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Murder Nontheless
— by Steven
Long

The victim stood trapped in a steel box as the assailant stood above
repeatedly stabbing her in the back. He was aiming to sever the spinal cord but
continued to miss. Finally, on the 13th thrust of the stiletto like knife she
dropped to her knees and lay on the concrete floor, her spine destroyed, but her
mind very much alive. A chain was wrapped around her numb legs and she was
hoisted head down as she saw a sharp knife come toward her and felt the slice
into her carotid artery. Finally, mercifully, she lost consciousness as her four
feet were chopped from her body.

This murder was unusual because it was documented by a news photographer from
a Texas newspaper. You see, she and a reporter had penetrated the bloody halls
of a slaughterhouse in Juarez, Mexico. The story by San Antonio Express News
reporter Lisa Sandburg has stunned the nation, and perhaps will finally persuade
Congress to move to pass an act that will finally end this horror. The story
broke simultaneously also in the Houston Chronicle.

The Mexican abattoir, and another in Canada, has been busy since equine
slaughter was finally outlawed by the legislatures of Texas and Illinois, and
the laws banning the killing of horses for human consumption were upheld in two
federal appellate courts.

America has never had a hunger for horse meat, yet it is considered a pricy
delicacy in parts of Europe and Japan. Years ago, two foreign owned companies
saw an opportunity and opened slaughterhouses in Fort Worth and Kaufman, Texas,
and also in DeKalb, Illinois. For years, despite protests from local residents,
the killing of horses took place in these locations to the tune of 100,000 per
year until the two Texas plants were shut down late last year, and the Illinois
kill was closed a couple of months back.

And make no mistake about it; the method of killing a horse in America was no
less painful, cruel, and clumsy than in the foreign slaughterhouses. It was just
mechanized. The U.S. plants used what is called a captive bolt gun. With this
device, a rod was discharged with the idea of hitting the head sufficient enough
to stun the animal who was about to meet its maker and be transformed from a
living beautiful creature to red meat displayed in a foreign butcher shop.

But the captive bolt missed its mark as often as not and the horses endured
unspeakable suffering until they were finally subdued by a lucky strike. As in
Mexico, horses were hoisted by one leg into the air, their throat slashed, and
they were dismembered – as they bled to death.

The killing of horses for their meat is big business. The industry would have
you believe that only old, broken, frail, and useless horses go to slaughter.
That is the big lie. Fat, healthy, horses are bought at auctions across the land
not because they are useless and old, but because they are healthy and filled
with meat. Most often, their owners take them to the auction hoping that the
horse they have loved for years will go to another adoring home to be used for
wholesome recreation.

Recently I was sent a chilling photograph. It showed the carcasses of horses
inside a kill plant hoisted in the process line. Below, their hooves had just
been severed. In the foreground was a hoof with a horseshoe on it. That horse
was never meant for slaughter. It had been cared for by a farrier in the past
six weeks (the proscribed period for shoeing a horse). Its owner had paid the
farrier at least $80 to trim and shoe the animal. The horse clearly had gone to
auction, its owner hoping it would be sold into a good life as a work horse at
worst, or as a pleasure horse which was more likely.

Instead, the highest bidder was the “killer buyer,” a bottom feeder in the
horse industry. From that point on, the horse knew nothing but misery. At
auction’s end, it was loaded on huge crowded trailer, taken to a feed lot likely
hundreds of miles away, and then shipped on a cattle truck with ceilings built
for low slung cattle. From there, the horse was again shipped hundreds of miles
to the slaughter plant.

The cruelty which goes on 24/7 in this business is unspeakable.

Congress now has before it the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. It
will not only outlaw slaughter from the federal level, it will also make illegal
the transport of horses to slaughter, including transport to plants currently
operating in Mexico and Canada.

Until that happens, horses will still be stabbed to death, be hoisted by
their feet in the air, their throats slashed, and then be bled to death as their
bodies are cut apart while still living. If this happened to humans it would
make the horrors of Auschwitz look merciful.

Clara Harris Fights
Attorney George Parnham

— by Steven
Long

I got a call the other day from a lawyer wanting to interview the author of
Out of Control, the story of the murder of Dr. David Harris by his
dentist wife Clara. The Colombian born one time beauty contest winner was
convicted by a Texas jury and sentenced to 20 years in the slammer. She is suing
her lawyer, famed Houston criminal defense attorney George Parnham.

Informed appellate sources close to the case say it has merit – perhaps has
merit in spades.

The lawsuit, filed by Houston attorney Dean Blumrosen, alleges Parnham
violated an original fee agreement of $75,000 by charging Harris $235.000; never
provided invoices; told Harris to sign a security agreement only protecting his
interests; and filed a lien on her properties the day before she was to be
sentenced.

Moreover, the suit claims Parnham charged her more than $10,000 for another
law firm to draw up papers that only benefited him.

But the most damning allegation in the lawsuit is the claim that “Mr Parnham
was unaware that the legal defense of accident had been abolished in 1973, up
until the State of Texas rested Plaintiff’s criminal case.”

