A WEALTH OF TROUBLE | News | Denver | Denver Westword | The Leading Independent News Source in Denver, Colorado


part 2 of 2 In the weeks following the original confrontation with her daughter in the therapist's office, Barbara Huttner succumbed to serious depression. For the first month, she says, "I'd sit around the house in dirty sweats, watching TV and drinking coffee all day long." Her face broke out...
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part 2 of 2
In the weeks following the original confrontation with her daughter in the therapist's office, Barbara Huttner succumbed to serious depression. For the first month, she says, "I'd sit around the house in dirty sweats, watching TV and drinking coffee all day long." Her face broke out in sores. And she sent away for every book and video she could find that dealt with alcoholism, false accusations and drug addiction.

"I did that for a month," she says. "I'd try to take the dog for a walk and it felt like each leg weighed 500 pounds. It was hard to put one foot in front of the other."

Huttner began seeing a therapist and taking anti-depressants. The combination allowed her to function again, she says, and she took up her old teaching duties at her exercise studio. Even during the depths of her depression, she recalls, "I never felt ashamed. I never felt embarrassed. I said, `Whoever wants to point a finger at me, let them do it.' I was not guilty. The shame was not mine. It's my daughter's and her husband's."

During this period, she says, she reached out to her friend Marilyn Van Derbur for help and advice. The two had known each other for years through the Jewish Community Center and various social functions. When Van Derbur "came out" as an incest victim in 1991, the announcement was a media bombshell. Van Derbur appeared before a Senate subcommittee on family violence and began speaking to medical societies; she is now a nationally known spokeswoman for victims of sexual assault.

But Huttner says her talk with Van Derbur left her feeling empty and disappointed. She says Van Derbur told her that they were "on different sides of the fence." The only advice Van Derbur gave her, she says, was a suggestion to speak with someone at the Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse. "And they had nothing for me," Huttner says.

Today Van Derbur says she tried to offer what support she could to her friend and that she is "disappointed" to hear that Huttner remembers it differently. "I called [Huttner] when I heard what happened," Van Derbur says. "I called her from Vail and spoke to her for two hours, listening and feeling so much concern. I felt that the place for her to go for help was the Kempe Center. I offered her a compassionate ear."

But at that point Huttner felt that no one was listening to what she had to say. After the accusations first arose, Huttner demanded to speak with or be interviewed by therapists, social workers and police investigators. She asked for psychological evaluations for the entire family, herself included. Her requests were rebuffed at almost every turn. One social worker, Huttner says, responded to her claims of innocence by noting, "Mrs. Huttner, you will have your day."

Huttner's only official interview took place in January 1994, when Leigh Baker, her grandson's court-appointed therapist, agreed to a short session. Although Huttner scored some points with the psychologist, she also was forced to address questions regarding accusations made against her by another relative, a woman now in her mid-thirties who declines to be identified or to discuss her allegations in detail. Huttner has consistently dismissed those allegations and describes the woman as "a Moonie high priestess."

Huttner's defense attorney, Craig Truman, says the woman claimed that Huttner participated in satanic black masses and helped run a prostitution ring for runaway girls out of her Cherry Hills Village home. Truman says the allegations were investigated--and discredited--by the FBI. No charges were ever filed.

When charges were brought against Huttner in her grandson's case, Truman arranged for her to surrender to police. While being processed, she was given a slip of paper and told to carry it with her everywhere. The paper ordered Huttner to stay away from all children under the age of fifteen.

Had attorney Truman not intervened, Huttner would have been legally prohibited from associating with her other grandchildren, Steve Rogoff's two daughters. Even if a judge hadn't agreed to revoke the order, Steve Rogoff says, he would not have allowed the separation. "The court can go piss up a rope," he says. "No one is going to keep my kids from my mom."

As frightened as she was by the prospect of jail time, Huttner says she never considered accepting a plea bargain. But as the date of the trial neared, she became increasingly agitated. She thought about suicide and kept "a stash of pills," she says. "I thought about leaving the country. I would fantasize about just getting away. I was terrified."

