Suffer the Children

Last month, after waiting almost four years for an explanation, the public heard what happened the night two-year-old David Polreis was killed.

Renee Polreis, who'd adopted the boy from Russia six months before his death, told a rapt courtroom that she apparently "lost it" the night of February 9, 1996. In the short time she'd had the boy, she testified, he'd driven her crazy with his tantrums and bizarre behavior, and it was destroying her marriage.

The tragic climax occurred after David smeared feces throughout the laundry room and Renee caught him sexually abusing himself with a spatula handle.

"He came at me," she testified at the June 13 hearing, at which she requested a reduction in the 22-year prison sentence imposed after her 1997 trial. "I hit him with the spatula. I fought him. I didn't want him to hurt me. I didn't want to hurt him, either."

It was essentially what prosecutors had believed all along. They'd suspected that the boy, who reportedly suffered from Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), had driven Polreis to the edge with behaviors that included physical attacks on her and her other adopted son. But it hadn't stopped them from charging her with child abuse resulting in death, or in fighting her request for a sentence reduction now.

The real surprise came after a tearful Polreis stepped down and the defense called Foster Cline to the stand.

Cline, a former Evergreen psychiatrist who now practices in Idaho, is considered a pioneer in the diagnosis and treatment of attachment disorder -- and also one of Colorado's most controversial medical figures. He has spent much of the past thirty years teaching adoptive families and other therapists about the effects of severe trauma on infants and how to help children overcome a crippling past.

In his opinion, Cline now said, David Polreis had suffered from RAD. But that wasn't why he'd paid his own way to testify. Cline had come to Colorado to plead for leniency for Polreis.

"I'm doing it because there's been a great wrong, and I don't feel this woman's life should be ruined because of this incident," Cline told the court. "I believe in justice, but in an abnormal situation like I believe this is, the justice system can go wrong. In an abnormal situation, a mother can go wrong."

Cline has seen firsthand what RAD-afflicted children can do to a family. Parents seeking help for their children describe six-year-olds who hit, bite, swear, scream and kick, four-year-olds who try to choke a younger sibling, boys who hide knives under their beds, girls who threaten to kill their parents while they sleep.

Now he wants the justice system -- police, judges and prosecutors -- to understand, and have compassion for, parents and caretakers who kill children afflicted with the disorder. And so Cline is assembling a loose-knit team of parents and professionals to help "not necessarily to defend, but to educate," he says.

The Polreis case is just one of several in which Cline has decided to take a stand. He has provided "psychological support" for Dennis and Sandy Evers of Bayfield, who were convicted last year in connection with the 1998 death of their adopted daughter. He has also voiced support for former colleague Connell Watkins, who was charged earlier this year with reckless child abuse resulting in death after a ten-year-old girl died while undergoing "rebirthing" therapy at Watkins's clinic in Evergreen.

And in what may prove to be his most notorious move, Cline is going to bat for Joseph Ciambrone, a Florida man now serving a life term in the beating/starvation death of his seven-year-old son.

"All the parents I know who have been involved in tragedies could not imagine in their wildest dreams that they would end up in a tragedy," Cline says. "Most had fostered other children successfully."

Parents of children suffering from attachment disorder turn to unorthodox therapy -- and therapists willing to offer it -- as a result of desperation, he says. Desperation born of an inability to find therapists who are specially trained to deal with children who kill pets, harm siblings and burn down houses.

The few therapists who specialize in attachment disorder feel desperation, too; they realize that if they cannot help, the child might well end up institutionalized for the remainder of his life.

"I just want to say right now that I hate always ending up on the wrong side of public opinion," Cline says. "I do not like being controversial. But sometimes you have to do what you think is right. That's gotten me into a lot of hot water, but when I take my last breath, I want to be able to say that I always did what I thought was right.  

"My heart goes out to people who are laying their life on the line for disturbed kids."

Dennis "Bones" Evers, a former police chief in Arizona, and his wife, Sandy, love kids. They had seven of their own before they started taking in foster children. "We always thought when we were done having kids, we'd take in others who were less fortunate," Sandy says.

