The lies that BIND

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Teacher Carol Grimes wonders if what finally beat Little Richard was abject despair. "In my eight years of teaching, I have never observed a child with such an intensity of mental pain," she wrote in her court affidavit. "After winter break it appeared his sadness escalated into utter hopelessness. He cried constantly and begged to be reunited with his sisters, especially Kelly," Grimes wrote. "One day I suggested he write a letter to Kelly. I wrote it verbatim, as he dictated:"

Dear Kelly,
How many days are we going to get back together again? Tell the cops to let my dad get out of jail. His name is Richard like my name is. Let Delia get out from somewhere. Let my sister get back together again.

To a person, CPS officials agree that Richard's death is a tragedy. But all have denied that negligence or a breakdown in the system contributed to his death. They discuss the Sanchez family's concerns and the details of Little Richard's death in the coolest and most detached of manners.

"A great deal of the time, parents will complain of the appearance of their children in foster care," said CPS supervisor Katie Gerber, in her trial testimony. "It is very often an attempt to distract attention from the real issues."

What happened to Richard, Gerber said after the trial, will never be fully explained. But the responsibility for his death does not rest on CPS.

"You can't explain it," she said. "But I know the Lord has a plan, and I have to rest on that."

But Lyle Medlock, the court-appointed lawyer representing Delia Cantu during the trial, was not content to rest on such faith. After peppering CPS officials throughout the trial with questions about Richard's deteriorating condition, he blasted the agency during his closing argument to the jury.

"There is a sad, sad irony here," he said. The Sanchez family had tried for months to bring Richard and his siblings home. "Richard finally made it home to his family all right, but he made it home in a coffin."

Two weeks after Richard's funeral, Kelly Cantu met for the last time with psychologist Theresa Vo. Kelly had stopped taking Prozac, the anti-depressant prescribed earlier that was helping level out her moods. She was living in her second therapeutic foster home after having run away from the first home a few months earlier.

A deeply grieving Kelly, Vo wrote in her notes, "says her mind has gone blank." She says she "has forgotten all about the abuse." She says "all she wants is her mother out of jail," and she feels that "Richard Sanchez will not do it again."

One month later, Kelly ran away from her Grand Prairie foster home. Dallas police made up a bulletin with her picture--a smiling 14-year-old with shiny brown eyes. The district attorney's investigators have scoured the area for her. CPS officials believe Sanchez family members know of her whereabouts, may even be hiding her to prevent her from testifying against her mother, but family members deny it.

And Kelly remains to be found.

Four months after Richard Sanchez was found guilty of sexually abusing Bertha Cantu and jailed for life, his family and CPS squared off in juvenile court. The long-awaited termination and conservatorship trial had been delayed several times already--CPS was struggling to locate Kelly, and a required study of Lilia Sanchez's home, which had languished for months, had to be completed. Alison Farmer, the CPS caseworker who worked for more than a year on the case, had quit the agency early in the year.

Finally, on April 1, the trial began.
Lilia, Patricia, and Raquel Sanchez had retained Mary Everson, a small, bookish family law attorney in solo practice, to press their case as the best custodians for the children. The court appointed Dallas lawyer Ronald Aland, whose specialty is business litigation, to represent Richard Sanchez. DeSoto lawyer Lyle Medlock, a former prosecutor in the county's juvenile division, was assigned to Delia Cantu.

Aland--tall, lean, and wise-cracking--knew from the outset the challenge he faced. Two days into the trial, Sanchez, sitting in leg irons beside Aland at the counsel table, took a legal pad, scrawled CONSPIRACY on it in big, block letters and held it up to the jury. Judge Hal Gaither, who was looking the other way and missed the stunt, was informed of it by the bailiff and reprimanded Sanchez the next day.

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Holly Mullen