Tilt.

Yep, you got it. Parnham claimed at trial that the murder of Clara Harris
husband David was in fact an accident.

Last year the bearded lawyer and an appellate team got the conviction of
another notorious client tossed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Andrea
Yates conviction was overturned, the result of a spectacular feat of lawyering
and a whopper told on the stand by a respected witness. Convicted of killing her
five children, Yates will likely spend the rest of her life in a psychiatric
hospital instead of in the slammer, convicted of capital murder. In fact, if she
takes her medicine and responds favorably to treatment, Andrea someday could
walk free.

And what of the whopper that opened the doors to the jail for her? Famed
forensic psychiatrist, sometimes derisively called “Hollywood” Park Dietz for
his courtship of the media, did his part to shorten Andrea Yates’ stay in prison
when he either became so full of himself that he exaggerated his testimony in
her trial – or outright lied to help the prosecution. Dietz claimed in sworn
testimony that he had consulted on a segment of “Law and Order ” in which a
woman killed her children and then got off with an insanity defense. No such
episode ever aired.

I had been tipped that Dietz had allegedly told a big one by my friend
Suzanne O’Malley, author of Are You There Alone?. I was covering the trial for
the New York Post, dictating the facts of the day’s event to the re-write desk.
O’Malley told me I would be getting a call from the show’s executive producer to
confirm what she had told me.

I dutifully informed the tabloid, and was completely ignored in their frenzy
facing looming deadlines. It was an unusual lapse. Ordinarily the newspaper
would have jumped to beat their arch rival, the New York Daily News. I quickly
filed the lost scoop away in the spilt milk column and went home to dinner. At
about seven o’clock the phone rang, and as promised, Dick Wolf, producer of “Law
and Order” was telling me the most famous psychiatrist in America had lied on
the stand (Wolf has just picked up yet another Emmy for his (“Bury My Heart at
Wounded Knee”).

I frantically dialed the Post again. Getting anyone on the line was futile I
was told. It was a lost opportunity, and the newspaper had blown it big
time.

During later testimony I told Dietz about the call. His response was to ask
if we would report it on Page 6, the Post’s hugely read gossip slot.

O’Malley was incredulous when I told her what had happened the following day
at court. She skillfully leaked the information to another source and the rest
is history. Suzanne wrote about my experience in Are You There Alone. I wasn’t
embarrassed about losing the scoop. I had tried to get it in the paper.

She also told Parnham. He attempted to get the judge to reconsider Dietz’
testimony. The judge, full of herself, rock hard and pompous, was a former
prosecutor hell bent on helping her former colleagues from the DA’s office
convict Yates. She would hear nothing of the sort from the likes of an uppity
defense attorney. Judge Belinda Hill was cut from the mold of Harris County
prosecutors who gave Texas a dubious lead in the number death sentences and
executions nationwide. The office is characterized with concern for conviction
rates often leaving justice trampled on the courthouse color.

Parnham faced much the same kind of judge when he defended Clara Harris.
Although the wealthy dentist was clearly guilty, she drew a bad card when her
trial fell into the venue of Judge Carol Davies, another former prosecutor. The
judge was limited in her elocution skills. When she spoke, one syllable words
were converted to three in her strong East Texas twang. Moreover, while Hill was
decidedly pro-prosecution in her rulings, Davies manifested physical revulsion
toward the defendant, frequently showing it with her body language as I
described in Out of Control.

In both trials, the deck was stacked against the defense attorney by the
court itself.

And on top of all that, during the Clara Harris trial, George Parnham got
sick. When he collapsed in the courtroom, the cynic in me jumped to the fore. I
had seen a defense lawyer cause a minor diversion in a trial before when famed
Austin attorney Roy Minton became seriously ill during the seven month trial of
the Autumn Hills Nursing Home chain and it’s executives (still the longest trial
in Texas history). It was the subject of my first book, Death Without
Dignity
. My instincts then also told me that the rotund Mr. Minton was not
ill but was using a lawyer’s trick to secure sympathy from the jury. In both
cases, I was wrong in my suspicions. Yet in both cases, the lawyers were capable
of such a ruse if they believed something like that would work to their client’s
advantage.

Parnham’s collapse happened on a Friday, largely due to fatigue and a cold.
He was back the following Monday. Minton’s was much more serious. When he
returned to court a month later he had shed more than 50 pounds putting him in
fine shape to finish the trial and help secure a hung jury as one of six top
Texas lawyers defending the chain and it’s brass.

The inescapable fact in the Clara Harris trial is that George Parnham
presented a flawed case, a lackluster and often bumbling performance as a trial
lawyer, and one of the most astonishing defenses in the history of criminal
jurisprudence. Equally inescapable was the virtually indisputable fact that his
client, in a fit of temper, had killed her philandering husband who she had
caught red handed with his girlfriend in a Texas Hilton hotel. What’s more, the
killing had been caught on video by a detective hired by Clara Harris
herself

At trial, Parnham claimed that his client had struck David Harris once by
accident, and then accidentally ran over him again and again. As it turned out,
the jury believed she drove her S Class Mercedes, with only six inches of
clearance from the ground, in a circle meat grinding her husband as many as five
times as testified by eyewitnesses.