In 1992, when their youngest son was five, one of the Everses' distant relatives was arrested for domestic violence and his two-year-old daughter removed from the home. The Everses offered to adopt her.

The girl, Leia, had been neglected and abused. After the Everses took her in, however, "she did beautifully," Sandy says. "A couple years after we got her, all of the children said, 'We want more babies.' We thought it would be good for Leia."

In September 1995, the family received approval from the state to adopt up to three more children. The very next day, the Everses were informed that nine children were available for adoption out of Pueblo. Would they be interested in seeing the kids?

The entire Evers brood trooped to Pueblo for an unofficial peek at the children, who were playing at a local McDonald's. They decided that two of the boys, Teddy and Johnny, would fit in perfectly with their family.

"I called social services, and they informed me that the boys were biological brothers but that they couldn't be placed together," Sandy remembers. "They said the boys were abused physically and that they were afraid they'd interact with each other sexually." But the Everses believed the two boys, then age three and five, should remain together, and they petitioned the court to allow them to adopt both. The boys came to live with them in late October.

"They weren't here probably five days when the oldest boy, Teddy, looked at me and said, 'What about Berta?'" Sandy recalls. "And I said, 'Who's Berta?' And he said, 'My little sister.'

"I called social services. And they said the boys had a four-year-old sister but that she wasn't adoptable. They said they hadn't decided yet whether to institutionalize her."

Berta had been diagnosed as suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome, post-traumatic stress syndrome and RAD; she'd also been subjected to horrific sexual abuse, the Everses learned. "She'd been raped by her mother with a broom handle and by her father and his addicted friends over half her life," Dennis says.

As a result, Sandy says, Berta had begun acting out sexually, molesting other kids. "She'd do things to toys you can't even imagine an adult doing," she adds. "She was very smart and very controlling. She knew how to work people. She was very sweet and very workable, but scary."

The Everses petitioned to adopt Berta. Seven months, three therapists and a special court hearing later, they brought her home to Bayfield, a tiny town in the southwestern corner of the state.

In a report to the court concerning the Everses' petition to adopt Berta and her brothers, La Plata County Department of Social Services adoption specialist Sheri Ramsey wrote: "The Evers provide a loving, stable home environment" for their children. Foster-care coordinator Tom Milazzo chose to feature the Everses -- who've fostered sixty kids over the years -- in a 1995 article in the Durango Herald celebrating National Week of the Young Child.

But even with all of their experience, the Everses sometimes found Berta to be a challenge. She was given to episodes of depression. She injured herself: banging her head, biting her lips, peeling the skin from her hands and fingertips. She could vomit at will, Sandy says, and she did so -- at the dinner table -- on more than one occasion. She also had trouble sleeping and wandered the house at night, symptoms stemming from her attachment issues.

Berta's psychic injuries were so deep that she was impossible to "fix," Dennis says. "You don't fix these kids; you manage them, you live with them, you guide them and direct them."

In an attempt to manage Berta, the Everses say, they restrained her at night, tying her hands and feet to the bed with a leotard and a bathrobe sash and putting what Sandy calls a "net" (and what prosecutors called a "cage") around her bottom bunk as "protection."

In June 1998, one month before her seventh birthday, Berta died in that bed.

Although Sandy says she thinks Berta died of heart arrhythmia, the La Plata County District Attorney's Office believes Berta choked on her own vomit, unable to clear her windpipe because she'd been tied to her bed. And so prosecutors charged the Everses with child abuse resulting in death.  

Dennis and Sandy Evers went on trial in May 1999. While family members, friends and schoolteachers described the couple as loving and compassionate, prosecutors described the couple as parents frustrated in their attempts to control a wayward child.

After a twelve-day trial, the Everses were convicted of a lesser charge: criminally negligent child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury. Before sentencing, the judge received numerous letters in support of the couple as well as a petition carrying 347 names, asking him not to sentence the Everses to jail time.

But jurors didn't want the Everses let off so lightly. "A child died because she didn't fit an artificial image of perfection created by the Evers," jury members wrote in a letter to the judge. "A six-year-old girl was tied up and caged as a means of control and punishment, which led directly to her death. The seriousness of this crime should not be underestimated, nor should the danger to the community be minimized."

