewed the tapes and was able to date them according to her hairstyle at the time.
And because the case has yet to be litigated, it is also unknown when, exactly, the young woman first learned that her stepfather was secretly taping her while she was in her bedroom. The earliest indication came in May 1999 -- eight months after her mother first discovered the hidden camera. It was then that the woman, who also worked at Sungate in an administrative position, asked Diana Goldberg, the advocacy center's executive director, to take a drive with her. During that trip, she revealed that she knew of the taping -- or, at least, of the existence of some tapes.
Goldberg, who, through her lawyers, declined to comment for this story, must have been torn. As the director of an organization dedicated to fighting sexual abuse, her professional obligation was clear. But as she later explained in court, the young woman had asked her not to tell anyone of the tapes. Anyway, the young woman said she believed that Paul Abbott had destroyed all the tapes, and so Goldberg honored the woman's request.
Such secrets are hard to keep, though, and three months later, on August 9, Goldberg received a phone call from two Sungate employees, one of whom was the center's other forensic interviewer. They informed Goldberg of what they, too, now knew after the daughter had confided in them: Not only had Paul Abbott been videotaping his stepdaughter, but there also was a strong suggestion that he'd been touching her in a decidedly unfatherly way. The co-workers also told Goldberg that they'd learned that Carole Abbott had been aware of the videotaping and touching for months, yet still had done nothing to protect her daughter. Finally, the women said, the videotapes still existed.
At that point, Goldberg knew she had to act. "When I was told this information in May, I was told that the videotape had been destroyed and that it was an accident," she explained in a recent court hearing. "And based on the information that I received in August, it seemed to me that it had not been accidental but intentional. I also learned about this inappropriate touching. And it was very concerning to me to learn that Carole has been involved in this, and it was also concerning to me because it was having a detrimental effect on my staff..."
At some point during this same period of time -- although when, exactly, is unknown -- the young woman confronted her mother. According to Wickersham's investigation, it was in that conversation or conversations that Carole Abbott, a trained investigator of sexual abuse, reportedly told her daughter to destroy the tapes and not tell anyone what had happened -- that if word got out, it would wreck her career and devastate the Abbott family.
Advocacy centers like Sungate present clear advantages to their clients. Offering medical, social and psychological support under a single roof, they are user-friendly to families and children ensnared in the pain and humiliation of sexual abuse. "Before Sungate, when we had a child victim, he or she was taken to police departments, back to an interview room -- and it wasn't a very pleasant place," says Michael Knight, a deputy district attorney for Arapahoe County. "Sungate is a godsend."
Sungate's primary clients are victims and their families. But local prosecutors have had a hand in the organization from its beginning. The center was started eight years ago at the instigation of then-Arapahoe County district attorney Robert Gallagher. "We took a look at a child that'd been victimized, and the kid was running all around the system," recalls Gallagher, who is now in private practice. The idea, he says, was to provide a comforting place where victims of sexual abuse could go to receive the attention they needed. Gallagher sat on Sungate's first board of directors.
The close relationship has continued -- and, if anything, strengthened. Will Hood, an assistant district attorney, is the husband of Diana Goldberg, Sungate's director. Although the vast majority of the organization's $400,000 annual budget is raised through private contributions ($114,000 in 1998), government grants ($128,000) and fundraisers ($134,000), Arapahoe County has regularly paid Sungate several thousand dollars a year for training and other purposes.
Sungate also receives public money when its forensic interviewers are called to testify in court as expert witnesses and they bill the state for their services. According to state court records, Carole Abbott was paid $2,430 between October and December 1999 for such appearances.
Two members of the DA's office sit on the organization's board of directors: District Attorney Jim Peters and Carol Chambers, Arapahoe County's chief child-sex-crimes prosecutor. In fact, both Peters and Chambers also sit on Sungate's smaller executive committee. From that vantage point, they are kept abreast of policy and financial matters crucial to the advocacy center, as well as important personnel decisions.
In short, both a legal and a business relationship exist between Sungate and local prosecutors. Sungate conducts forensic interviews for the district attorney's office (nobody interviewed for this story knew of a single instance in which a Sungate employee had been hired by a defense lawyer as an interviewer or expert witness). In exchange for this service, the organization receives regular income from its employees' court appearances. At the same time, prosecutors exercise some level of supervision over Sungate by virtue of their position on the board of directors.
Knight says having the district attorney's office work side by side with Sungate makes perfect sense. "We want to advocate for the children and get at the truth -- that's the goal for both of us," he says. "If we're being accused of trying to protect children, so be it."
Still, Peters's and Chambers's conflicting duties -- as county prosecutors and as boardmembers of a nonprofit advocacy organization for abused children -- appear to have clashed when it came time to decide what to do about Carole Abbott.
Immediately following the two Sungate workers' revelation that Carole Abbott reportedly had been complicit in the secret videotaping of her own daughter, Diana Goldberg called a meeting of Sungate's executive committee. The meeting was set for August 12. All but one of the six-member committee was able to attend. Both Jim Peters and Carol Chambers were there. Carole Abbott was on vacation.