I thought the accident defense was silly the first time George told me about
it over dinner and drinks in an upscale Houston restaurant. To make such a claim
was at best, ridiculous, at worst incompetent. I lean toward the latter and
wrote as much in Out of Control.

I watched Parnham work in both the Yates trial and the Harris case. His
performance before the jury in both cases was lackluster. However, he did one
thing right. In the courtroom he evoked sympathy from the press, if not the
jurors. My heart wrenched when I sat on a hard oak bench and watched the clearly
mentally ill Andrea Yates hear her life sentence. My gut churned as Clara Harris
folded in Parnham’s arms in near collapse as the once successful dentist and mom
learned she could spend almost two decades in prison.

I like George Parnham. I just wouldn’t want him for my lawyer if I was in a
jam.

Yet in the sense that he was able to evoke compassion in not only me, but in
virtually the entire press gallery of about 50 cynical journalists says
something about him – in fact it says a lot. Both Yates and Harris should have
been treated more mercifully by their jurors, the observers who count. They were
not. In both cases, they doled out a harsh punishment in which both women would
spend scores of years in jail, suburban professionals and moms turned into
faceless creatures on the anthill that is a modern American prison.

Clara Harris’ lawsuit against the lawyer who stood by her throughout her
original incarceration and subsequent trial comes as no surprise. I learned from
close friends of hers that from the moment she was found guilty by that Harris
County jury, Clara Harris was pissed at her lawyer. And if the allegations in
the suit are even close to the truth, George Parnham has a lot to answer
for.

Lawyers talk a lot about fiduciary responsibility. They should. Their
relationship with the clients who pay them is every bit as sacred as that of the
priest hearing a confessional, the military officer leading men into battle, and
the physician who must use his expertise to make a patient well, or at least
better. At the very least, the defense of Clara Harris by George Parnham was
stumbling, bumbling, silly, and ultimately inept. And although I liked the
defendant when she ultimately took the stand, the jury didn’t and that was all
that counted.

After all, claiming a killing such as the murder of David Harris is an
accident is as far fetched as a claim that the wounds to the back of Abraham
Lincoln’s head came from a cat scratch.

He used a defense outlawed by the state in 1973? Whew!

When the
Heat Turns up on Romney

— by Steven
Long

GOP presidential wannabe Mitt Romney is a daring man. He is running for the
Oval Office with full knowledge that his beliefs and the beliefs of millions
like him will be put under the glare of media scrutiny. That is a place where
many of his Mormon faith find distinct discomfort. I know, because I plunged
headlong into that world writing about a tragic event in Utah, the heartland of
the LDS Church.

Romney won the Iowa GOP straw poll. That fact alone has increased the media
scrutiny on a candidate uncomfortable with it. He has already flared on a
conservative radio talk show in the state when asked about his Mormon religion.
That is only the beginning, and as the media asks more and more probing
questions about his faith, I predict he will flame out as a candidate for the
Oval office.

Why? Because I have personal experience with the very thin skins of many who
are practicing members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. When
Mormon beliefs and practice are illuminated by the media spotlight, many in the
church cringe. Others strike out, as I found out when I found my book on a Utah
murder case the brunt of a relentless attack of bad reviews on Amazon.

Every Woman’s Nightmare, (St. Martin’s Press) is the story of the
tragic and disgusting murder of Lori Hacking by her husband Mark, after
discovering he had been lying to her about his acceptance into the medical
school of the University of North Carolina. She was shot in the head as she
slept, her body thrown in a dumpster and later buried with garbage in the Salt
Lake City dump. The search for her remains gripped the nation.

Woven into the book is the story of a deeply religious Mormon family. During
my research, and after the book’s publication, I learned that some members of
the faith regard its inner workings and rituals as secret, only available to the
initiated. Yet I had a story to tell, and revealing those secrets was a part of
giving my reader the full picture of the world in with Lori and Mark Hacking
grew to adulthood and embraced.

As a journalist, I have always believed that few secrets are off limits to
members of my profession, none the least of which those of a church which goes
out of its ways to hide its core beliefs from outsiders.

Had I not written about the Mormon Church, Every Woman’s Nightmare,
would have been just another boring scribble about domestic violence. I don’t
waste my time, or my readers either, by writing about such droll soap opera
upheavals in a marriage gone bad.

Lori and her brother Paul were adopted children of Portuguese descent. Their
parents ultimately divorced and the children were split between their father and
mother. Lori was raised in Orem, about 45 miles from Salt Lake’s Temple Square,
the two were regular attendees at the Ward House at the end of their street.
Mark was an enthusiastic elder, an active participant in a church which
dominated the couple’s lives, as does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day
Saints in the lives of the majority of residents of the Beehive State.