A representative of the district attorney's office, who says the case haunts her still, says the Everses "selectively abused" Berta. Their supporters simply don't understand the truth, she adds.

The judge ultimately sentenced Dennis and Sandy to jail time -- 180 days for Dennis, 90 for Sandy, and staggered them so that one parent could remain at home with the children at all times -- as well as six years' probation.

Although the Everses have now served their time, they still plan to appeal their convictions.

For Dennis, the appeal is a matter of honor. The trial was handled as if they had been raising a "normal kid," Dennis says. The legal system "distorted and twisted" the way he and his wife dealt with Berta because officials were ignorant about attachment disorder and how to manage children who have it.

"Unless you've raised an attachment-disordered child, you can't understand it," Dennis says. "It's that simple. We have tried to salvage what other people have damaged. And to have them try to destroy your family over it, it's a nightmare."

While in jail, Dennis Evers read a copy of one of Foster Cline's books on attachment disorder. Since his release, he's teamed up with Cline to provide information and resources to parents of RAD kids who find themselves in legal trouble.

"Had I met Cline before [the trial], I probably wouldn't have gone to jail," Dennis says. "If somebody gets in trouble, we want to make sure that people know the facts and that these kids exist."

Foster Cline became an expert in attachment disorder "by default," he says.

In 1971, Cline founded Evergreen Consultants in Human Behavior, where he worked as a psychiatric consultant and treated severely disturbed children. Many of these children had been abused or neglected in infancy and subsequently had extreme difficulty bonding with others. They had myriad symptoms in common, including learning and speech disorders, a lack of conscience, destructiveness, defiance and anger.

According to Cline, the children learned as babies that they could not count on anyone else to see to their needs. They grew into controlling, oppositional creatures. And because they had been neglected and/or abused, many were taken from their biological parents and placed in foster care or put up for adoption. The child's inability to accept love and direction then manifested itself in the new family setting.

Today there is general agreement across the phalanx of medical fields as to what causes the disorder. Behavioral research has shown that a lack of nurturing, the absence of appropriate stimulation and disregard for a child's basic emotional needs lead to abnormal development in terms of intelligence, motor coordination, behavior and language. Physiological studies indicate that early stimulation guides the processes in which a baby's brain develops.

For some of these children, the abnormal brain development has been further hampered by prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol.

Cline's breakthrough as an attachment therapist came after the Evergreen center invited Robert Zaslow, a California psychologist, to discuss his success in treating autistic children. Zaslow brought with him movies that showed the changes the children exhibited in their ability to relate to caretakers.

"I saw before my eyes massive changes taking place," Cline says. "They were obvious, tremendous changes. It was most remarkable."

But Cline says he was "horrified" at the way Zaslow achieved those results.

Using something he dubbed "Z therapy," Zaslow was controlling and confrontational with the children. He restrained them and provoked them to rage.

"I said, 'I know what you're doing to these kids -- you're brainwashing them,'" Cline recalls. "And he looked at me and he put his arm around me and he said, 'Foster, these kids' brains need to be washed.' And it's true that their thinking was massively cleaner when he was finished."  

Cline wrestled with the idea of using Z therapy, he says, considering whether the end justified the means. He concluded that in some cases, it did. And so he began using on his more difficult patients a modified version of Z therapy, which he called "holding" or "rage-reduction" therapy.

"After Zaslow came, a number of us [at the center] were successful with very difficult kids," Cline says. "The therapy itself was not enjoyable. But you get into these self-selective things. The more successful you are with difficult kids, the more are piled up on you."

Although he would have preferred to focus on family therapy, Cline says he was inundated by parents seeking help for their RAD children. And then therapists from around the country began coming to Evergreen to train. At least two states -- Virginia and North Carolina -- sent social workers to learn more about attachment disorder.

Cline began lecturing around the country, teaching his methods to other therapists. Eventually, the people he taught began to teach others. And Evergreen became the center -- some say a lightning rod -- for attachment issues.

