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.

Katherine Andrews wasn't certain what she heard or what it meant.
At the front of the Denton courtroom where Andrews had spent the previous three weeks, the judge pronounced the verdict in legal code: "Question No. 1 is answered 'Yes.' Question No. 3 is answered 'Yes.' Question No 4..."

Andrews couldn't focus on the consequences buried in those words--or wouldn't. "I tapped my lawyer, asking, 'What does this mean?' He just stood there. He looked shocked," the 40-year-old former flight attendant recalls. "I saw several of the jurors were crying and some friends of mine in the courtroom were crying, and I thought, 'This can't be.'

"When it hit me, I was so stunned, I couldn't cry. I remember my lawyer saying something like, 'I couldn't see how this could ever happen.'"

The jury's decision in the child custody suit, handed down on September 10, 1993, indeed was stunning.

After sorting through the murky evidence, jurors concluded that Katherine Andrews had coached her two young kids into making false sexual abuse allegations against her ex-husband.

Then--in a radical move--they decided her actions were so damaging to the kids that they terminated Andrews' rights as a parent--cut her off, dropped her dead.

The decision barred her from seeing Adam, then 10, and Katie, then 8, until they became adults.

In an instant, she went from being their mother to being less than a stranger.

At the trial, there was no suggestion that Andrews had engaged in criminal behavior or harmed her children in any way, outside of several counselors' opinions that the ordeal of being made to tell tales about their father had caused the kids emotional harm. In fact, witness after witness brought by Andrews--and even some of those testifying for her husband, a pilot and captain for Southwest Airlines--said she was a nurturing mother, someone who loved her kids dearly and in turn was loved by them.

Her ex-husband's lawyer did present broad, circumstantial evidence that the children's stories may have been coached. But while several experts said they believed the kids were lying, others, including a psychologist on the faculty at Southern Methodist University, told jurors they thought the kids were telling the truth about the abuse.

The law and jurors' attitudes are typically so protective of parental bonds that there are cases where parents have killed a spouse or severely neglected their children and still were allowed to retain parental rights. The Andrews verdict ran so much against the grain that it seized the attention of legal and child advocates nationwide. To them, it was the starkest example to date of a backlash against parents who raise sexual abuse allegations in the course of custody fights, and proof that the controversial theory of "parental alienation syndrome"--which critics label "junk science"--has gained currency in the courtroom. The disorder supposedly affects children who have been "brainwashed" by one parent into developing an irrational hatred of the other parent.

There is a more immediate and troubling side to the Katherine Andrews story as well, one going to the heart of trust in the courts.

The scent of old-fashioned courthouse politics hangs so close to the case that the verdict comes close to flunking the smell test. Out-of-court relationships between some of the parties seemed to seize hold of the case from the start, when a visiting judge from Fort Worth who'd made some essential early rulings told Andrews' lawyer he thought the kids were lying. This was before he'd heard any testimony to support that conclusion.

Then Curtis Loveless, a politically influential Denton lawyer who was named in the children's stories of sex parties at the ex-husband's house, gave a campaign contribution to the kids' court-appointed attorney on the very day the trial began, records show.

The children's ad litem, Jake Collier, ended up arguing to the jury that his clients were lying and that he wouldn't take issue with jurors if Andrews were banished from their lives. As their advocate, he should have been championing their interests, which all the experts in the case defined as keeping the children's mother in their lives.

Loveless and Dallas attorney Kathy Kinser, the ex-husband's lawyer in the custody trial, came up with an additional $1,000 in contributions for Jake Collier over the next several months. They were among Collier's biggest financial backers in his failed and somewhat embarrassing bid that year to get elected to a state court bench in Denton.

Those connections and clear evidence of several others may well come back to haunt the case, which is far from over.

After three and a half years, state appeals courts have overturned the jury's verdict and ordered a new trial, raising the possibility that Andrews will see her kids again, perhaps soon. The Texas Supreme Court decided in late February to let stand a lower court ruling overturning the verdict. It found there was insufficient evidence to show that terminating Katherine Andrews' rights was in "the best interest of the children."

By Texas law, custody battles are supposed to turn on what is best for the kids. But far different motives seem to have played a role in this case, as a spiteful ex-spouse, a local political heavyweight, and a high-priced law firm teamed up to convince 10 of 12 Denton jurors that Katherine Andrews, who has never received as much as a traffic ticket, was a serious danger to her kids.