So when I traveled to Salt Lake City, I naively expected to find members of a
church community willing to talk about the tragedy that had happened in their
midst. I wanted, and expected, full cooperation from the Mormon Church when I
went to Temple Square, walked into a visitor’s center situated at the epicenter
of Mormonism, and asked for directions to the sect’s public information office.
In a lifetime of journalism, I have never encountered anything but openness and
cooperation from church administrators and clerics.

A very nice elderly man quickly got on the phone and connected me with the
church flacks. I informed them of my mission, to write a book for a major New
York publisher on the tragic death and heroic hunt for the body of Lori
Hacking.

First, there was silence as cold as Brigham Young’s tombstone for a time, and
then came the inevitable “We’ll get back to you” moment. I instantly knew it was
circle the wagons time as the Mormons closed ranks around their own. Later that
evening, I got a call from the big guy, an uptight fellow named Dale Bills, the
official spokesman for the fastest growing religion in America, if not the
world. I was informed that “We will not be taking part in this.”

I was polite, yet I don’t take doors slammed in my face gracefully by an ice
cold flack or anybody else. No good journalist does. Yet the church had shunned
me and I had been shunned by none other than the chief Mormon flack at that. I
suppose deep down I felt flattered. They were taking my presence seriously.

Shunned though I was, I had done the ethical thing. I had offered the church
the opportunity to refute everything I would eventually present about it in my
yet to be published book and they had rebuffed the opportunity.

I had halfway expected this sort of treatment. I didn’t know much Mormon
history at the time, but I darned sure knew that its Prophet, Joseph Smith, had
been brutally murdered by an angry mob after he had been outrageous one too many
times on June 27, 1844. The loss of Smith was just the beginning of horrendous
self inflicted bad luck that would visit the Mormons and their leadership. It
was of little wonder to me that they wouldn’t want a “gentile” like myself
poking around their innermost secrets, and reporting beliefs that most believers
would consider alien, if not downright goofy. Who could blame them for closing
ranks around their own? I certainly didn’t.

Yet to the average Mormon, beliefs cherished since childhood were anything
but goofy, alien, or strange. However, deep down, most know that the Mormon
Church is out of the American mainstream of denominations. And while it sends
legions of missionaries worldwide to make converts, the church is not open to
outsiders in many ways.

Rather than embracing their history, the writings of their forbearers, and
fundamental beliefs, when public scrutiny by outsiders happens, the Mormons
often run from it, hide it, and when confronted directly about it, speak in
vague generalities. Theirs is a colorful and truly heroic past, but all too
often only a sanitized story is told by church spin doctors.

The Lori Hacking case was a media circus that brought the glare of publicity
to Salt Lake City, and at the center of it was her mother. Like the tender
hearted across America, my heart gushed rivers for Thelma Soares. But it was
around her that the wagons circled their tightest. It was a circle that would
not be unbroken, and I tried to breach the tight Mormon web around her and
eventually made contact with her spokesman through her bishop who was
momentarily accommodating. Eventually, I was told she would talk to me, however,
Thelma and her handlers had determined she deserved a return for the investment
of time it would take to sit down with and author to discuss her relationship
with her daughter Lori.

“You are doing this book for money, aren’t you?” her spokesman said matter of
fact, his voice a monotone. “She will talk to you, but she needs something in
return.”

I have never paid for an interview in my life, and never will. I briefly put
up a fight saying that doing so would be a violation of journalistic ethics. In
the end though I knew I would have to get firsthand information as best I could.
Fortunately, Lori’s brother Paul was more than willing to help out on my project
and we became good friends.

Thelma Soares wanted to profit from her adopted daughter’s death. I would
later learn that the gentle grieving mother portrayed on television would write
a scathing review on Amazon of my book for which she was receiving nothing. When
it came out, I had to wonder if the review would have been positive had I played
ball with her handlers and offered to pay Thelma.

Without cooperation from Thelma, I determined to hit the books, cram as much
Mormon history as I could into my mind, and spend shoe leather on the pavement
retracing the steps of Mark Hacking the night he killed his wife. And like any
investigative journalist, I determined to talk to as many insiders as
possible.

Learning of the inner workings and practice of the religion was easy. My wife
is of pioneer Mormon stock – some of whom have lapsed. And one of the lapsed
ones is a cleric, an Episcopal priest, in fact. It was through him and his first
person accounts that I learned of how everyday Mormons practice their religions.
It was also through him that I got a insider’s look at the lives of the Mormon
faithful. It was also through him that I learned the intimate details of the
wedding ceremony that causes so many faithful young Mormons to become
disillusioned enough to leave the church.

I like to say I write books about lawyers, not about murders. After all, a
murder is a pretty boring event. Taken to its lowest common denominator, living
flesh is turned into dead flesh in an instant. What makes a case interesting is
the skill of the lawyer before a jury as they practice their ancient craft. And
sometimes the skill is never seen as lawyers work behind the scenes for their
clients.