"Doing attachment therapy has some massive disadvantages," Cline says. "As a therapist, you're almost bound to be misunderstood, and your professional peers look askance at you. It's not an easy type of therapy. The only reason to do it is because things work out so well in very many cases."

Rage-reduction therapy was controversial in the psychotherapy community then, and it still is. Zaslow's California medical license was revoked in 1974; Cline says he believes it was after an adult patient complained about Zaslow's use of holding therapy. In 1976, Cline's own center was accused of abusing a young patient who was bruised during holding therapy.

While many therapists agree that traditional "talk therapy" simply does not work with kids suffering from attachment disorder, rage-reduction therapy "was fairly rough and could even be abusive to a child," says Steven Gray, a neuropsychologist with offices in Colorado and Texas.

In 1992, Houston psychologist Mark Wernick, who was trained in attachment therapy by a woman who'd trained under Cline, was suspended after conducting holding therapy. The patient in question was a birth child who'd exhibited a lot of symptoms of reactive attachment disorder, Wernick says. He'd had the boy placed in a psychiatric hospital and was treating him there. Wernick was suspended while hospital officials investigated whether he violated the restraint policy.

"They were very hysterical," Wernick said of hospital administrators' reaction to rage therapy. "They were afraid I may have traumatized him psychologically." The hospital suspended Wernick's privileges and refused to let him see the boy.

Administrators eventually offered to return his privileges, but with stipulations attached. "They didn't want me to do [holding therapy] again, but also, in any case in which I put a patient there, I was to have on-site supervision. I thought that was pretty much unnecessary. I resigned my privileges," Wernick says.

That incident made Wernick realize that there needed to be more training in attachment therapy -- both in dealing with patients and in dealing with hospital administrators. "I decided that if we believe in these methods, we'd better get some standards of practice," he says. And so he came up with standards of care for ATTACh, the Association for the Treatment and Training in the Attachment of Children, which fifty health-care professionals had formed in 1990.

Those standards do not restrict or eliminate rage-reduction therapy. They do, however, encourage practitioners to clarify to parents and follow-up therapists their role in the process, with assurances of physical safety and nurturing. And Wernick continues to stand by the controversial therapy.

"Raging is very much a part of the therapy process," he says. "I frequently do things that some people easily could construe as provocative. Some people may want to distance themselves from that, but I don't believe in the 21st century we will be able to be comprehensively therapeutic without room for some types of provocation...Some children are so severely disturbed that they cannot be helped unless there's some provocation."

In 1993, a former Evergreen patient complained to the Colorado Board of Medical Examiners that he'd been abused in therapy. The boy, who was eleven at the time he was treated, said he was held down and that his mouth was covered. The therapists continued the treatment even after he was cried out and exhausted, he told the board.

Although Foster Cline had not treated the patient, he was the supervisor of the therapist who did: Connell Watkins. Cline himself was accused of "grossly negligent medical practice," received a letter of admonishment from the board, and was ordered to stop using therapy that used verbal abuse and unpleasant physical stimulation.  

After the case was settled, Cline moved to Idaho.

Cline claims not to have done any attachment work in about ten years. In Idaho, he specializes in family therapy. And while he helped establish the Golden-based Cline/Fay Love and Logic Institute with Jim Fay, a former educator, Cline says the institute is not connected with attachment therapy in any way. Instead, it conducts seminars around the country designed to put parents in control and teach children responsibility."I reached a time in life where it became tiresome to always be the point man," Cline says of abandoning his former specialty.

But while Cline abandoned Evergreen, Evergreen did not abandon Cline. At least not completely.

Today there are at least four attachment clinics and fourteen attachment specialists in Evergreen; rather than the rage-reduction therapy of two decades ago, they employ a more nurturing offshoot of attachment therapy, one that involves a combination of therapies. Many of the Evergreen therapists offer two-week "therapeutic intensives" in which they work closely with the patient and the patient's family.

"Evergreen continues to be a major player in various residential treatment centers," says psychologist Gray. "I wouldn't hesitate to refer a patient there."

Other practitioners, however, are extremely critical of the work done by Evergreen therapists.

