The lies that BIND

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Two years after getting the Norplant, Kelly had her first chance to tell authorities of the abuse. Nueces County CPS workers were investigating accusations made against Sanchez by Bertha Cantu, then 12 and living with her mother--who was temporarily separated from Sanchez--in Corpus Christi. Court records show that Dallas caseworkers were notified in March 1994 that the Sanchez home should be investigated for possible evidence of abuse against the children there. CPS caseworkers and police interviewed Kelly twice in Dallas--once in March 1994 and again in April 1995. They even saw the Norplant. But, caseworkers reported at the time, Kelly denied any abuse. Her case was classified "unable to determine," and her file was closed.

What finally triggered Kelly's decision to go public with her accusations was her fear of marrying her stepfather. Two days after her 14th birthday, Kelly ran away from the Sanchez home and landed at the far northeast Dallas home of Sandra Espinoza, Sanchez's sister. Kelly told Espinoza that Sanchez had been "messing" with her. Espinoza, who eventually would tell a Dallas police detective that she, too, had been molested as a child by a relative, harbored Kelly through the summer. Although Sanchez and several family members would testify that the living arrangement was something Sanchez quickly discovered and accepted, he clearly resented losing control over his stepdaughter.

And on the night of August 10, 1995, the Sanchez family secret blew wide open.

Sanchez, according to police reports and court testimony, went to Espinoza's home to bring Kelly back to his Oak Cliff home. He argued with Kelly and brandished a knife, threatening to "cut her throat" if she did not leave with him. While Espinoza stalled him at the door, a frantic Kelly called 911. Police arrived and arrested Sanchez, who was charged with two counts of sexual assault, aggravated assault, and indecency with a child.

Delia Cantu was arrested a few days later on a warrant of felony indecency with a child. Police tracked her to a seedy motel on Fort Worth Avenue in Oak Cliff. Kelly was with her, along with a younger child and the newest Sanchez daughter, 2-month-old Sonya. Inside the room, police found hastily packed suitcases, ice chests, and an ample supply of diapers. Though Cantu--an undocumented Mexican immigrant who speaks little English--told them little about her plans, it was a simple deduction for police: She was on her way with the children to Mexico.

With the parents locked up, CPS swooped in on the Sanchez home, removing the children almost at once and transferring them to foster homes. Their grandmother, Lilia Sanchez, begged that the children at least be kept together.

Lilia Sanchez saw her three youngest grandchildren for the last time on March 27, 1996. It was the family's "goodbye visit," as CPS caseworkers had dubbed it--the last of weekly supervised visits that had begun six months earlier, when the children were placed in foster care. Kelly, whom the younger children arguably loved more than even their parents, was living in a "therapeutic" foster home with other teenagers and rigid rules. Richard, Monica, and Sonya were together in an Irving foster home.

For the final visit, Lilia and her two daughters, Patricia and Raquel, took Easter baskets filled with candy and little toys.

At 62, Lilia, plump and bespectacled with a thick Mexican accent, is the matriarch of the Sanchez clan. She reared her seven children with the help of Richard Jr., who became head of the household at age 16, after his father abandoned the family. She lives on a monthly Social Security check of $269. The rest of the family's income is sporadic--daughters Patricia and Raquel have drifted from job to job. Her two sons, Eddie and Jerry, also live in the house and work intermittently.

Lilia, Patricia, and Raquel Sanchez first spoke to the Observer last summer, two months after their supervised visits with the children had ended. CPS had stopped the visits after informing the family through caseworker Alison Farmer that the agency had determined the four children would not return to the home. The family was stunned. Indeed, Farmer's regular reports on the children's progress through February 1996, on file in Gaither's court, state that the agency's "permanency plan" for the children was to explore all available options of returning the children to family members. This, in fact, is the standard CPS goal--to reunify a ruptured family whenever possible.

But by March 1996, the agency's position changed--abruptly. The CPS team assigned to the Sanchez-Cantu case, including the court's guardian ad litem for the children, decided after learning more about the Sanchez family's social and criminal history that foster care and eventual adoption would be the best plan for all of the children. It is a position that CPS has only solidified in the past year, explained CPS Legal Services supervisor Katie Gerber, who testified at the termination trial last month.

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Holly Mullen