The trial got under way in Arapahoe County District Court on December 12. In his presentations to the jury, Truman focused on Huttner's love for her grandson and on the boy's shifting accounts of what had occurred. He also spent a great deal of time attacking Alana Norman's credibility. He brought up her use of alcohol and drugs. During cross-examination, Truman harped on her about her wealth and about her failure to keep her son away from Huttner until months after her son made the initial allegations. He also accused her of being paranoid on the issue of sexual abuse, bringing up numerous claims of abuse that Alana reportedly had made since her son's birth.

According to Steve Rogoff, Alana and Larry Norman have at various times accused Marvin Rogoff, his wife, Linda, and at least one babysitter of being sexually inappropriate with their son. "I can remember getting together for dinner once and hearing a story about when they went to Hawaii," Rogoff says. The Normans told him they were concerned that a babysitter on the resort island had molested the boy, Rogoff says. He says Larry and Alana said their suspicions and discomfort were rooted in the fact that "the woman had deformed hands and was `weird-looking.' Those were Larry's words," Steve says. "And I'm saying, `Give it a rest.' I didn't think it happened."

The Normans later testified in court that they were merely "uncomfortable" with the babysitter and that they never suspected her of abusing the boy.

Nor, it was revealed in court, was the Hawaii incident the first time Larry and Alana had been "uncomfortable" about other family members' behavior toward their son. Similar problems had arisen between Alana and her father, Marvin Rogoff, when her son was still a toddler.

The incident occurred, Marvin Rogoff tells Westword, after he snapped "bearskin-rug photos" of his naked grandson. He and his wife, Linda, babysat Joey one night, he says, and while the boy was there, they shot photos of him lying on his stomach atop a throw rug. After having the photos developed, the Rogoffs presented them to the Normans.

According to Steve Rogoff, Alana was upset by the photos and refused to speak with or visit with Marvin Rogoff and his wife for months afterward.

Marvin denies that. "Alana didn't say anything about it at first," he says. "But that night, when they got home, she called and said that she and Larry were uncomfortable with that picture. I said, `Whoa, wait a minute!' We had a talk. I said if it made her uncomfortable, then we'd be happy to destroy our pictures and the negatives and that she could destroy hers. Case closed."

That is much the same story that Marvin Rogoff told the jury at Huttner's trial.

Attorney Truman also questioned Alana Norman about accusations she'd reportedly made against her stepmother, Linda Rogoff. Barbara Huttner told the jury that Alana had once accused Linda Rogoff of fondling the boy while diapering him.

In court, however, Alana brushed aside the incident. She said she'd merely found it humorous that Linda Rogoff did not know how to properly change a baby's diaper and denied ever accusing her stepmother of any wrongdoing.

Prosecutor Brad Dickerson won't comment directly on the Huttner case. But he apparently wasn't surprised by Truman's frontal attack. "If you're a defense attorney," he says, "the last thing you want is to have a jury focus on the actual abuse. Most cases that go to trial are tough cases. They involve dysfunctional kids or dysfunctional families."

But Dickerson and Alana launched a few attacks themselves. Alana told the jury that her mother had always been selfish and uncaring. She claimed that if she was paranoid about sexual abuse, it was because she had been raped by a teenager when she was five years old. When she told her mother about the attack, Alana claimed, her mother told her, "That's what happens to bad girls."

Alana also testified that she "vaguely" recalled her mother masturbating in front of her when she was a young child. She said that when Joey was an infant, she once caught her mother trying to breast-feed the boy. She also pointed a finger of blame at her brother, claiming that when she was about seven (and Steve fifteen), he had exposed himself to her.

Huttner and Steve Rogoff denied those charges and continue to do so. "She made our relationship sound so ugly and awful," Huttner says, as her eyes fill, then overflow with tears. "It wasn't like that."

Joey, by then five years old, didn't take the stand. The prosecution instead decided to put on a videotape of his interview with a therapist, conducted about five months before the trial. The video, which could have resulted in a ten-year prison sentence for Huttner, proved to be anything but compelling.