Ronald Federici, a developmental neuropsychologist from Virginia, makes no attempt to hide his contempt for "the Evergreen people," whom he paints with a broad brush. After Evergreen therapists "fail and rip off a family, [the families] come to see me for proper treatment," Federici charges. "There's no such thing as 'attachment therapy.' It's an offshoot of family therapy. [The children] need to work on how to become emotionally attached to the family, and that's something that occurs over the course of time. They have to learn this process. It can't be shoved down their can't be cured in three weeks and $24,000.

"One family, they mortgaged their home to send their sons," Federici continues. "They were there three weeks. A week after they got back, their sons torched the house. They'd spent every penny."

Parents, Federici says, are "desperate and looking for magical solutions." Sometimes they find what they're looking for on the Internet. Unfortunately, he adds, some of those Web sites and chat groups are peopled with "pseudo experts...and desperate parents who claim to be experts."

Members of the Attachment Disorder Support Group, a parent group with its own Web site, acknowledge concerns that the growth in attachment-oriented services may lead to misdiagnosis and extreme forms of treatment. They advise parents to choose a therapist with broad, extensive training, one who uses a variety of treatments, "beginning with the least intrusive." They also provide a list of attachment therapists in 35 states and Canada, as well as a direct link to the Attachment Center at Evergreen.

But there's a shortage of therapists who have been professionally trained to treat attachment disorders, says Gray. So in their struggle to find ways to deal with their children, some parents have been driven to seek unorthodox therapies and therapists in the hope that something will help. "Some of these fringe therapists can have cultlike followings," he says. "That feeds into parents' desperation. You have a child causing widespread havoc, and maybe you've heard of one fringe therapist who's maybe had success with a certain child, and maybe the parent has tried everything else, and they gravitate to the fringe.

"A lot of it is born out of parents' desperation. There's not too much worse that can happen in a family than having an untreated RAD child in the home."

But the death of ten-year-old Candace Newmaker in April this year went way beyond the "fringe."

At age six, Candace had been adopted by a North Carolina woman, Jeane Newmaker. Four years later, Candace still wouldn't allow Newmaker to hold her.

Newmaker had tried traditional therapy for her daughter, but it hadn't seemed to work. After listening to a speaker at a conference on attachment disorder, Newmaker decided to take her daughter to Evergreen. She went to see Connell Watkins, Cline's old associate, and paid $7,000 for a two-week therapeutic "intensive."

Candace was in her fifth day of therapy when she was made to undergo "rebirthing therapy." She was wrapped in blankets and surrounded by pillows. As she lay swaddled there, several adults pushed on the pillows, simulating a mother's contractions.

Candace was supposed to wiggle out of the covers and be "reborn" to her adopted mother. Instead, she complained that she couldn't breathe. She said she was going to throw up. She said she was dying. The therapists, inured to complaints, were unmoved by her pleas. When they finally opened the blanket, thirty minutes after Candace last spoke, she wasn't breathing. She had choked on her own vomit.  

Candace was rushed to Children's Hospital, where she died the following day. Watkins and three of her associates at Watkins & Associates have been charged with reckless child abuse resulting in death; Newmaker has been charged with a lesser count of child abuse.

After Candace's death, but before those charges were filed, Cline referred to Watkins as "courageous," praising her because she was "willing to try non-traditional treatments."

Now, however, he says he must remain silent.

Federici has no such qualms. He says he might even work with the prosecution on the Watkins case.

"It's safe to say what those people were doing wasn't any recognized form of psychotherapy," he says. "It was total garbage. What they practiced absolutely was unrelated to any psychological theory or proven treatment modality. It was grossly unprofessional. And anybody who supports that type of therapy is completely out to lunch themselves."

Although Watkins does have her supporters, including RAD kids and their parents, other therapists, particularly those in Evergreen, quickly distanced themselves from her clinic and her techniques.

At the Attachment Center at Evergreen, where Watkins once served as executive director, representatives make a point of explaining that they do not use rebirthing therapy or "any other therapy that puts children at risk of harm," says Paula Pickle, a licensed clinical social worker who's the current executive director.

"The problem I've had with [Watkins] is that [for her], the ends justify the means," Attachment Center clinical director Forrest Lein told a North Carolina reporter.