"People do get railroaded in the courtroom," says Dallas attorney Keith Becker, whose firm has considered taking Andrews' case for its next round in court. "It isn't comforting when there's so much at stake."

Shiny-haired, adorable, born to an upper-income family, these were "the kids that everybody dreams about having. Bright. Gregarious. Bubbly. Delightful personalities," a social worker said.

Blond, blue-eyed Adam and Katie DuMontier seemed to have everything--except parents who could provide them a family.

Their mother, Katherine Andrews, is the oldest of three daughters born to a working-class Catholic family in Milwaukee that had more than its share of problems. She remembers a childhood of sexual abuse at the hands of her father and an uncle, but one of her sisters told a jury in 1990 that those memories were false, that it was Katherine who was the source of trouble for the family: drug use, rebelliousness, and frequent running-away incidents.

Raised through her late teens in a foster home, Katherine earned a two-year nursing certificate, moved to Texas during the '70s oil boom, and went through a brief first marriage before she met David DuMontier, a pilot 10 years her senior. She was working as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines and was almost immediately bowled over by his attention and generosity.

DuMontier, who also had been married once before, was an unusual sort for an airline pilot, she told an interviewer doing a court-ordered report on the family at the time of their divorce. He wasn't the womanizer that others were, and he was considerate. "When there was turbulence, he'd tell us to sit down, unlike many others who just left us out there to spill drinks on ourselves," she recalled.

The son of a Bristol Myers executive, David DuMontier grew up "a real vanilla kid" in North Carolina, according to the same interviewer's report. His family life was uneventful and somewhat superficial, DuMontier said, and he turned his attentions toward school and career.

In 1969, the year after he graduated from North Carolina State, his Vietnam-era draft deferment ran out, and he enlisted in the Air Force. Finishing first in his pilot-training class, DuMontier flew supply missions to Saigon until the end of the war. He was hired on with Southwest in 1978 and made captain in 22 months.

"He really pursued me," Katherine recalls. "Like when you would go on a flight, you'd leave your car keys in your box at [Love Field]. He'd take my car and have it repaired, fill it with gas. He'd go out of his way to do something romantic, send me red roses. We'd just started dating when he bought me a horse for Christmas--a beautiful Appaloosa.

"I said, 'I can't accept it,' and I didn't until we were engaged. I figured if we broke up, I'd have to sell the horse. It cost $350 a month just to board it."

She later recalled hearing rumors among the flight attendants and other airline personnel that DuMontier was gay or bisexual. She remembers thinking that it could be true, but those thoughts didn't deter her from getting serious with a man who showered her with more attention than she'd ever received before.

They dated for about 10 months before their wedding in 1982, and by that time Katherine was already pregnant with their first child. "For our honeymoon, we went to Hawaii," Katherine says. "I'd tell people I went to Maui, threw up for a week with morning sickness, and came home."

The DuMontiers moved to a large ranch house on three acres in Roanoke, a bucolic corner of southern Denton County, but within the first year of their marriage, they sought counseling.

"When we were dating, he'd say he liked to do all the things I did, but he really didn't, and soon into the marriage he stopped trying," Katherine says.

Katherine had quit flying to raise the couple's two young children, and she felt isolated "out in Roanoke with two babies."

As a diversion, she took control of the local Humane Society and--with what others say is her habit of pursuing something to the point of obsession--began a push to build an animal shelter in Denton. Meanwhile, she turned the family ranchette into an ersatz menagerie housing dozens of lost or injured animals, including five or six indoor cats, several dogs, and 30 to 50 other pets and farm animals.

"When David became himself, things started happening," Katherine says. In her view, that meant workaholism, drinking, miserliness, and various episodes of slapping her around, Katherine would claim later in court pleadings.

Although he was flying as much as possible, earning more than $130,000 a year, David made her take the kids to a free clinic in Dallas for checkups and preventive care not covered by his insurance, she says.

DuMontier, who declined to be interviewed for this story, denied several times in court that he had any problems with alcohol. And as of 1993, he had passed three random drug tests given by his airline.

A psychologist who evaluated Katherine during the divorce decided her problems in the marriage grew in part from an insecure personality given to impulsive, manipulative, and self-serving behavior. The report described her as "someone who has difficulty maintaining relationships," although that hardly applied to her kids.

Even by her husband's account at the time, Katherine was the one who cooked the kids' meals and took them to the doctor, swimming lessons, and the little Montessori school where they began their education--a life told in a family photo collection filled with ponies and perfect smiles.

