Longform

The lies that BIND

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"The Sanchez home is an incestuous environment," Gerber said on the stand. "Most all of the adults living there have had criminal convictions. Most of the adults seem not to be aware of or are denying the abuse that has gone on for years.

"And I have great concern that Richard Sanchez is the patriarch of the home. They've never shown they can stand up to Mr. Sanchez."

And so, the Sanchez family was denied visitation with Kelly, Richard, Monica, and Sonya.

CPS recommended continued foster care for the children even after 5-year-old Richard began suffering mysterious seizures, shortly after entering Jim Bushman's state-licensed foster home in August 1995. Along with the seizures, Bushman reported to CPS that Richard frequently lost his balance, stumbled, and fell. Each seizure and any subsequent fall-related injury was documented in CPS files. And, Gerber testified, Richard was under continuing care of a pediatric neurologist at Children's Medical Center.

But the Sanchez family, in their visits with the children, grew increasingly upset at Little Richard's appearance, and questioned CPS officials about his well-being. Lilia and her daughters reported to Farmer, their caseworker, and also to Suzanne Lomenick, the court-appointed guardian, that Little Richard had lost several pounds and had begun pulling out chunks of his hair. He also showed up at several of their weekly visits with bruises on his face.

"When he went into foster care, he was active and happy. He was healthy," Lilia said through tears last summer, sitting at the family dining room table. "During the time we would see him, we saw a big purple bruise above his right eye. And one time he had a big bruise on his cheek. He was losing all this weight. Oh, it was terrible."

At Richard's school, Elliott Elementary in Irving, pre-kindergarten teacher Carol Grimes recorded five suspicious injuries to the boy from October 26, 1995 to March 1, 1996. She reported a bruise on his cheek on October 26, a bruise on his ear on November 2, and two black eyes on November 15. In addition, Grimes reported Richard "had small patches of hair loss and scaly patches on his face."

With each injury she noticed, Grimes wrote in an affidavit to the court, she followed school policy and sent Richard to the school nurse. In early December, Grimes wrote, she received a note from Children's Medical Center telling her that Richard had been found unconscious at his foster home with blood coming from his nose and mouth. He was diagnosed with a severe seizure disorder and had a small line of blood between his brain and skull. He recovered and returned to school.

On February 1, 1996, Grimes noticed more hair loss and a bruise above Richard's right eye. One week later, according to her affidavit, Grimes met for 30 minutes with caseworker Farmer to discuss her concerns about Richard. Farmer, Grimes said, assured her that Richard was safe in his foster home and that the bruises were caused by falls.

"He never had one seizure or fall at school," Grimes said during a break in the termination trial last month. "This always happened at home or at the day care. I was just very concerned for him."

Jim Bushman, Richard's foster father, attended the trial every day, sitting quietly on a bench in the back of the courtroom. He listened intently as Sanchez family members testified of their fears for Richard's safety, all but pointing to Bushman as the source of Richard's injuries. During a court recess, Bushman, a dispatcher for a local trucking firm and a longtime CPS foster parent, produced a photo album crammed with photos of Richard, Monica, and Sonya. In the pictures the children are playing on a swing set and paddling in a wading pool. They are laughing.

"They were happy with us," Bushman said, standing in the courthouse hallway, leafing through the album. "Do these look like neglected kids? Richard fell a couple of times, and we always reported it. We love kids. We take good care of them."

CPS does not suspect or accuse Bushman of any abuse or neglect. Indeed, he and his wife still care for foster children, and have adopted children through the agency.

On April 18, 1996, while watching television with his foster parents, Richard complained of not feeling well. Moments later, according to the medical examiner's report, he suffered a massive seizure. He was taken by ambulance to Children's Medical Center. After two days in a coma, his relatives holding vigil at his bedside, Little Richard died on April 20 at 12:55 a.m. The autopsy lists the cause of death as a seizure disorder. Signed by Dallas County Chief Medical Examiner Jeffrey Barnard, the autopsy states "It is unclear whether this seizure disorder developed as the result of trauma, and if so, at what time the trauma occurred which initiated the seizure disorder or whether seizures led to the head injuries identified at autopsy."

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Holly Mullen