The Attachment Center at Evergreen continues to host annual attachment and bonding conferences featuring speakers from across the country and Canada. The next conference, slated for July 29, is titled, "Adoption Issues and Attachment Disordered Kids." Topics to be discussed include pre-psychotic conditions in youth, neurological evaluations on foster/ adoptive children, and how attachment disorder impacts families.

Federici won't be there. He also says he plans to boycott the 12th International Conference on Attachment and Bonding, set for October in Minneapolis, because "most of the keynote speakers are from Evergreen."

Although the deaths of both Candace Newmaker and Berta Evers received a lot of attention, the coverage hasn't come close to matching that given the death of David Polreis.

On February 10, 1996, two-year-old David was rushed to North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley. He was barely alive, his body covered with bruises from his neck to his knees. He was airlifted to Children's Hospital in Denver, where he died that morning.

David had been adopted from Russia just six months earlier by agri-biz executive Davis Polreis and his wife, Renee. He'd been exhibiting severe behavioral problems: rages, biting his older brother and Renee, smearing himself and his surroundings with feces, eating bugs.

Renee Polreis took her young son to see two therapists, and the boy was diagnosed with RAD.

Renee had made no secret of the fact that young David was causing a great deal of turmoil in the home. She complained to friends and social workers that his tantrums were long and frequent and that she feared for her safety and that of her other adopted son. She confided that she desperately wanted to "disrupt" the adoption -- give David up -- but that her husband did not agree.

On February 9, Renee was alone with the boy. Although she did not testify at her 1997 trial, at a hearing last month she explained that she had spent a long and trying day with David before things came to a head. David had refused to comply with simple requests, had sat in one place and remained motionless for hours, and then at one point attacked her, she testified. Earlier in the day, she'd fended him off with a kitchen utensil.

When David finally calmed down, she said, she gave him a bath and put him to bed. Later that night, however, she discovered David in the laundry room, covered with feces. She hit the boy then, she testified. She could not remember how many times she'd hit him or how long she'd hit him.

When it was over, she put David to bed with her. She was beside him when David suddenly sat up and vomited, she testified. After taking him to the bathroom, she discovered that he was not breathing.

Before calling 911, she summoned her mother to her home and called two of David's therapists. She told one of the therapists that she'd hurt the boy.  

At David's funeral, the Polreises distributed information on attachment disorder and asked that in lieu of flowers, mourners send contributions to the Attachment Center at Evergreen.

At Polreis's sentence-reconsideration hearing last month, Cline told the court that Polreis and her husband had been successfully raising another adopted son, "a wonderful little boy," when David came into their lives.

"I did not see anything to show that she was an abusive parent." Nor, he said, did he see anything to indicate that David died as a result of the beating. (Doctors were split regarding the cause of death.)

"It's not a blame game," Cline testified. "I hate to see her life and that of her basically healthy eight-year-old boy ruined by her being in prison 22 years."

Ten days after the hearing, the judge reduced Polreis's sentence from 22 years to 18.

"I appreciate the judge's shortening the sentence," Cline says, "but I still feel like a nasty chunk of her life is gone. I feel if I was a judge, I probably would have reduced it more."

Psychologist Gregory Keck, founder and director of the Attachment and Bonding Center of Ohio, says he's approached "all the time" by attorneys in cases involving the death or abuse of kids with attachment disorder. He avoids those cases, he says: The fact that a child is out of control doesn't justify his death at the hands of another.

Cline feels uncomfortable going to bat for those people, too. "I do not seek these things out," he says, "but people in their plight have asked me if there's anything I can do to help."

And that's why he volunteered his help in Joseph Ciambrone's case. Ciambrone is serving a life sentence in Florida for the first-degree murder of his adopted son, Lucas, in 1995. Prosecutors say that seven-year-old Lucas -- who died of a head injury -- had been starved, bitten, beaten and forced to sleep in a bathroom stripped of towels, soap, toilet paper and light bulbs.

Although Ciambrone's wife, Heather, is the one who reportedly abused the boy, Ciambrone was accused of doing nothing to help the child. Heather Ciambrone has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and is expected to go to trial this fall.