One neighbor, Karley Patteson, described Katherine as a "very responsible" mother. "I kind of always admired her discipline," she said. "She not only told them no, but she also set them down and explained things to them."

Until the divorce in 1990, Katherine provided the bulk of hands-on care-giving, and Adam and Katie showed no signs of being anything but well-adjusted and happy. "The three of us built a life together," Katherine says. "We started every day together and ended every day together...I didn't have baby sitters."

Six years into their increasingly indifferent marriage--one in which their sex life stopped and their fights about money multiplied--Katherine took some bold steps to get out. Those moves gave DuMontier ammunition to use against her when they fought later for custody of the kids.

With his diamond-cut jaw line and athletic build, nearly everyone says Mark Andrews resembles a healthy Christopher Reeve. Katherine met the handsome veterinarian when he called on an ailing horse, and their relationship grew to friendship and then an affair. Mark Andrews was also involved in a troubled marriage, caused in part by his wife's problems with his faith in the Church of Scientology, which she viewed as a cult.

In December 1987, Mark Andrews moved out and, having no place to go, went to visit David and Katherine DuMontier. Unaware of the affair, David invited him to stay.

It didn't take DuMontier long to learn his wife's lover had just moved into his house. He told a counselor later that Mark Andrews greeted him one day with the words "I just found the woman I want to spend my life with, and it's your wife."

DuMontier left the household on Christmas Day 1987, and filed for divorce the next year.

Katherine relinquished control of the house in late 1988 and moved in with Mark in a house in nearby Argyle. The kids went with her, and they enjoyed being with Mark's two school-age children, Steven and Stephanie, even if they didn't take at first to Mark, who was stricter than their father.

In the two years before the divorce went to trial, there were moments of extreme animosity between Katherine and David DuMontier--he seemed anxious at times to punish her, a counselor said--and other times when it seemed as if they'd solve their differences.

By 1990, Katherine Andrews recalls, "We had worked it out basically that he'd get the property and I'd get the kids." But that arrangement, under which the kids would live primarily with her and visit their father every other weekend, broke down in a disagreement over child support. Katherine says she only wanted $1,500 a month, but that was too much for David.

The divorce went to trial in the summer of 1990, with both seeking custody. The proceedings ended up centering on Katherine and Mark's religious beliefs, which seemed a little odd to small-town jurors, and their affair.

"There was testimony to things like she had seances and going back to past lives--it was really bizarre," recalls Curtis Loveless, DuMontier's lawyer in the divorce case, a longtime Denton attorney with an office just off the courthouse square.

Katherine had become interested in New Age ideology in 1987, but Loveless put as wild a spin as he could on her belief in being transported to other spiritual worlds, where she would talk with her spiritual gatekeeper, an old Chinese man named Yun-Chin.

Loveless may have tried to make Katherine look flaky, but jurors were more interested in the way Mark Andrews came into her life, and that they were living together out of wedlock. "The majority of the jurors made their decision based on Katherine's affair with Mark," juror Deborah O'Keeffe said later in a letter to Katherine Andrews' lawyer.

Even though he was frequently away flying and needed a baby sitter at least a dozen nights a month, the jury gave David DuMontier primary custody of the children. Katherine was named "possessory conservator," meaning they would visit her every other weekend, Wednesday nights, plus time during the summer and holidays, a standard schedule in divorce cases.

"I had been a full-time mommy, and all of a sudden I'd have to leave them off," Katherine recalls. "They'd cry and cry and cry. I'd drive down the driveway, and they'd chase the car. It tears your heart out."

Mark and Katherine married in late 1990, with both going to work six or seven days a week in their mobile clinic, the "vet van."

It was that custody arrangement that was in force in March 1992 when the children made their first "outcries," the term to describe a child's reports of abuse.

In 1990 and 1991, eight-year-old Adam had described seeing his father hug and kiss another man, and said his dad had thrown parties where people would "sniff white powder" and congregate in the bedroom behind locked doors for long periods of time. He told his mother that he had peeked in the windows--which are permanently uncovered in the country home--and saw two men "riding each other horseback," according to court records.

Most of these things he reported within days after they allegedly happened.
Katherine Andrews contacted Child Protective Services, but says she was told it wasn't a situation the agency would investigate because the kids weren't being abused themselves.

In the spring of 1992, however, Adam accused his father directly, making his outcry first to a teacher at his Denton school.

