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During the same period, Martin interviewed David's private therapist, who had been seeing the young man to counsel him about the molestation accusations. After obtaining a waiver of confidentiality from David's family, the therapist told the detective that David had confessed to "touching" Michael and Becky, and referred to his patient as "socially inept."
Although armed with an additional reported confession by David and damning testimony from the children, Martin waited more than another month, until August 19, to contact David's mother. Martin did not actually talk to the suspect himself until August 24, almost three months after the Johnsons had originally telephoned police.
"During this period," Marci says, "I was on the phone to the police constantly, trying to find out what was happening and why they wouldn't go out and talk to David. It was dragging on and on, and that just didn't seem to make sense."
Detective Martin did not return calls from New Times, and police spokesman Kevin Robinson declined to respond to repeated inquiries about whether such extended delays are standard in molestation cases.
When Martin finally got around to interrogating David, the young man did little to dispel the suspicions swirling around him. The police report chronicling the interview shows that he began by recanting the confessions he had made to the private therapist, school counselor and Farman--and would only admit to pulling Michael's pants down "a few times," an activity he described as "just playing around."
David then accused Michael and Becky of lying, and insisted that he never touched either on the genitals. Later, however, he admitted to touching both Becky and Julie on the "very top of the leg," several inches to the side of the genitals. David rationalized this behavior by describing the daily atmosphere on the bus as a prepubescent sexual frenzy, with Michael and the two girls "playing and touching each other all over their bodies." He was intrigued, David told the detective, and said he "just wanted to join them."
@body:Although aggravated by the snail's pace of the investigation, the Johnsons remained hopeful. They felt that Martin, albeit with painstaking sloth, had built a strong case against David--and that soon, the justice system would give him what he deserved.
The Johnsons wanted David to receive intensive, court-imposed therapy, not a stiff jail sentence.
"We weren't vindictive about this at all," Marci says. "We just wanted him to be mandated to stay in therapy and get help. He was young enough to be straightened out.
"What we didn't want was for him to get off scot-free and then go his own way, without counseling. If that happened, we felt like he would do to other kids what he did to Michael. That was our worst nightmare."
Increasingly, it appeared that the nightmare would come to pass. After Martin inverviewed David, the case sat idle for another six weeks. Finally, Martin gave Marci Johnson a discouraging status report.
"Martin told me that it wasn't likely that the case could ever be prosecuted," Marci recalls. "He said that the cost of hiring interpreters [to translate] the kids' sign language would be expensive, and the jury would find their testimony hard to understand.
"Deaf kids make lousy witnesses' seemed to be the gist of his position."
The Johnsons say Martin tried to convince them to let the case lapse rather than forward it to county prosecutors, who would expend precious man-hours investigating, then almost certainly refuse to file charges. But the Johnsons insisted, and Martin finally sent his investigative report to assistant county attorney Vince Imbordino.
A week later, the Johnsons received a form letter from Imbordino, saying that since there was "no reasonable likelihood of conviction," the case would be dropped.
After six months of waiting, the Johnsons were unwilling to leave it at that. They sought a more detailed explanation from Imbordino, who told the Johnsons that there were "inconsistencies" in the case. He also echoed Martin's concern about the primary witnesses, Michael and Becky, being able to effectively communicate.
Imbordino, a longtime sex-crimes prosecutor, doesn't deny expense and communication problems were "minor barriers" to prosecution, but he insists that he never told Marci Johnson that those barriers couldn't be overcome.
"Much more importantly, there were inconsistencies in the testimony of the witnesses that I felt would be difficult to get past," he says.
To be sure, there were problems with the case. It is difficult to base any prosecution on the sometimes mercurial testimony of young children. When they are deaf, their testimony becomes even more problematic.
In addition, during Martin's interview with Becky, the 7-year-old was unable to pin down specific days when she was molested.
However, if the little girl had been hazy on dates and times, she had adamantly identified her attacker. Didn't her testimony, along with David's repeated confessions and Michael's consistent, rational account of events, count for anything?
"Look," Imbordino tells New Times. "I want to make one thing clear. Just because we classify a case as having 'no reasonable likelihood' of a conviction doesn't mean there isn't someone out there guilty of a crime.