Over a career that is becoming increasingly long, I’ve seen many of the best.
I’ve written books about them, and hundreds, if not thousands, of stories about
their cases. Two veteran lawyers, Gilbert Athay and Bob Stott would face each
other should the case ever come to trial. Both knew it never would. Yet their
machinations and the charade played by both were interesting.

I couldn’t have written about Athay and Stott without talking with their
contemporaries. Athay, for the defense, is a longtime liberal crusader against
the death penalty. Stott, is a career prosecutor, a Mormon, and already the
controversial subject of a book, The Mormon Murders, in which it is
alleged he protected the interests of the church over justice in a particularly
bizarre case.

And then there is Utah itself. Nature looks down upon that state and smiles.
While the desert of the Great Basin is a wasteland of truly biblical
proportions, the grandeur of the Wasatch and High Uinta Mountains is
unsurpassed. All that being said, it is without a doubt the most backward state
in the union, making Alabama look almost progressive. Why? Because the wagons
have been circled so long by the conservative Mormon hierarchy against gentiles
and their influence many institutions harken back to the 1950s. What’s more,
many Utahans would have it no other way.

There are few states today in which to get a drink in a public place you have
to “join” a private club, or where alcohol is sold only in state owned and run
stores. Utah is at the top of that very short list. The sale and public
consumption of alcohol is only one item on a long list of quirks about the state
I found interesting, and delightful in a perverse sort of way. Another is its
politics. The legislature is dominated by Mormon elected officials who are among
the most conservative politicians anywhere. Members of the LDS Church largely
vote as a block, at least in much of Utah. I recall seeing a chilling poster of
a man running for Congress once on a country road in the southern part of the
state. It showed a well dressed, beefy, white male. On it were written two
messages, his name, and the caption, “He’s one of us.”

Not a week goes by without a major story in a major daily newspaper about
polygamy. Tell me one other state in which that happens?

Yet all of Utah is not a throwback to a long vanished America. Salt Lake City
tries. It even elected liberal Mayor Rocky Anderson to head its government, much
to the consternation of the conservatives who must deal with him. And worse
still, gentiles have surpassed the faithful within the city in the census. And
the crowning blow – an openly gay Democrat represents the district housing
Temple Square in the state senate.

So in writing Every Woman’s Nightmare I had two primary elements to
deal with, the domestic tragedy of a young couple’s marriage, and the incredibly
interesting atmosphere in which they grew up. It is an atmosphere that has
evolved an “Us Against the World” attitude which has even resulted in violence
against innocent people simply because they weren’t Mormon. In September, 1857,
a wagon train crossing Utah was attacked and more than 100 innocent pioneers
were massacred at Mountain Meadows west of Cedar City. While the modern church
has long denounced the killings, outsiders are still decidedly — well,
outsiders.

As I delved into Mormon history I learned that the flock has a convenient
habit of forgetting the foibles of their pioneer ancestors, including Joseph
Smith himself.

Mormons are an abstemious lot. They don’t drink, smoke, or take coffee into
their bodies. Yet the Prophet himself, Joseph Smith, ran a bar for a time until
his first of many wives, Emma, threatened to throw him out of the house. And
Brigham Young once thundered in a speech in the Mormon Tabernacle itself that
the faithful men of the church must absolutely stop spitting tobacco juice on
the building’s floor.

And even today some, no many, Mormons have difficulty leaving the past
behind. Old habits die hard, and for Fundamentalist Mormons, the habit of
polygamy hasn’t died at all.

The Mormon faith is a belief of prophecy and revelation. Its leader communes
directly with God – and more importantly, the faithful believe God talks back.
Such was the case in 1890 when Utah desperately wanted to join the Union. Yet
Washington made it clear that its populace would have to give up plural marriage
before the prospect would even be considered. In a revelation of convenience,
the Prophet of the moment ordered scores of Mormon men to choose a single wife
and Utah became a state in 1896.

While plural marriage is officially a thing of the past in the mainstream LDS
Church, the institution of a man with one wife is embraced with reverence and is
an integral part of the faith. Lori’s husband, Mark Hacking (as incompetent a
killer as ever walked the earth) was destined upon his own death to become a God
of his own planet. Yep, you read it right. Had he not killed his wife, Mormon
orthodoxy holds that Mark, if he remained a righteous man to the end of his
days, would get his own world, surrounded by his happy family. And since Mormon
marriage stipulates a bond for “Time and all Eternity,” then if the marriage
hadn’t worked out and had not ended in murder, too bad for the wife. At her own
death, she was stuck with the man she had married long ago but couldn’t stomach
after living with him. It is a pesky detail the prophets haven’t quite worked
out yet.

Such beliefs are definitely different from those of mainstream Protestants,
Catholics, Jews, and Muslims. Many fundamentalist Christians such as Baptists
find Mormonism so obnoxious to their preconceptions of faith that they brand the
church’s practitioners a cult.

And much of the Republican base which will decide if Mitt Romney should
receive the nomination is Baptist or a part of another similar sect. The former
Massachusetts governor has a hill as difficult to climb as any slope at
Snowbird.