Andrews, who had possession of the kids for spring break, took them to a local psychologist, Dr. Leon Peek. He testified later that Andrews was "very much afraid that her behavior might be misconstrued, that it might be thought that she was doing this just to start that [custody] war up again."

He told her to follow CPS' advice, and called the agency as he is required to do by law when abuse allegations surface.

A caseworker, in turn, suggested that Andrews contact the Denton County Sheriff's Department. She also contacted a second psychologist who has considerable experience in the field, William Tedford, a tenured faculty member at SMU.

With some minor variations from interview to interview, the kids told of how they'd witnessed various adult sex acts and drug use in the DuMontier household, and had been fondled by their father or made to watch him masturbate. In his interview with detective Danny Brown, who chomped on a cigar as he interviewed Adam in his gun-filled office, the then-9-year-old boy told how he saw his father and "his lawyer without any clothes on...one on top of the other in the bedroom."

He added to his statement that his father at times made him get into his father's bed, where his father would "jiggle his own penis." Adam said his father told him not to reveal what was going on in the house, and told Adam when he found out about his outcries, "You really owe, owe me an apology...He said I was lying."

Adam had repeated some of the same abuse details in a statement he wrote out to child abuse investigators: "He use to play with my weaner [sic] when I was three and four...When I was little he would hit my mom and try to dround [sic] her in the sink."

Less precisely, Katie told Detective Brown that her father had made her get in bed with him. "He touches in the wrong places...like my bottom," she said.

The kids peppered almost every account with pleas that they wanted to live with their mom.

The accusations lacked corroborating witnesses or physical evidence, and they gained little momentum.

Linda McIntosh, a state child abuse investigator, looked into the children's complaints over nine days in March and closed the case. She marked the report "unable to determine," meaning there was not enough information to decide if the accusations were true.

What no doubt helped dissuade investigators from believing the children was a videotape one of their counselors had made shortly after the divorce trial in 1990. Acting on a hunch that Andrews might bring complaints of abuse against her ex-husband given the particularly nasty divorce, the counselor made a "baseline" videotape of the kids in 1990. Both said nobody had ever touched them inappropriately.

Some of the things they said in their outcries--by the children's recollections of years and times--would have had to have happened before the tape was made.

A Denton County prosecutor presented the sexual abuse case on April 7 to a grand jury, which eventually declined to bring criminal charges against DuMontier.

A day earlier, Katherine Andrews received an even bigger setback--one that one of her many attorneys says "set the table" for what was to come.

The setting was the first hearing on an emergency court order that Andrews had obtained in late March from state District Judge John Narsutis. Sheltering the kids from DuMontier, the order gave Andrews temporary custody while the abuse charges were sorted out. It came with a fresh custody suit in which Katherine Andrews asked the court to give her sole custody of the kids.

Loveless, the lawyer whom Adam accused of having sex with his father, had already filed a motion asking Narsutis to recuse himself from the case. Loveless argued that the judge had heard Mark Andrews' divorce case, posing a possible conflict of interest, but other observers believe it was Narsutis' open admiration of Katherine's looks at previous hearings and the fact that he granted the emergency order that concerned Loveless more.

When Judge Narsutis complied with Loveless' request, the case went to Robert Wright, a retired district judge in Fort Worth who spent a lot of time as a visiting judge in the Denton courthouse.

At the hearing, Brown, the sheriff's detective, took the stand and told the court he thought the kids' claims were believable. "They were precise in what they stated to me...Yes, I would say they are [truthful]," he said.

Katherine Andrews then took the stand, and under questioning from Loveless, she recounted the children's accusations and said they were concerned about their father retaliating against them. "They are fearful of going back to their dad," she said.

Then, in the moment of highest tension, she told Loveless that Adam had accused him of having sex with her ex-husband.

Loveless remained composed, but clearly was embarrassed, according to several people who were in the courtroom. The gossip about that charge took about a nanosecond to make the courthouse rounds.

Katherine's attorney, Dallas lawyer Joseph Powell, had called only two witnesses--and DuMontier had not even been given a chance to deny the sex allegations--when Judge Wright cut the hearing short with the grumpy pronouncement, "I've heard all I want to hear in this case."

Wright proceeded to do his best imitation of King Solomon, asking both parents if they would rather have the children returned to the other parent, or put in foster care. When they both chose foster care, he announced, "Based on your answers, I am convinced that neither of these parents have [sic] the best interests of the children at heart, and that they probably are much more concerned with hurting each other."

Judge Wright took the kids from Andrews' custody and ordered them to stay with DuMontier's parents. He also said he would assign the children their own attorney, ordered an investigation by a court-appointed social worker, and barred anyone else from interviewing the kids about the allegations.

Those actions weren't out of bounds for such a hearing, but Joseph Powell and Andrews were very upset when the judge ordered her to go to her home, accompanied by Loveless, and return with some notes she had taken about her children's outcries.

Parts of the accusations surely were implausible, such as DuMontier having sex with his divorce lawyer. But Powell says he was surprised at how hostile and utterly dismissive Wright had been of his client's claims, which at that point were backed up by the detective. The judge seemed as if he had already decided the kids weren't being abused, Powell says, and the lawyer wondered whether there might have been some out-of-court communications between Loveless' side and the judge.

The worst of it came in a meeting in the judge's chambers. "I recall the judge calling her a liar," Powell says now. "Some unbelievable things were happening. From a lawyer's point of view, this was scary." (Judge Wright could not be reached for comment.)

Andrews says Powell told her after the hearing that she was going to be chewed up in Wright's court, and he recommended she drop the custody suit and wait to see what results the criminal investigation would bring.

But when Andrews dropped her custody case the next day, her ex-husband immediately went on the offensive.

Within a week, DuMontier brought his own custody modification suit against her--the suit that eventually led to termination of her rights as a parent. It said that Andrews clearly didn't believe the sexual abuse charges and couldn't possibly have believed the kids, because she dropped her own case.

For the counterattack, Loveless removed himself as DuMontier's lawyer, and Katherine Kinser, a member of the hotshot Dallas matrimonial firm McCurley, Webb, Kinser, McCurley & Nelson, hired on.

There was a lot of embarrassing talk around the courthouse about the accusations against Loveless, who by all accounts but his own carries plenty of political pull and has a lot of old friends in Denton courthouse circles. Loveless laughs at the suggestion, saying, "I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing if that was true."

Before the August 1993 trial, there were a half-dozen hearings, dozens of depositions, and another round of sex abuse accusations that state investigators deemed "unfounded" in the fall of 1992.

Judge Wright slapped a gag order on the case--which Andrews' lawyers overturned on appeal in early 1993--and put her on supervised visitation, meaning she could see her kids only two hours a week and only within earshot of a paid chaperone.

In the meantime, both sides reached deep into their pockets to fuel the lawyers.

DuMontier, whose parents had been giving him gifts of their considerable stock holdings, won the war of representation. He paid Kinser's firm an estimated $250,000 to $300,000, while Andrews went from lawyer to lawyer, spending about half that much herself, but getting a lot less for her money. She went through $40,000 that she'd received in the divorce settlement, and was constantly bickering with lawyers about their fees.

There were also fees for the court-appointed ad litem, Jake Collier, to be paid by both parents.

In Andrews' corner, Powell dropped out early on, in June 1992. A Denton attorney and friend of the Andrews', Charles Saunders, took the case for a while, Katherine represented herself for a bit, and then Matt Davis, of the big Dallas firm Jenkens & Gilchrist, signed on and did much of the trial preparation. Six weeks before the August 1993 trial, he too dropped out. "I think it was money and some other things," Davis says, adding that he cannot recall precisely why he got off the case on the eve of trial.

"He said we couldn't win," says Andrews, adding that Davis was urging her to settle. DuMontier was offering to drop the matter by giving her two hours of supervised visitation with the kids each week until they turned 18, she recalls. The other option: He would go to trial and ask the jury to terminate her rights for the alleged emotional abuse she was inflicting on the kids--"dragging them around" from interview to interview, making them lie about their dad.

Kinser, like her client DuMontier, declined to comment for this story.

A collection of striking characters and moments of high tension and absurdity made the DuMontier-Andrews trial anything but a routine event in the Carroll Courts Building, a colorless glass cube a few blocks from Denton's main square.

Gregory Shamoun, a young, ego-driven Dallas litigator partial to alligator shoes and $1,000 Euro-cut suits, hired on as Andrews' attorney, but he knew his case wasn't ready. "Any lawyer worth their salt likes to paint their own picture, recruit their own players," he says. "Because I came in on the eve of trial, there was an enormous amount of paint I didn't have and couldn't get."

Long before the trial began, Kinser, an orderly and well-prepared lawyer, knew she had the all-important court-appointed expert witnesses on her side, and they would testify that the kids' stories were not to be believed.

Judge Wright--who had been replaced by Judge Jerry Woodlock, from Gainesville--had put Anne Friemel, a therapist and director of a child assessment center in Amarillo, in charge of analyzing the children's psychological and emotional conditions, reviewing their relationships with their parents, and getting to the heart of the abuse allegations.

Friemel, who was Kinser's lead witness, testified that her team of experts had concluded that the children's accounts of abuse had been "implanted in them as opposed to experienced."

Among the red flags, she said, was the children's lack of affect as they told their stories to a trained interviewer. "Katie told it in an upbeat way," she testified. "Most kids would display some shame and guilt as they're telling it."

Over Shamoun's objections that she was not qualified to discuss psychological disorders, Friemel said that the children were subjected to "parental alienation syndrome," which she described as "a coupling of brainwashing plus children doing whatever is necessary to alienate the other parent."

Susan Levisay, a Denton clinical social worker who counseled the kids and their father, described it as a disorder that develops when one parent programs a child against the other. "Unconsciously, a child knows that he or she is being turned against part of his or herself...There's a great deal of pain involved that comes across not very dramatically."

She said the DuMontier children displayed such symptoms.
To try to make his case that kids should be taken at their word, Shamoun underlined for the jury the children's repeated and consistent outcries, which extended to letters they had written to the judge and their attorney. He poked holes in Friemel's credentials and thoroughness, getting her to admit on cross-examination that the only investigation she did into whether DuMontier might be homosexual was to ask a few of his friends--and quiz the flight attendants on a Southwest flight she happened to be on--if there was any gossip about him being gay or bisexual.

Shamoun pointed to a report from a psychologist on Friemel's team, Dr. James Warnica, which said that the children's "placid rendition" might have come because they had talked about this so many times before.

Before the end of the first day of testimony, Judge Woodlock admonished Shamoun for his aggressive courtroom demeanor. "For the record, Mr. Shamoun made a face at me a while ago," Woodlock announced at one point. By the end of the three-week trial, Woodlock drew up a list of seven such sins--among them, jostling Jake Collier to wake him up from his not-infrequent napping in the court, and wearing jeans with a hole in the crotch to a weekend session--and cited Shamoun for criminal contempt. (Shamoun later hired a Denton lawyer and plea-bargained to a $300 fine.)

"Gregory [Shamoun] did a lot of things I wouldn't do, but looking back at it, he had to be a real jerk to get any point across," says Charles Campbell, a Dallas attorney who handled the appeal in the case. "Woodlock was openly belligerent toward Gregory. He was sustaining nearly all of Kinser's objections and very few of his."

Because Kinser had the supposedly neutral experts on her side to knock down the allegations of abuse, Shamoun called Dr. William Tedford as his witness on the veracity of the children's outcries.

Tedford had interviewed the children in the spring of 1992, but had been barred by Judge Wright's order from talking with them again.

Based on those single interviews, he said, "In my opinion, the children were basically telling the truth...that there was inappropriate sexual behavior going on at their father's home and that they were being taken to someone who was trying to get them to keep quiet about it and stop making accusations."

That person was social worker Susan Levisay, who Tedford said had a "clear-cut conflict of interest" because she was being paid by DuMontier, whom she also counseled. "It just seems, in my opinion, to be unprofessional," Tedford testified.

Tedford had a raft of criticisms of the Friemel team's work as well, but Woodlock barred him from testifying about anything that happened in Amarillo. "It seemed they had Shamoun tied in knots," Tedford recalls, talking at his office near the SMU campus.

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.

A fter getting over the initial shock of the decision, Shamoun had a hard time figuring out what went wrong. Even though there were no media present at the trial, jurors agreed to a self-imposed vow of secrecy, which worked against efforts by Andrews to seek a quick retrial.

According to one juror who spoke later, the secrecy vow and vote for termination were spearheaded in the jury room by the foreman, Kennard Royal.

Royal was warned several times during the trial about talking to participants, among them Jake Collier, the ad litem.

Collier and Royal, it turns out, were both on the board of directors of CASA of Denton County, a nonprofit agency that does fact-finding on behalf of judges in neglect and abuse cases.

Royal declined to comment for this report.
"I'll go to my grave believing something went wrong to taint the jury," Shamoun says. "I think some of them lied to me in their voir dire examination. I can't prove anything, but I believe there was jury misconduct in this case."

Shamoun didn't know until told by this reporter that Collier reported receiving a campaign check from Loveless on August 23, 1993, the day jury selection began in the case. (Collier's bid for a judgeship failed after five district judges called a press conference saying that, contrary to his campaign literature, they were not endorsing him.)

"I don't know the politics of it, but it was a kangaroo court--it was absolutely amazing," Shamoun says now. "My connection to that judge [Woodlock] was zero, and obviously he knew Katherine Kinser quite well. He knows her husband [Judge Frank Sullivan], who is a district judge in Fort Worth."

In the legal realm, the paperwork that Judge Woodlock submitted to the jurors--which was worded just the way Kinser wanted the judge to word it--did not inform the jury that they needed to find termination "in the best interests of the children," which is the state law standard for child custody cases.

The jury instructions simply asked whether Andrews "endangered the physical or emotional well-being" of the kids. A "yes" answer meant termination.

"What parent isn't guilty of that?" asks Shamoun. Under that standard, a mother who turns her head once while her kid is in a swimming pool could be a candidate for termination.

The Court of Appeals for the Second District in Fort Worth, after mulling over the case for nearly two years, voted last April to overturn the verdict, saying there was insufficient evidence to support the "drastic remedy" of termination.

Eleven months later, the Texas Supreme Court agreed. By that time, the case had begun capturing wider attention, due in no small part to a spirited Katherine Andrews letter-writing campaign.

Joan Pennington, a lawyer and director of the New Jersey-based National Center for Protective Parents, wrote a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of 11 child organizations taking issue with the validity of using "parental alienation syndrome" to terminate Andrews' rights. "The great thrust of public sentiment is that all these mothers are coaching and brainwashing their kids," Pennington says, saying that those attitudes comfort abusers. "In 14 years of being involved in custody cases, I've never yet seen a kid who will say what you want them to say about these issues."

W ard Brockman, a 35-year-old software engineer and one of the two jurors who voted against termination, says he felt intuitively that the kids had not been abused. But, he says, "Termination is bad business. This wasn't a Darlie Routier-type of mother. I look at my children, and they'd be lost without my wife. This was like saying their mother is dead."

Katherine Andrews recalls wishing she would die in the bleak aftermath of the verdict. "She didn't get out of bed for two months," her husband recalls. "It would have been kinder if they killed her."

Adds Katherine, talking at the dining table of their neat North Dallas apartment, the family dog at her feet: "I was a vegetable. The only time I remember not having any pain was when I was asleep. I wanted to die. I really wished I'd die. You hear of people willing themselves to death--they just give up. I really didn't think I had anything to live for."

A few months after the verdict, Katherine's daughter wrote a short letter to her stepsister, Stephanie, in which the little girl said, "I miss you guys so much I cry."

With that, Andrews decided to visit her kids a last time at their school.
"It was a tearjerker, as you'd imagine," recalls Charles Saunders, who went with Andrews. "The thing I remember most is Adam seeing her and blurting out, 'He's not doing it anymore.' It was the first thing he said."

The school visit prompted David DuMontier to tell the court he feared Katherine could kidnap the children, and he requested and received a permanent restraining order against his ex-wife and a half-dozen of her friends. It bars them from going within 100 feet of the children's home, their school, their playground, or anywhere else they might be.

After recovering from the disabling first shock of the verdict, Mark and Katherine Andrews threw themselves into their work in the vet van.

Then, just as abruptly, they sold it in November 1995 and moved to Dallas.
"We couldn't stand going by that courthouse," Katherine says. "And the kids' house was on our beaten path. We needed a new start."

Today, Katherine is getting some work as an actress in industrial films. Mark is a nutrition products salesman. And with the prospect of a new trial, Katherine has, for the first time in three years, tacked up a few snapshots of the kids on a bulletin board next to her bed.

Cindy Lamb, a longtime friend of Katherine's whom she met through their work with animals, says she doubts whether Katherine wants to start anew with the abuse allegations. "She just wants a relationship with those kids," Lamb says.

In stubborn allegiance to what she has said all along, though, Andrews says she is ready to "present our evidence again."

Her petite voice belying a resolve not to back down from anything, she explains, "The game plan is to renew our relationship and bring 'em home again, where they wanted to be. They were harassed for two years, and they never changed their story. Deep down inside them, they know what the truth is.

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