'Tell Mama Why You Cry' (Part II)
Throughout the fall, the Krasniqis diligently abided by the court order. Krasniqi rented an apartment and attended a sexual offender's group treatment program run by Chester Grounds, a staff psychologist with DHS.
Grounds said in court that Krasniqi originally admitted in group that he had sexually abused his children, including putting his finger in his daughter's vagina, but that Krasniqi later recanted. "The justification he gave for changing his answer was he did not understand our language and the questions we were asking or the way in which we were asking the questions," Grounds told the court.
"Chester Grounds made me crazy," Krasniqi says. "He says plead guilty and I will get two years probation.
"I say, 'You mean say yes to a lie, say yes to something I never hear in my life--sexually abuse children?'"
"So I say [to Chester Grounds], 'I'm guilty for you and no one else,' to make him happy. Then, on the stand, he says I confessed."
From the outset of the case, Wunderlich thought Krasniqi's chances of being rehabilitated were slim. "In my opinion, it is not likely that we will be able to reunite Sadri with his family," Wunderlich wrote in late August. "The abuse is too interwoven into his relationship with his children. I believe it will be a long time, if ever, before he can successfully learn to relate in a nonsexual way with his children."
Throughout the fall, Kathy attended a women's group on Tuesday nights (for mothers of abused children) and Tim and Lima attended a group for sexually abused children. Kathy told the group that touching children's genitals is all right in her country, but that she realized it was not all right in this country, according to the caseworker's notes.
In the children's groups, both Tim and Lima said little. Tim told Wunderlich he didn't like talking about everyone's problems. "I tried to explain to him why this was so important, but he said his life wasn't as bad as theirs (the other children)," according to Wunderlich's notes. Both children told the group that they missed their father terribly.
After the Tuesday night groups, the children asked Wunderlich if they could call their father. "They are always excited about updating their father on everything that's going on with them," wrote Wunderlich, who monitored the phone calls. "Their spirits seem much higher during conversations with their dad then at other times."
During the fall, the children also underwent physical examinations at Children's Medical Center Reach Clinic, run by Dr. Paul Prescott, the leading local expert in examining children for sexual abuse. "I am somewhat concerned that the children have not told us the full extent of their sexual abuse," Wunderlich wrote in her case notes. "I had hoped that this exam might shed some light on this."
Tim was examined first. Prescott tried to comfort the child, who was crying. Prescott asked Tim about his abuse and Tim replied, "No one has hurt me," but said that his father had touched his private parts.
Prescott found no physical evidence that Tim was sexually abused. Nor did he find any physical evidence of abuse during his examination of Lima, who met the doctor with ease.
As ordered by the court, the Krasniqi family had individual psychological evaluations with an independent therapist named Jan DeLipsey, who worked on a contract basis with DHS. DeLipsey reported that neither parent would benefit from group therapy because their poor English would prevent them from understanding much of the interaction. DeLipsey strongly recommended individual counseling.
In addition, she suggested that Kathy, whom she found to be emotionally, socially, and financially dependent on her husband, also participate with her children in family therapy. DeLipsey cautioned that "those who participate in any legal proceedings involving Mrs. Krasniqi should take care to explain proceedings and have her repeat the explanation back in her own words to assure her understanding."
DeLipsey's words of caution would prove to be prophetic in coming months, but they were ignored by DHS. So were her recommendations that the family members would be best served in individual and family counseling.
However, on the strength of DeLipsey's evaluations, Wunderlich approved visitations between Sam Krasniqi and his children to be supervised by herself. The first supervised visitation between Krasniqi and his children was scheduled for January 3, 1990, five and a half months after his arrest.
Wunderlich arrived at the Krasniqi home on Keller Springs Road at 3:30 p.m. to find the house burned to the ground, the charred remains still smoldering. Kathy Krasniqi was standing in the middle of the street, disoriented. "There's not even a spoon left," she kept saying. She also lost the only picture she had of her deceased mother.
The children walked over to Wunderlich, accompanied by their father. He held both children in his arms and wept. The caseworker then went to talk to the firemen, one of whom informed her the fire was arson--caused by a bomb and timing device.
The Krasniqis and Wunderlich decided to go to the family's restaurant, so the family could get something to eat and Kathy could figure out where she and the children could stay. On the way to the car, Krasniqi picked Lima up and twirled her around.
"They looked like they were having the best time," Wunderlich wrote, thinking of the fire. "It looked and felt out of place."
After three hours at the pizza parlor, the caseworker had to leave. After phoning her supervisor, she told Kathy that she and the children could remain there a little longer, but that Krasniqi was not to be alone with the children. She also gave her permission for Kathy and the children to go to the restaurant the next day to eat, Kathy says.
Kathy and the children moved into Krasniqi's apartment on Keller Springs and for a few nights, he slept in the restaurant, before leasing another apartment near his restaurant on Montfort.
Through the months of January and February, everyone continued to attend their group therapy sessions. By now, the arson investigator had made Krasniqi the primary suspect and told Wunderlich that Kathy might also be involved. The investigator said the motive was either murder or money, according to Wunderlich's notes.
Krasniqi was tried for arson a year later and acquitted. He steadfastly maintains his innocence, but won't speculate on who might have done it. Having been a police informant and a boss who has fired employees, Krasniqi will only say he has made his share of enemies.
On Saturday, February 17, Carol Kendall, a woman from Kathy's DHS therapy group, went to the Krasniqis' restaurant with her three children. Knowing that Krasniqi was not allowed see the children without supervision, Kendall was surprised to find Kathy and the kids with Sam Krasniqi.
Kendall reported to her DHS group leader what she had seen. "I noticed her husband could not keep his hands off Lima," according to Kendall's affidavit. "He was constantly touching, kissing, hugging or stroking her."
After Wunderlich met with Kendall, she drove over to Brentfield Elementary School in Richardson to question Lima and Tim. Reluctantly, the children admitted they had seen their father without DHS supervision at least once since the fire.
"But my mother said we could see our father as long as she was there," Tim yelled out.
"[My father] didn't hurt me," Lima shouted.
Wunderlich and her supervisor made the decision to remove the children from their home and place them in emergency care, under the Texas Family Code.
Wunderlich put the children in her car. As they drove past the school, the children saw their mother, who was unaware of what was happening, as she waited in her car for them to come out of school, as she did every day.
The caseworker told the children not to look toward their mother as they drove past. The children obeyed.
As required by law, a hearing was held for the emergency removal of the children a few days later to determine whether the children had been in immediate danger. The hearing was held in the courtroom of Judge Hal Gaither.
Carol Kendall testified about what she witnessed in the pizza parlor the previous Saturday afternoon. Wunderlich told the judge that she was frightened of Kathy, because she threatened to kill her the first time she went to her home to remove her children. [There is no mention of this threat in Wunderlich's notes, though she testified that there was.]
In addition to testifying that Kathy was still uncertain about whether she believed her children had been abused, Wunderlich told Gaither that the parents were suspected in burning their own home. She also said she thought Kathy would disappear with her children if the court returned them to her.
When Kathy took the stand, assistant district attorney David Cole aggressively questioned her about disobeying the court order that prevented Sam Krasniqi from seeing the children unsupervised. In broken English, Kathy did the best she could to explain to the court that she thought it was all right to bring the children to the pizza parlor as long as she was with them. She explained that when Krasniqi was granted supervised visits, Wunderlich had allowed her to be in the restaurant with her children and Krasniqi unsupervised on two occasions--the day her house burned down and the next day, when she and her children went there to eat.
Then Winfield Scott, the children's guardian ad litem, grilled Kathy Krasniqi. Scott, a former prosecutor with the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, had been appointed to the case in August, but in the ensuing seven months had never met with the Krasniqis. And from documents Scott filed with the court, there is no indication he had ever met the children until the trial.
Scott peppered Kathy with questions, mostly about whether her husband kept a gun in the house and the circumstances surrounding the house fire. When Gaither asked him the relevancy of these questions, Scott replied: "I just consider it another indicator of the propensity toward violence, if these people don't get their way to live in a manner that they want to live."
When it was over, Gaither took Lima and Tim to his chambers to interview them. Gaither asked the children whether their father had ever touched their private parts.
Lima said yes, but never underneath her clothes.
Tim said he didn't remember ever being touched by his father, except when he was a baby. When pressed, Tim said he didn't actually remember being touched by his father when he was a baby, but he must have, because his father touched his sister's private parts when she was a "little, tiny baby."
"And nothing has happened in the last six or seven years. Is that what you're saying? And that's the truth?" Gaither asked.
"Yes sir," Tim answered.
Gaither quickly made a decision about the children's fate. In all good conscience, he said, he couldn't let the children move back in with their mother. He set the date for the termination of parental rights trial for April 9, 1990, a little more than a month away.
For the next 30 days, Tim and Lima remained in the Fort Worth Assessment Center, where once again they were required to undergo physical exams. This time, Tim was so frightened, he got ill during his exam. Dr. Molly Hansen, a pediatrician, found no injury of a sexual nature.