There is little doubt that Lucas was highly disturbed. The boy had been beaten and possibly sexually abused by his stepfather, who also killed Lucas's mother. Lucas then went to live with the Ciambrones -- who'd fostered about thirty children over the years -- in 1991.

Psychiatrists and others testified at Joseph Ciambrone's 1997 trial that Lucas had tantrums in which he would throw himself onto the floor. The boy urinated on the floors, banged his head against walls, drank from the toilet and was once placed in a psychiatric ward after burning another child with a light bulb. One therapist said Lucas sexually acted out with other children, threatened to stab Heather Ciambrone, and threatened to harm a younger brother.

The Ciambrones' landlord testified that he'd seen Lucas slam his head on a metal frame door and a concrete floor, that he once saw the boy run head-first into an oak tree, and that on one occasion he saw the boy reach up, grab his ears and start pulling. (Autopsy results showed that the boy's ears had been nearly torn from his head.)

After Ciambrone was convicted in Lucas's death, an old friend of his contacted Cline and asked for help. Cline reviewed the case and in May wrote a 25-page affidavit in support of a motion for retrial.

"It is clear that what happened to Lucas Ciambrone is not acceptable," Cline wrote, "but it is understandable. Joe Ciambrone may not be completely guiltless, but he is not completely guilty. This is not the case of a bad man committing a crime, but of a good and compassionate man losing his compassion in a horror akin to that experienced by Patty Hearst. He lived in a situation with the same psychic pressures as those experienced in a concentration camp or cult."

Lucas's death, Cline continued, was "certainly not a crime of criminal intent which is the basis for 'murder in commission of a felony.' Indeed, all the evidence points to just the opposite. The parents' intent was to get help for their impossible child while protecting the family."

Yet the Ciambrones did not relinquish Lucas, because they'd been told that if they wanted his sibling -- who was far less disturbed -- they'd have to adopt Lucas, too, Cline says. So they were afraid that if they gave up Lucas, they would lose the other boy as well.  

The parents grew physically and emotionally exhausted and became adjusted to "an increasingly abnormal situation," Cline wrote.

"No juror, unless he or she actually had ever lived with a seriously disturbed child, can fully appreciate the agony, pain, hopelessness and rage that such an existence engenders," he said in his affidavit. "Although it may appear callused and politically incorrect to say it, life for foster or adoptive parents living with such a child is akin to living life with an out-of-control Doberman. However, it is abusive to cage it; it can't be put on a leash, it can't be given away...What's worse, the adoptive or foster parents who are in no way responsible for the genesis of the child's behavior, which is based on infantile abuse and neglect, are inevitably blamed for the child's behavior."

Perhaps, Cline says, some RAD children "are honest-to-God unreachable" and shouldn't be placed with families.

But since group homes are scarce and exceedingly expensive, these days social workers are pushed to adopt out damaged children, he says. "When they talk about permanency placement, they're not talking about possible placement in a group home," Cline explains. "They're talking about adoption."

And if that adoption doesn't work, "it's beyond the means of most adoptive parents to get any kind of placement for their child in most cases," Cline continues. "And it's my understanding that it's nigh near impossible to relinquish them. Perhaps you tell social services you want to relinquish your child. They will say, 'Let us find you a therapist instead.' They don't know where to put the child, social services doesn't want to pay for that, and foster care is hard to come by."

"I routinely see families brought to the absolute bottom of existence, and their kids bring out their most primitive emotions and behavior," says psychologist Keck. "That's one of the most horrifying things for adoptive families. They want to help a kid, and they end up finding themselves completely overwhelmed with anger because the kids go on and on and on."

After Berta Evers died, the state took Sandy and Dennis Evers to court to determine if they should be forced to give up Berta's brothers. The couple won that battle. But they lost another.

At the time of Berta's death, they were planning to adopt two other girls, sisters age one and four. Two months before the adoption was to be finalized, the girls were taken away from them and placed with a foster family.

"One of them is dead already," Sandy says of the girls. "She died from a hit to the head. They said it was accidental, but she had another bruise on her head that was a week old and bruises inside of her thighs.

"And they still have the other baby."

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >