Longform

The lies that BIND

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For the next three years, Kelly said, Sanchez made her perform oral sex on him, and he performed it on her. She told Vo that Sanchez also began abusing her younger sister Bertha, who is Sanchez's biological daughter. "He would say, 'You and Bertha go to bed without your clothes on,'" Kelly said.

Throughout this time, Kelly, Bertha, and a third daughter, Alejandra, lived with their parents and several other relatives in the home of their grandmother, Lilia Sanchez, on West 10th Street. Three more children--Richard, Monica, and Sonya--were born between 1990 and 1995. The Sanchezes' little brick bungalow sits directly behind the parking lot of Sunset High School, where Richard Sanchez, the eldest of Lilia's seven children, attended school. The house is tight and cozy, with fishing rods, tackle boxes, and other angler's gear stacked in a corner of the living room. A long, rectangular table takes up the dining room. The house has three bedrooms, one bathroom, and a small laundry room that sometimes doubles as a bedroom.

Depending on who needed shelter at the time, the Sanchez place has been home to as few as six and as many as 17. Various family members testified during the termination trial that "we all help each other out. Our family is like that. We all pitch in." And yet no one--not Sanchez's 28-year-old sister Patricia, who lived with her two children in the home, or his 27-year-old sister Raquel, who also lived there intermittently with her two children--reported knowing that Sanchez was sexually abusing Kelly under their roof. Indeed, over the last two years--during a lengthy CPS investigation of the family, during numerous interviews with the Dallas Observer last summer, and throughout the trial--Sanchez family members insisted the abuse could not have occurred.

"It couldn't have happened. It would be hard to hide it," testified John Camarillo, Lilia Sanchez's 17-year-old nephew who has lived with the family for four years. "There are just too many of us there. We would have known."

Whether the family knew or not, Kelly Cantu claims the abuse escalated when she turned 11 and her stepfather came back from a stint in prison. Richard Sanchez, who had spent his adult life bouncing from jobs as a cab driver, pizza parlor manager, home builder, and repo man, was convicted of possessing more than 200 pounds of marijuana and sent to prison. He served 18 months of a 10-year term.

Although Sanchez had begun abusing Kelly long before he went to jail, he returned to the house on 10th Street in 1992 with a whole new desire for his stepdaughter. Sanchez demanded to have full intercourse, Kelly later told her therapist. Her mother, Delia, not only knew of the arrangement, but sanctioned it. In several court documents, Kelly told of a bizarre scheme concocted by her parents to marry Kelly off to Sanchez after her 14th birthday. The plan was for Richard to pull Kelly out of school, take her to Mexico, and marry her. In one session with Vo, Kelly showed her an "engagement" ring Sanchez had given her.

"My mom gave me to my dad," Kelly told Vo. "She wanted me to have a good guy. I was crying, always angry about the abuse. After he sexually abused me, I would be crying in my room. She heard me. Sometimes I would cry and then try to get her to come in there. Sometimes she would tell my dad to leave me alone, and then one time he threw a coffee pot at her and busted half her head. He broke her nose, too. She had to have plastic surgery."

When her mother failed to protect her, Kelly said she sometimes tried to fight Sanchez off herself. In her second session with Vo, Kelly said "I told him no, and he said, 'You may not want it, but your pussy does.'"

That same year, Sanchez and Cantu took Kelly to an East Dallas clinic to have the Norplant implanted in her arm. Kelly would later tell authorities she did not remember the clinic's location or who the doctor was, only that her mother explained that Kelly needed birth control because she had been skipping school and "messing around" with boys.

She wore the Norplant for three years. According to the testimony of relatives who shared the house, no one ever noticed the six rods that bulged, spider-like, from the inside of her upper arm. Meanwhile, Sanchez turned his stepdaughter into his own private project, a toy to play with, his best girlfriend. He bought her tight Lycra skirts and spike heels, made up her face, and took her to all-night raves at Deep Ellum clubs. They took Ecstasy and acid. The drugs helped keep Kelly up all night for marathon sessions of sex.

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Holly Mullen