When Every Woman’s Nightmare was released in April, 2006, it was met
with a firestorm of Mormon indignation in online reviews posted with Amazon.
When Lori Hacking’s mother took her pound of my flesh she said, “I’m Lori’s
mother, so I have a pretty good understanding of what happened. If Mr. Long
wanted to find accurate information about us “Mormons” and the religious
doctrines in which we believe, he should have asked Church Public Relations, not
an excommunicated member who carries a grudge. As a lifetime member of the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I barely recognize the religion Mr.
Long describes. And, this book is full of errors, errors, errors! Where are St.
Martins “fact checkers”? I think Lori is having a pretty good laugh, barely
recognizing herself in this book. Readers beware!”

I suppose I should have paid her after all. And yes, the church PR flacks
were the first to get a call from me. Hmmm. What’s more, I treated Thelma Soares
gently, reverently in the book.

While Thelma berated me and my work online, Lori brother Paul came to my
defense on Amazon saying that “Lori was every brother’s dream and this book
portrays who and what Lori really was. I feel the book was well written and
provides a good basis for this case.”

Paul continued, saying “This book is not anti-Mormon nor is the author
anti-Mormon. The people who write that this book is anti-Mormon are portraying
their own opinion. I know in my opinion that this book is nothing to do with the
LDS Church, except for the fact, that this story occurred in Utah where so much
of daily life is intertwined with the LDS Church.”

Paul ended his Amazon review saying, “This story is a tragedy that has
affected not only the families involved but everyone who become in contact with
this story. This book, in general, captures the feelings, emotions, and facts
that occurred over the search for Lori, Mark’s trial, and all points in
between.”

In researching and writing Every Woman’s Nightmare I learned several
indisputable facts. Many Mormons aren’t familiar their historical past. Others,
because they grew up with Mormon doctrine don’t understand why those of other
faiths find their beliefs and practices strange, alien, bizarre, and frankly
balderdash.

The Mormon faith will find itself increasingly under media scrutiny as GOP
presidential hopeful Mitt Romney makes his quest for the White House. The
candidate has thus far finessed soft ball questions from a timid press unwilling
to offend. That likely will not last. Some snotty reporter will eventually have
the gumption to ask the man who would be the leader of the free world if he
truly believes in the Mormon doctrine of Blood Atonement as postulated by
Brigham Young (look it up).

The questions will be hard, and an entire state will likely cringe, wanting
to withdraw tortoise-like into its protective hard shell. Yet this time there
will be no Amazon web site to provide an easy and unchallenged platform for
those in denial to vent.

Suggested Reading:

No Man Knows My History, Fawn M.
Brodie

The Mormon Murders, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White
Smith

Texas Vet Board Targets Dentists – Are Farriers Next?

The Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners is forging ahead like a
southbound freight to shut down equine dentists, a trade that has sprung up and
is increasingly popular among horse owners. And the dentists are fighting back.
On 28, 2007 they filed suit in an Austin court to stop the board dead in its
tracks. Who knows what the next step will be in an ongoing battle between the
board and the folks who many Texas horse owners believe are best qualified to
work on a horse’s teeth.

Last February, ten Texas dentists received a cease and desist order
essentially telling them to shut down their lucrative practices. Sources have
told Texas Horse Talk Magazine these practitioners are making between $50,000
and $100,000 per year.

Horse owners and members of the trades who serve them have long worried that
veterinarians would attempt someday to get control of sub-practices such as
dentistry and hoof care. Farriers have long worried their days of being
unregulated could come to an end. Horse owners often speak among themselves
about the fear that veterinarians could someday put a stop to the practice
themselves medicating their horses with drugs that otherwise require a
prescription to be administered to humans.

Equine chiropractors already must practice under the watchful eye of a vet,
although many of them also practice on people under their own license.

The effort is the outgrowth of an addition to the Veterinary Licensing Act
passed by the legislature in 2005 that adds dentistry to those disciplines
classified as veterinary medicine. Heretofore, the care of a horse’s mouth was
unregulated.

There are right at a million horses in Texas according to a study by Texas
A&M. Each of them needs dental care, be it a simple float, removal of
painful wolf teeth, or more, some considerably more. And if the animal is a
performance horse, that may be considerably more.

Many large animal vets won’t work on a horse’s mouth. Others see that is a
lucrative part of their practice.

Veterinarians with large animal practices have increasingly found it
difficult to make a living in a profession that often requires “barn calls” to
remote areas and the maintenance of costly facilities to house patients at their
clinics, plus the purchase of an expensive “vet truck” to take on the road.

In fact, in Houston alone, three equine vets familiar to THT have abandoned
their practice in the last two years.

Why? It is just so hard to get started and then maintain a client base. Small
animal vets have it easier, first because there are vastly more patients in the
dog and cat world than there are in the equine world, and because popping
vaccinations and setting broken bones is both quick and easy.