Prior to his parents' trip to France and before Joey had made allegations about his grandmother, Alana had read to her son from a Berenstain Bears book about "good touch" and "bad touch," a primer that is supposed to enlighten children about sexual abuse. But on the video, it appears that Joey was still unable to tell the difference between good and bad touching. On the tape, Joey tells the therapist that any touching of the penis or "tushie"--even by a doctor or by someone changing a diaper--is "bad touch."

Only after a great deal of prompting by the therapist does Joey recall that Huttner "touched me." Asked where he was touched, Joe points to his bottom. After more urging, he recalls that Huttner touched his "private parts."

"What did she touch you with?" the therapist asks, appearing to urge the boy on. "Her hand," he says softly. "Anthing else?" she asks. Joey shakes his head.

"Let me ask you this," the therapist says before ending the half-hour interview. "How would you feel if you had to see Barbara?" "Bad," he replies, "because my mother said she would touch me in a bad place again."

Huttner was quickly acquitted of all charges.
Friends of Huttner's who'd attended the trial immediately surrounded her and informed her that they'd arranged for a catered celebration party that night. Huttner says her first inclination was to decline the invitation. "I realized that for everybody else it was a victory and a celebration, but for me, it wasn't. Of course, I was very grateful for being found not guilty and realizing that I wouldn't go to prison, but I'd lost a good chunk of my family and my dreams."

Soon after the trial, Barbara Huttner decided to write a book; she also hooked up with the Grandparents Resource Center, a grandparents' rights group established seven years ago by Denver paralegal Shirley LaFore. The group's main focus has always been on visitation rights. They helped get a state law passed four years ago allowing grandparents to obtain visitation rights with their grandchildren when a nuclear family is split by divorce or death. Group members are now trying to find someone to sponsor a bill that would allow grandparents to sue for visitation rights even when the nuclear family is intact. Huttner says that if the bill passes, she might use it as a tool to see her grandson.

Huttner brought another focus with her when she came aboard: the rights of the unjustly accused. According to state law, when the state's Child Welfare Services offices learns of "a confirmed case of child abuse," the accused's name goes on a central registry, which then can be accessed on a limited basis by social service agencies, doctors, child-care licensing agencies and the Department of Education. But the term "confirmation" is applied loosely. According to documents provided by Child Welfare Services, "results shall be confirmed by results of a county investigation," which essentially means that if a social worker decides child abuse has occurred, it has, in fact, occurred.

As someone who was formally charged with child sexual abuse, Huttner's name immediately went on the central registry, and even her acquittal will not remove it. "I was told by the head of the registry," Huttner says, "that just because I was found not guilty, that doesn't mean I'm innocent."

Huttner has since enlisted the help of attorney David Lane in an attempt to have her name expunged from the record. "It's a catch-22," Lane says. "You can be found not guilty at trial, yet you are still labeled as a pervert by the state. That's just flat-out unfair."

Huttner has found a sympathetic ear in state representative Doug Friednash of Denver. "The law is supposed to be `innocent until proven guilty,'" Friednash says, "and for all intents and purposes, [Huttner] is, therefore, innocent. But the system treats this differently. It's kind of like double jeopardy. After they go to court, they have to have a mini-hearing with the state to determine whether their name will be removed. It's like they've got to make a second shot to clear their name." Friednash says he is hoping to draft an amendment to the crime bill now being debated in the legislature to address the issue of "fundamental fairness."

Huttner says she's prepared to address the state legislature on the issue, if need be. On the evening of March 31, she is slated to face off against Marilyn Van Derbur on a Channel 6 discussion show.

She and Van Derbur have the same goal, says Huttner--to protect the children. But Huttner says she also wants to help people who've been wrongly accused.

Alana and Larry Norman declined comment for this article. However, the couple did issue a prepared statement. Huttner listens quietly as the statement is read to her. "We believe our son was very courageous to come forward," the note reads. "We believe him. We will always do whatever it takes to protect his well-being. We are reluctant to comment further because publicity on this issue can only serve to hurt our son, not help him."

Huttner sighs. "It's all very well to believe the children," she says, "but you cannot do so selectively. If you believe that I molested my grandson, then you must also believe that his house burned down and that I have a walking, talking penis in my house."

end of part 2

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