Expert Tease

A landmark Arizona court ruling leads a Mesa woman, her former physician and expert witnesses through a continuing controversy over flashbacks of long-ago sexual abuse.

Logerquist's legal quest seemed doomed in 1994, after a judge dismissed her lawsuit on statute-of-limitation grounds. But an appellate court in 1997 reversed that ruling on technical grounds, which revived the case.

That decision merited a story in Valley newspapers, which referred to a Mesa pediatrician, without revealing Dr. Danforth's name.

A Mesa woman who read the story soon phoned attorney Kent Turley. She alleged that a Dr. John Danforth had acted inappropriately with her in the late 1960s (when she was about 12), unnecessarily rubbing just above her groin during an exam.

Logerquist toted this ironic sign at the Arizona Diamondbacks' final home game in 1998.
courtesy of Maricopa County Superior Court
Logerquist toted this ironic sign at the Arizona Diamondbacks' final home game in 1998.
Attorney Kent Turley pleaded with the jury to believe Kim Logerquist: "What Dr. Danforth did altered her life drastically for years on end." (Trial judge Kenneth Mangum is in the background.)
Todd H. Lillard
Attorney Kent Turley pleaded with the jury to believe Kim Logerquist: "What Dr. Danforth did altered her life drastically for years on end." (Trial judge Kenneth Mangum is in the background.)

The call thrilled Turley. It was prospective corroborative testimony that could sink Danforth at trial, or at least force serious consideration by the doctor of an out-of-court settlement.

Turley said later he'd expected a flood of calls after hearing from the woman. But it didn't happen. And, as it turned out, her account was fraught with glaring inconsistencies, and was given little weight by jurors at Logerquist's trial.

Another huge hurdle for Logerquist loomed in April 1998, when Maricopa County Judge Michael McVey conducted an important pretrial hearing in the case.

The decision at hand was whether to allow Bessel van der Kolk to testify at Logerquist's trial. In so doing, the judge didn't have to actually study the science and research related to traumatic stress and repressed memories. He just had to determine if the theories espoused by the psychiatrist have been generally accepted by other researchers.

If McVey said they were, van der Kolk would be allowed to testify. If he said they weren't, the jury would never hear the expert's testimony -- clearly a fatal blow to any chances Logerquist might have of winning.

McVey heard lengthy testimony from Kihlstrom and van der Kolk, and arguments from Kent Turley and Kari Zangerle.

In June 1998, the judge ruled against Kim Logerquist.

"Studies in the area of the effect of trauma upon memory are in their infancy," he wrote, ". . . and are not generally accepted in the relevant scientific community of trauma memory researchers."

Logerquist didn't stand a chance without van der Kolk's testimony, and Turley knew it. He appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, which took two years before it issued its stunning ruling in April 2000.

The high court's ruling bucked conventional legal thinking from around the nation -- that judges are more qualified than juries to recognize good science from junk.

Justice Stanley Feldman wrote of Dr. van der Kolk: "We are not dealing with an alchemist attempting to change lead into gold or an astrologer predicting events from the movements of the stars, but one of the leading researchers and authorities in behavioral science."

Feldman said it should be up to the jury, not the trial judge, to decide if Logerquist was telling the truth.

He wrote:

"We are quite sure that the nature of the case and the evidence produced by [Logerquist] may well engender some skepticism in the minds of the jurors, just as it did with the trial judge. But we believe the [case] should be decided by the jury."

Justices Frederick Martone and Ruth McGregor argued vehemently against Feldman and the other two justices, Tom Zlaket and Charles Jones.

"After today's decision," Martone wrote, "any 'expert' can walk into an Arizona courtroom and testify about human behavior without any threshold showing of scientific reliability."

Last November 13, Kim Logerquist, John Danforth and their attorneys settled in Judge Kenneth Mangum's courtroom to pick a jury. Ten Maricopa County residents -- five men and five women -- would decide the case.

The panel included a special-education teacher, police dispatcher, retired program analyst, homemaker, corrections officer, retired tool designer, member of the Arizona Air National Guard, custodian, retirement plan administrator, and freight company employee.

Kim Logerquist sat adjacent to the jury bar, so close that some panelists could have touched her if they'd wished. Her attorneys, Kent Turley and his associate, David Davis, sat next to her, organizing mounds of paperwork.

Across the room, Frank Parks and Kari Zangerle also readied themselves next to Danforth, who chatted nervously with his wife, Mary, and one of their daughters. (Many of the couple's eight children attended the trial at various times.)

Said Turley in his opening statement last November 15:

"Kim's case is essentially that childhood sexual abuse occurred, that her memories were blocked, not by her intentionally or anything -- just happened -- and her life has been a nightmare ever since."

Frank Parks took his turn after Turley. Deliberate and thorough in his presentation, Parks said Kim Logerquist's memories were, at best, tainted:

"Dr. Davis and the therapists suggested to her that an explanation for her problems, for her suicide attempts, for overdosing on medication, her hospitalizations, her bulimia, her overweight, may be due to sexual abuse. They planted that seed in her."

Kim Logerquist took the stand early in the trial. She said her problems -- obesity, self-mutilation, bulimia and depression, to name some -- had plagued her long after she'd had her "flashbacks."

Logerquist evoked tears from empathetic jurors after her attorney asked her why she'd sued Danforth. "Because the things he did to me when I was a child are so awful that he has to be held accountable for what he did," she said. "He can't get away with it. He just cannot get away with this."

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