And the trend appears to be national in scope. Rookie veterinarians fresh out
of school are strapped with whopping debt and gravitate toward a practice that
will be quickly lucrative. What is more, Texas’ large animal vets are aging and
their shoes are often not being filled with fresh talent. The sad fact is that
although many would be vets dream of a life’s work caring for horses, it is just
an awfully tough way to make a living. It gets just that much harder when work
once performed by a vet is increasingly going somewhere else, somewhere such as
to a lay dentist.

Floating a horse’s teeth is a small part of care for a horse’s mouth, yet
most vets who will even look there do little more for the animal beyond a simple
float or removal of wolf teeth and would likely refer serious problems somewhere
else – perhaps even to a lay dentist.

The fact is, vet school curriculum is woefully inadequate when it comes to
teaching Texas veterinarians what to do inside the mouth of a horse. In a
statement released by Texas A&M to THT, the school said, “For students who
track towards mixed animal practice or large animal practice, there is an
elective available in Equine dentistry. All of these students are required to
take a general dentistry course. These happen usually in their third year. In
the fourth year, students go into clinical rotations. Their exposure to
dentistry and specifically equine dentistry is significant for through these
rotations, as they often perform procedures on multiple animals daily.”

Do they?

“They get about a week of equine dentistry in vet school,” counters North
Texas equine dentist Dena Corbin. “What’s more, that’s an elective course.”

Corbin has vastly more education than that. She holds a four year veterinary
technology degree and has completed four years of dental schooling as well, and
has worked as a human dental assistant. Her knowledge of a horses’ mouth is
considerably more comprehensive than most Texas vets.

Yet A&M Spokeswoman Angela Clendenin says that equine dentists may face
other obstacles they are not prepared for. “There are also underlying issues
that affect dental health that are covered under the standard veterinary
curriculum, such as anatomy, nutrition, toxicology, etc. that would not
necessarily be available to the ‘lay’ dentist.”

But one vet who has been through the A&M dental course says it was
inadequate when she was there.

Longtime Texas Horse Talk columnist Dr. Marcia DuBois says that her equine
dental education consisted of the standard week at Texas A&M, with no hands
on lab work whatsoever.

“It was all looking over the shoulders of other students three or four deep
into a horses mouth as the work was done on the horse by a professor or
specialist,” she said.

In fact, even the state veterinary licensing board now trying to shut down
Texas equine dentists notified the School of Veterinary Medicine at Texas
A&M in a 2004 report that its curriculum needed improvement saying “The
Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine should examine its curriculum to
determine if changes should be made to encourage increased proficiency in the
skills of dentistry, especially for large animals.”

“The Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine should examine its
curriculum to determine if changes should be made to encourage increased
proficiency in the skills of dentistry, especially for large animals.”

Soon Texas horse owners will not have a choice in dental care. The law is on
the side of the board because it clearly states that included in the practice of
veterinary medicine is dentistry.

On February 23, 2007, the board sent Corbin and the nine other Texas equine
dentists the letter stating in part that “advertising and/or practicing animal
dentistry by a person not licensed as a veterinarian is illegal.” (Corbin has
advertised in THT, and worked on management’s horses).

The letter stated that Corbin (and her colleagues who received a similar
notification) was in violation of the Veterinary Licensing Act which defines
veterinary medicine to include, veterinary surgery, reproduction and obstetrics,
dentistry, ophthalmology, dermatology, cardiology and any other discipline or
specialty of veterinary medicine.” The letter went on to say that a person may
not “practice, attempt or offer to practice veterinary medicine unless the
person holds a veterinary license.”

Furthermore, the letter told Corbin and her colleagues that even the words
Equine Dentistry could not be used in advertising because “the public can
reasonably believe from these words that you are legally authorized and
qualified to engage in equine dentistry, which you are not.”

But a bushel of Texas horse owners would dispute that. Helmcamp acknowledged
to THT that the board had received 39 letters of complaint from irate horse
owners who are angered that their dentists are about to be put out of business.
The board is almost certain to hear from scores more whose comfort level with an
equine dentist working in their horse’s mouth is substantially greater than
watching a vet attempt to do the same procedures.

Finally, Helmcamp said in the letter, “The Board intends to prosecute to the
fullest extent of the law any continued illegal activity.”

Thus far, a handful of Texas dentists have sought counsel. Others have not.
Still others naively don’t believe what is happening to them is for real.

The nine member state veterinary board includes six vets and three public
members including two lawyers plus a member who is billed as a ranch owner and
contractor. Of the vets on the board, half work on both large and small animals.
The remainder serves mostly dogs and cats. None are equine dentists.

THT served the board with requests for public information for fifteen items
under the state’s public records law. On July 16, the board responded refusing
to make public information on nine of the letter’s demands. Included in the
requests were the names of the ten equine dentists who had received cease and
desist letters informing they must shut down their practices.

The board has also hired a new and fresh general counsel whose first
assignment on her first day at work on September 4, is to put the dentists out
of business.

Early this year the board told the dentists they could not practice. This
spring the war escalated when a board member wrote an emailed memo obtained by
THT urging an April 30, “Stakeholder Meeting on Equine Dentistry.” In a
strident, almost hysterical letter, the trustee wrote “It is your livelihood,
your education and hard years of practice they are taking away!”