As the meeting opened, Goldberg explained the problem, relating what she was told by Abbott's daughter herself back in May and what she now knew after talking with the two colleagues. She then opened the floor for discussion. She recalled the exchange in a court hearing early last month:
"The consensus of the group was that I had pretty sketchy information; that the information I had received, particularly the information concerning Carole Abbott, was thirdhand at best -- that it had traveled through her daughter, my employees and then to me. So we really couldn't be sure of what it meant and that it would have been unfair and wrong to take any employment action without any substantive ground for doing so...My task, it was then decided, was to gather information."
It was also agreed, however, that if Carole Abbott's daughter would not or could not bring herself to press charges against her parents, Goldberg was prepared to bring the matter to police herself. (Indeed, soon after that, Goldberg helped the young woman move out of Carole and Paul Abbott's house, finding her an apartment and eventually co-signing on the lease.)
Although the executive committee took no formal action that day, events moved swiftly following the meeting. On August 15, Carole Abbott returned from her vacation. She worked that entire week, apparently conducting several interviews with children. By August 18, however, Goldberg had prepared a written statement for Denver police, describing what she knew of the Abbotts' situation. The following day, Goldberg confronted Carole Abbott and informed her that she was placing her on administrative leave with pay.
On August 27, upon learning that Carole Abbott might be charged as an accessory to her husband's sex crimes, Goldberg fired her from Sungate. Several months later, as she was being questioned in a court hearing, Goldberg explained that the Abbotts' looming criminal prosecution was only part of the reason for the firing.
Goldberg: "That really wasn't the basis for my decision to terminate Ms. Abbott, although it was certainly a big part of it...I really felt that it had less to do with the criminal aspect than the human aspect of it."
Question: "Certainly somebody engaged in criminal behavior that's involved in the exact kind of thing that you are involved in trying to remedy at Sungate had a bearing on it, did it not?"
Goldberg: "Oh, absolutely, yes."
Yet firing Carole Abbott from Sungate for lapses in her personal conduct was only a partial solution. Troubling questions concerning what impact her private life might have had on her work still lingered. What about all of the forensic interviews Abbott had already performed -- many of them as her personal problems were yet unfolding -- that were still loose and tumbling through the justice system?
Legal rules say that, like it or not, a prosecutor must disclose any information he has that might weaken his own case. It might be a fact that could lead to the defendant being found innocent. Or it could merely lead to his receiving a lighter sentence.
Such information -- called exculpatory information -- may simply cast doubt on a witness's credibility. If, for example, a prosecutor lined up a doctor to testify in a case, the fact that the physician once lost his license because of malpractice would have to be shared with defense attorneys. The same would hold true for an informant poised to testify against a drug dealer: If the prosecutor knows the informant is a junkie, the defense lawyers need to know, too.
So did Jim Peters and Carol Chambers have a legal duty to tell opposing defense attorneys about Carole Abbott? It would seem so. After all, both prosecutors had known about her growing troubles -- troubles that had direct connection to her performance as an expert witness -- since the meeting of Sungate's executive committee on August 12.
But neither Chambers nor Peters did that. In fact, the criminal investigation of one of the Arapahoe County district attorney's most recognizable witnesses might not have come to light at all if a public defender hadn't heard about it through the grapevine.
John Portman heads the state public defender's office in the 18th Judicial District, which includes all of Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties. Last year he added to his files another case of alleged sexual assault on a child. His client, a truck driver, stood accused of molesting the young daughter of an acquaintance of his family's over a yearlong period during 1995 and 1996. Although the alleged incident had occurred several years earlier, the girl didn't disclose the attacks until the summer of 1998. She and her family were quickly referred to Sungate. The girl was interviewed by Carole Abbott in September 1998.
Portman prepared his case throughout the fall, studying the tape of Abbott's interview. Yet it wasn't until early December, with the trial just around the corner, that he says he first heard "hallway rumors" about Abbott's problems at home. On December 6 Portman fired off a letter to Carol Chambers, who was prosecuting the case, demanding to know what she knew about Abbott. He says there was no response.
Indeed, Portman says he didn't hear anything more about Abbott for an entire month. On January 10, following a hearing on his case, Portman says Chambers still wouldn't give him any information about her expert witness, but she did -- grudgingly -- pass on the name of Detective Wickersham (who declined comment for this story).
Portman subpoenaed Wickersham's investigation report and, several days later, finally learned all about Carole Abbott and Sungate. By then, of course, thanks to her position on Sungate's executive committee, Chambers (and her boss, Peters) had known about Abbott's personal problems for nearly six months. They also knew that she had been fired from Sungate in late August for issues directly related to her work.
Portman was outraged. He felt that in its zeal to nail an alleged sex offender, the Arapahoe County DA's office was protecting Abbott by deliberately hiding -- or conveniently forgetting -- her legal and professional troubles. The following week, he asked for a special prosecutor on his case, arguing that there was now no way Carol Chambers could do the job.