But in contrast to Dr. Prescott's findings five months earlier, Hansen claimed she found physical evidence that Lima had been sexually abused, including scarring in her vagina and rectum and a hymen that was only partially intact.
The Krasniqis' parental rights termination trial lasted three days. Originally the trial was going to be scheduled after Krasniqi's criminal trial, but with the emergency removal of the children, the Krasniqis pushed for a speedy resolution, so they could be reunited as a family.
Though the civil and criminal cases theoretically have no bearing on one another, a finding of innocence in the criminal trial could be a mitigating factor in the family court case. But a vindication in criminal court later can't reverse a family court ruling.
Proceeding with the civil case first was one of several tactical missteps committed in the Krasniqi case. Perhaps the biggest mistake Krasniqi and Kathy say they made was hiring Robert Hedrick, an attorney recommended by their banker. They now think they would have been better served by a specialist in family legal matters. The Krasniqis say they erred again in asking Hedrick to represent both of them because they couldn't afford to hire two attorneys. If Kathy had had her own attorney, she might have been able to make a stronger case for the court to at least preserve her parental rights.
Dr. Hansen testified first and her damning testimony about allegedly finding vaginal scarring went unchallenged. The Krasniqis' attorney did not call Dr. Paul Prescott to present his findings, which were radically different than Hansen's. (In open court a few months later, during a hearing for a new trial in this case, Judge Gaither even referred to Prescott as the preeminent local physician in the area of sexual abuse.)
The Krasniqis' attorney managed to get the court to order that Lima undergo another exam by Prescott. When Prescott couldn't be located, another doctor from Children's Medical Center conducted the procedure. According to her report, she found no evidence of scarring and she couldn't be certain whether Lima's hymenal opening was larger than normal; her measurements were smaller than Hansen's. But this doctor did not testify in court; instead she just submitted an affidavit, which the jury may or may not have read.
Both Sam and Kathy Krasniqi took the stand, at first with an interpreter who had difficulty understanding Albanian. A better interpreter was found and they took the stand again. Krasniqi denied touching his daughter's private parts at the tournament in any more than a playful way and further denied inserting his finger inside her.
"If I touched like they say, I would not be here now. I would shoot myself. or I would go on electric chair. I tell this to everyone from the time that this whole thing started."
On the stand, Krasniqi did admit that he realizes Americans might view the way he touched his daughter as inappropriate. "I understand now," he said.
Several family friends and customers of the Krasniqis testified on their behalf about their devotion to their children. No one, including Elijah Zabic, a family friend who had lived with the Krasniqis for several months, had ever seen evidence of his sexually abusing either Tim or Lima.
Asked if he thought the children would be endangered if returned to their parents, Zabic said: "No, sir. They are endangered now. They destroy them now. That's the destroying part right now."
Perhaps the most damaging testimony came from caseworker Meredith Wunderlich, who told the jury that if the children were returned to their parents, DHS would be out of the case, and that the children would likely be abused again.
The jury was led to believe that there were only two options in this case--terminate parental rights or restore the children to the parents unsupervised. But those are not the only options, according to the law.
"In a termination trial, if the court does not order termination of the parent-child relationship, it shall (1) dismiss the petition; or (2) enter any order considered to be in the best interest of the child," according to Chapter 15.05 of the Texas Family Code.
In other words, says Craig Jett, a lawyer who represented Sam Krasniqi in his subsequent criminal trial, "The judge had other options, if he chose to look at them. The children could have stayed in foster care while the parents got more counseling. They could have been put with family members."
But the jury decided there was "clear and convincing evidence"--the burden of proof in these cases--to terminate both Krasniqis' parental rights.
To many observers in this case, from lawyers to mental health workers, what happened to the Krasniqis was like being given lethal injection in a petty theft case.
"I've personally worked with far worse sex offenders--cases where a father had sexual intercourse with his daughter for a period of time--and their rights were not terminated," says Franklin Lewis, a North Dallas psychologist who specializes in the treatment of sexual offenders.
Lewis treated Krasniqi for two years after the parental termination trial and does not consider him a sexual offender. "He engaged in some sexually inappropriate behaviors, which he explained were acceptable in his culture," Lewis says. "He's always denied he engaged in those behaviors for his own sexual gratification. I tried to get him to understand that his actions were not acceptable in our culture."
The termination decision "stunned the hell out of me," says Lewis. "I personally think there is a lot of injustice there."
Parental termination cases are serious, and fairly infrequent, occurrences. Last year in Dallas County, for instance, CPS handled approximately 4,000 cases of confirmed child abuse, neglect, and abandonment. In only 136 cases for the year was there a parental termination judgment.
But parents rarely win these cases, says Judge Gaither.
"The only time I have seen one of these cases won (by parents)," Gaither told the Observer, "is when a parent says 'yes, I did it, but I've changed and here's how and it can't happen again.' That's the only successful defense."
Krasniqi now believes if he had pleaded guilty to touching Lima with sexual intent, he could have eventually gotten his children back. With bitterness edging his voice, Krasniqi says, "In this country you have to lie to win."
The Krasniqis appealed the termination finding all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear their case. The termination ruling was upheld at both the state and federal appeals level, a fact the prosecution, Judge Gaither, and DHS officials like to point out.
But the courts never considered the Krasniqis' appeal on the merits of the case, because one of the attorneys handling the appeal missed a crucial filing deadline in the appeal. The higher courts never received the statement of facts--the court reporter's transcript of the trial--which was due 120 days--with a 15-day extension allowed--after the initial decision was rendered.
Krasniqi attorney Craig Jett and the office of Marc Richman, which represented Kathy in the appeal, fought to no avail to get the appeal heard on its merits. Richman even spent $20,000 of his own money trying, unsuccessfully, to get the state appeals court to change its rules governing deadlines in civil cases.
"We said to the court, 'punish us, don't punish our clients,'" says Richman.
Krasniqi would have better luck with his criminal trial, held in February 1992, almost two years after the termination hearing. But the vindication came too late.
In preparing for the case, Craig Jett heard about Massachusetts anthropologist Barbara Halpern from DHS psychologist Chester Grounds, who told him DHS had contacted her early on in the Krasniqi case, but they never drew on her expertise in Balkan peasant cultures.
When Krasniqi heard about Barbara Halpern, he immediately flew to Boston. Upon his arrival, he phoned Halpern in Amherst and requested a face-to-face meeting--all characteristically Albanian, Halpern would later remark.
Halpern knew a little bit about the Krasniqi case. She had indeed been contacted several years earlier by a supervisor in the Dallas County Department of Human Services, who asked Halpern for her assistance. Halpern asked for more information, but when it arrived, Halpern decided not to help DHS.
"It seemed to me all they were interested in was getting a conviction," she says.
Now in her early 60s, Halpern and her husband spent time in the Balkans, particularly in village communities, with their three children on and off for the past 40 years. Fluent in 10 languages, Halpern has written or co-written four books on the cultures of the former Yugoslavia. She also has advanced training in child sexual abuse.
Halpern detests testifying as an expert witness, calling it "a bitter game where the object is destroy your credibility."
But after her meeting with Sam Krasniqi, which was conducted in Serbian, Halpern says, "I felt a moral commitment to try to do some good, to shed what light I could."
In court, Halpern painted a detailed picture of the culture of Krasniqi's native land. She described it as a very dignified culture, with a strong moral code, where perhaps the biggest sin was to dishonor one's family.
In Albania, and by extension the Albanian enclave of Kosovo in Southern Serbia, the people are physically very demonstrative, much more so than in the United States and other parts of Europe. Men kiss and hug each other passionately when they greet; soldiers walk down the street hand in hand; and parents kiss, hug and caress their children as if they were pets.
"I raised three children in villages very much like the village Mr. Krasniqi comes from," Halpern told the jury. "So what I'm about to tell you is the way my own family lived there, too, some of which seemed a little strange to me when we first started living there.
"...Normally, absolutely normally, children and parents often sleep together...Bathing is often together...," Halpern continued. "...Privacy in the sense I understand you to mean it simply doesn't exist...Children are adored...smothered with kisses and loved and hugged and caressed, fondled, whatever you want to call that, and being an American, that was hard for me to accept at first.
"Children are kissed full on the lips. Children are kissed on their buttocks. Genitals and buttocks have pet names. We do in our culture, too, sometimes, and children are kissed there...The children's genitals were a great source of interest and pride, especially because they represent the ongoingness of the family, the ability to procreate."
This touching of children in Yugoslav peasant villages of South Serbia is done with pride and affection, not sexual intent, Halpern stressed. And it stops at a certain point, at about age seven, when the children leave the home and begin school.
Halpern left the jury with a final point. She knew of not one single case of child sexual abuse in Kosovo. "Child abuse does not occur in this particular culture," she said. "I think it's because touching and overt demonstrative behavior is the norm."
If true sexual abuse was uncovered in this culture, Halpern testified, it would be considered so dishonorable that the family would kill the offender or he would kill himself.
Halpern's testimony was the turning point in an emotionally charged, six-day trial. Krasniqi had been indicted on four counts of child sexual abuse--two counts of aggravated abuse. Because none of the witnesses' testimony could substantiate the charges of aggravated assault, the judge acquitted Krasniqi of these charges in the middle of the trial. On the single charge left--indecency with a child--the jury was hung seven to five in favor of acquittal.
The case was retried almost two years later; this time both sides agreed to forgo a jury. Collin County Judge Nathan White found Sam Krasniqi not guilty in February 1994.
"I can't say what Mr. Krasniqi did was right," Judge White told the Observer. "But I didn't believe beyond a reasonable doubt he did it for sexual gratification. I'm not a multicultural type of guy, but the expert from Massachusetts convinced me that the behavior, while not an acceptable demonstration of affection in this country, was at least explainable."
Calling the acquittal a hollow victory, White says, "I find it very surprising, very distressing that the Krasniqis' parental rights were terminated before the criminal case came to trial."
Tim and Lima Krasniqi never knew that the criminal court found their father innocent of sexual abuse. That ruling came in February 1994. Kathy's visitations with her children stopped a year earlier in April 1993.
It is unusual that Kathy was allowed to see her children at all after the court terminated her parental rights. But Judge Gaither ruled it would be in the children's best interest for their mother to visit until the appeals were exhausted and a permanent place could be found for Tim and Lima.
Despite Gaither's ruling, DHS was obviously unhappy about the continued visitations. The agency refused to honor the court order for six months. Tim thought his mother hadn't visited him for half a year because she was busy working. DHS consistently brought the children 20 minutes to 40 minutes late to these two-hour visits, which the agency insisted on having three staffers monitor--in addition to the court-appointed supervisor, Jan DeLipsey.
During these visits, Tim often cried, fearful he would never see his mother again. DeLipsey once tried to console the child by explaining how the system worked, but DHS workers told her, in front of the children, that she could not do so.
Only a court hearing improved cooperation from DHS, but other problems remained.
In a July 1991 affidavit, psychologist DeLipsey expressed anger about the way DHS was disregarding the Krasniqi children's culture and religious heritage.
"...continued foster placements that do not respect their different cultural upbringing and values are proving to be harmful to them," DeLipsey wrote. "The religious heritage of these children is Muslim, but no action has been taken to continue learning about this religious tradition. No placement has been obtained which shares similar cultural, language, religious and family traditions."
The affidavit was presented to the court, to the guardian ad litem Winfield Scott, and to DHS. Nothing was done.
Fred Seale, regional director of DHS, says he can't discuss the specifics of this case, citing confidentiality reasons. But he says a new state law prevents his department from discriminating against a foster family on the basis of race or religion. But he does admit, "to minimize trauma, it is always better to match children racially, culturally and with the same religion."
By April 1993, it all became a moot point. The Krasniqis had gotten no relief from the appeals process. As far the courts were concerned, they no longer had children.
Kathy was permitted a final good-bye visit in June with her children--something DHS encourages to help children work through their grief. (The children were never allowed one with their father.) Kathy couldn't bring herself to go. "I think part of it was denial," says DeLipsey, "and part she would be so upset she was afraid it would hurt the children."
DeLipsey asked DHS if she could attend that last visit with the children. Her request was denied.
Sam and Kathy Krasniqi have refused to give up. A year and a half ago, they turned to a local support group called Victims of Child Abuse Laws (or VOCAL) for assistance. With the help of VOCAL president John Cloud, they appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The court actually considered the case again, but decided against ordering a lower court to hear the case on its merits.
But VOCAL's efforts stopped the clock on the adoption of the children, and bought the Krasniqis some time. VOCAL also put the Krasniqis in touch with attorney Gary Noble, who has defended numerous men charged with sexual abuse.
"This country did wrong by this family," says Noble, who calls himself the patron saint of hopeless cases. "The kids were ripped out of their home, out of their heritage. That trauma is real. It's amazing Sam and Kathy still have a shot. They have reason and decency, but not the law, on their side."
Two thousand miles away, Barbara Halpern wants to know what more she can do to help."I feel strongly that justice has not been served,"she says. "Their lives have been truncated by this terrible confusion. It is a miracle to me they have any gumption left for living."
How much they have left is uncertain.
After learning that her children have been adopted, Kathy says, sobbing: "It's over now. I know what kind of mother I was. My life is over. What do I have to live for?"
Krasniqi then takes a visitor to his bedroom closet. He picks up a handgun and a small plastic bag filled with bullets. "If I don't have my children," he says, "life is not worth living.
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