Less than a stranger

She said it was abuse. He said it was manipulation. By the time a Denton court got through with this messy custody battle, a good mother would lose her kids forever.

He had hoped to tell jurors that "parental alienation syndrome," which Levisay suggested the children were exhibiting, is not a recognized psychological disorder--and has never even been considered for entry into the profession's diagnostic manual. "These are pretty much armchair analyses and pseudoscience," he says.

Dr. Richard Gardner, a Columbia University professor and psychiatrist who coined the "parental alienation syndrome" term, has not subjected his theories to empirical research and peer review, Tedford and others in the field say.

"Surely it is possible to alienate someone from a third party--that's common sense," says Jon Conte, a professor of social work at the University of Washington. "But it isn't useful in finding what is really going on with these children." Some courts have begun refusing to hear testimony about the "syndrome" because of its lack of scientific backing.

Also, Conte says, the latest research shows it is as difficult to "implant" stories in children six years of age and older as it is in adults, though younger children have been shown to be more impressionable.

These cases are so inscrutable, Tedford says, "because there is no final authority. There is no truth serum, no ability to rely on polygraphs. It is always a judgment call."

As for the DuMontier children, Tedford says, "I would have testified that they seem to be holding up very well. They were pretty well-adjusted despite the ongoing controversy."

Their parents would have hoped for as good a report.
DuMontier, who passed a lie detector test, took the stand to deny that he was homosexual, or had a drinking problem, or did drugs, or ever touched his children inappropriately, or engaged in sex acts where his children could observe.

"I don't know how to stop this," he told the jury under Kinser's questioning. "It just keeps getting worse over the years. I don't know what else to do except ask for termination."

The kids' emotional conditions were in "great jeopardy" because his ex-wife had "subjected them to the false allegations" and "intimidated and emotionally blackmailed" them to lie about him, he said later.

"She has brought charges, dropped charges, tried to have me thrown in jail, lose my job, take our children from me, accuse me of being a homosexual, a drug addict, alcoholic--what else?" he said.

Andrews, who also passed a lie detector test in which she denied programming the children, told the jury that termination "would be the worst thing that could ever happen to me and for the children."

Nobody--save DuMontier--testified that Andrews was a bad mom.
"I've been a teacher and a director of camps, and I don't think I've seen a better mother," Sue Goldstein, a family friend, told the jury. "The demonstration of her love and affection as well as the concern for their well-being, the support, the ability to discipline in a loving way is a very rare combination."

While Friemel and Levisay both told the jury they believed the children had been coached, neither said it would be a good idea to sever their relationship with their mother. "It's extremely important to their overall emotional well-being to remain connected to their mother," Friemel said. "She is their primary attachment."

But the kids' father and their own lawyer thought otherwise.
"She's taken them every place she could possibly take them to get interviewed, interrogated, probed, prodded, and convinced...Don't feel sorry for Mrs. Andrews, she's put them through this, and it has been horrible," Kinser told the jury in her closing argument. "Somebody needs to put an end to it; it's your decision to make."

Countered Shamoun: "They're trying to terminate both children's rights by clear and convincing evidence. I haven't heard anything except that's what Daddy wants."

Jake Collier had not played a critical role in the trial up to this point, asking few questions and napping (or as he told the Observer, resting his eyes) through some of the sessions.

Ad litems can be as active or passive in the process as they choose, several attorneys say. Shamoun attempted to discredit Collier by showing the jury that he did little but "coattail" on Kinser's work.

Some in the courtroom thought Collier provided a bit of comic relief when he called himself to the stand and, using different voices and looking from side to side, questioned himself. "What is your occupation? I'm a lawyer. How long have you been a lawyer?..." He says he did it that way to let the other lawyers object to the questions before he provided answers.

Shamoun had already asked jurors to consider whether Collier would dare cross the politically potent Loveless and think he could win a judgeship in Denton, as Collier was seeking to do in the 1994 Republican primaries.

But as the only Denton lawyer in the courtroom--and an associate of the jury foreman--Collier's views may have been critical.

"I do not recommend that the rights not be terminated," Collier dramatically told the jury during the final day of the trial. "These two kids need for it to be over."

The jury deliberated a day and a half before returning a verdict, 10-2, in favor of termination.

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