Chambers referred all questions regarding Portman's case to Michael Knight, the DA's official spokesman. He says that even though Peters and Chambers were at the August meeting, during which Sungate's executive committee learned of Abbott's problems, both felt it would be premature to alert defense attorneys then. "We didn't feel it was appropriate to tell anyone at that point," Knight explains. "It was just allegations."
Additionally, Knight says that when Abbott eventually was fired, on August 27, Peters instructed all of his prosecutors working on sex cases to alert opposing defense attorneys to the fact -- but not necessarily to tell them why Abbott was let go.
Wrong and wrong, responds Portman. Not only was he -- or anyone else in his office, which handles many, if not most, sex-assault cases in Arapahoe County -- notinformed that Abbott had been canned, but he insists that Peters and Chambers had an obligation to reveal what they knew about Abbott back in August.
"They made the decision to fire the lady on that same information, but it wasn't important enough to tell us?" he asks. "Apparently the importance of it escaped them."
Portman and the public defender's office have not been the only attorneys caught off guard by the inconsistencies between Abbott's personal and professional lives.
Early last year, a grandmother of four Adams County boys saw two of them simulating sex. She informed the mother, who called the police. The children were taken immediately to Sungate, where, in March 1999, Carole Abbott interviewed one of them. Out of that interview and a subsequent police investigation, a family friend was accused of molesting two of the boys; a third allegedly witnessed the assaults.
Rick Kornfeld, a private attorney in Adams County, was hired to defend the man. He says as late as early January, he knew nothing about Carole Abbott's firing or the criminal charges filed against her. Later, after hearing rumors, he checked into her background and discovered Abbott's problems at home. He, too, says prosecutors either were hiding damaging information about a star witness or simply fell down on the job.
"Carole Abbott's report was crucial in my case," he says. "Basically, you have a bunch of kids making accusations. There are no witnesses, no physical evidence, nothing. Her interview was everything. So they needed to tell us; credibility of a witness is always germane."
In mid-January, Peter Albanie, a private attorney in Denver, was called in to work on an Arapahoe County sex-assault case in which Abbott had conducted the forensic interview. He knew nothing of her background, either, until January 20, when Portman approached him outside the courtroom and told him. Albanie, too, immediately requested that the Arapahoe County DA's office be taken off the case.
"What I heard was enough to give me concern that the DA's office had now placed themselves in a position to be a witness in the case," he explains. "We believed that Carol Chambers had information regarding Carole Abbott and why she was fired. So rather than being a prosecutor, Ms. Chambers was now a witness. Also, we believed her being on Sungate's board, and their holding Carole Abbott out as a witness, was a conflict of interest. It seemed to be that they were protecting a witness."
The judge agreed with Albanie and ordered Chambers off the case. But in a deal in which the prosecutor's office agreed not to use Abbott as a witness in court -- although her interview was allowed to appear -- the judge decided to permit Arapahoe County to prosecute the case after all. (A similar deal was reached in Portman's case.)
Yet such resolutions are only patchwork solutions. Portman says the public defender's office has another half-dozen sexual-abuse cases on which Abbott has worked that have yet to go to trial. What, he wonders, will happen with those?
And there is the matter of the sex cases already tried and shelved. Defense attorneys say that, given what is now known about Carole Abbott's home life, it would be possible to challenge and potentially overturn a sexual-abuse case in which a person had been convicted based on her work for Sungate.
That, of course, would depend on whether anyone could show that Abbott's problems dealing with alleged sexual abuse in her own home affected her work at Sungate. Although no lawyers have tackled that project yet, there is at least some evidence that Abbott did not do her job particularly well late last year as her difficulties mounted at home.
Three weeks ago, for instance, Portman's client was cleared of all charges against him. In informal interviews with jurors after the case, he says several admitted they found Abbott's interview of the children troublesome. In some places, they observed, she appeared to be leading the children with statements such as "People come here to talk about touching troubles" and "Today you're going to teach me about what happened to you" -- sentences that signaled strongly that Abbott already was convinced an incident definitely had occurred.
Kornfeld's client was also recently cleared. In that case, the Adams County prosecutor, Jim Colgan, hired a private psychologist named James Baroffio to evaluate Abbott's forensic interviewing work in preparation for using her as a witness. Baroffio, however, was unimpressed.
"The interview seemed to blur the distinction between an investigative interview, and what is best considered a therapeutic interview," he wrote. "Ms. Abbott spent quite a bit of time establishing rapport with [the boy]. While rapport is necessary, her overly friendly style could have somehow influenced the child's reporting." Colgan decided to prosecute the case without using Abbott's interview.
Yet the issue of Carole Abbott's personal troubles and professional competence is far from over. Arapahoe County's Michael Knight says both Carol Chambers and Jim Peters intend to use Carole Abbott and her Sungate forensic interviews in any prosecution already in progress. Although it's difficult to determine exactly how many pending sex cases involve Abbott's work, what is known is that the potential number is high. Throughout 1998, Abbott conducted an average of twenty forensic interviews a month -- more than 200 in all that year. The following year she was even busier, interviewing an average of 25 children per month before she was fired in late August. Many of those interviews will no doubt emerge in court in coming months.