The official said “it is clear to me that lay-people are gradually ‘chipping
away’ at the profession in every jurisdiction. Each jurisdiction has been
fighting this battle alone and in their own way and losing a piece of the
practice as a result.. The board member, who is not a dentist, continued, typing
in all caps, RIGHT NOW, THE VETERINARY PROFESSION IN OUR OWN GREAT STATE IS
BEING CALLED TO ARMS!!”

The letter had the tone of an activist and advocate, not the words an
objective state regulator.

A meeting of the board’s rules committee was posted for April 30, 2007, but
was subsequently canceled.

Indeed. Equine dentists have been under attack by the veterinary profession
in other states. Moreover, they have won the right to pursue their practice in
court in at least one case when they fought back.

In mid July, the New York Supreme Court ruled that an equine dentist there
could return to his 30-year-old practice after the state’s Racing and Wagering
Board began to enforce a law that allowed only vets and vet techs to perform
dentistry. Chris Brown, 63, had worked for some of racing’s biggest names such
as Bobby Frankel, Nick Zito, and Bill Mott, as an equine dentist.

A Minnesota case is now pending in which an equine dentist named Chris
Johnson is represented by the Libertarian Institute for Justice charging that
the Minnesota Board of Veterinary Medicine has been taken over by vets who want
to “stifle competition, raise prices, and reduce consumer choices.”

One criticism often made by veterinarians and their advocates is that equine
dentists are unprepared for a medical or veterinary emergency should something
go wrong, for example, with sedation. State regulators echo the critique.

Dewey E. Helmcamp III, a lawyer who serves as executive director of the Texas
Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners says dentists practicing in Texas are
unequipped to handle such an emergency because they aren’t trained to care for
the “whole horse” as a veterinarian is trained.

Hogwash, say the dentists who counter, asking how would Helmcamp know what
training the state’s dentists have had? Neither he, nor members of the board
have even asked.

In fact, one of the operations the board is trying to shut down is
Weatherford dentist Randy Riedinger and his Texas Institute of Equine Dentistry
www.equinedentistryschool.com
(Reitenger has written several columns on the horse’s mouth for THT). He has 15
years working as an equine dentist. The school has been in operation since 2004
and is licensed by the Texas Workforce Commission as a trade school.

Riedinger counters saying that students at his school are instructed to
secure the services of a vet if sedation is required on an animal.

“In fact, for years we used no sedation at all,” he told THT.

Moreover, he says that dentists have been the innovators and researchers when
it comes to a horse’s mouth. Riedinger says virtually all of the breakthroughs
in both studies and improvements in equine dentistry equipment in recent years
have come from dentists, not veterinarians.

“It’s a bogus deal. The instructional books are written by lay people or
equine dentists. And we’ve invented the tools,” the dentist said.

Riedinger charges that the move to shut he and his colleagues down is all
about money. “These large animal vets get out of school and find they can’t make
money, and then they see they can make $600 per day doing dental work.”

He said that Texas dentists have made repeated attempts to set up a licensing
program with the Texas Veterinary Medical Association and have a good
relationship with the veterinarian organization.

As recently as a month ago, Riedinger says “we offered the TVMA a licensing
program and the vet board said no way, don’t do it. Hell, we have vets come to
our school.”

And Helmcamp acknowledges that although there may be room for additional
training in dentistry among the state’s large animal vets, they are required to
complete 17 hours of continuing education each year to maintain their licenses.
Some of that CE work could be in “wet labs” where practicing vets learn dental
techniques.

Helmcamp admitted that the board was willing to negotiate with the state’s
equine dentists – after he puts them out of business, telling THT he could
foresee the day when lay horse dentists would be licensed by the board and be
allowed to practice under the supervision of a veterinarian as is currently done
with equine chiropractors.

However, in a classic Catch 22, when asked why the board didn’t negotiate to
bring the dentists into compliance with state regulations without costly
litigation before he shut down their practices and deprived them of their
livelihood, Helmcamp said, in effect, they shouldn’t be breaking the law now by
practicing dentistry.

What’s more, Helmcamp and his board hold all the cards.

 

The True Story of Death Without Dignity

SAN ANTONIO – I have made a career of covering some of the nation’s major
murder trials, and have even written a few books about some of the cases. I have
seen most of Texas’ top criminals work their magic before judge and jury. When I
got into this business, I was taught how the elite of the defense bar think, and
I was taught by members of the elite – given an inside look at their craft. More
importantly, I was given a behind the scenes seat at the table of the longest,
and maybe still, the most expensive murder trial in the state’s history.

My oldest and closest friend, the late federal Judge Stephen Reasoner once
observed to me that “The law is a closed profession. You will never penetrate
it.” Boy did I surprise him.

I had wanted to write a book for some time. My friend Ronnie Duggar, founder
of the Texas Observer, even brought me to the attention of his New York agent.
But it was on the suggestion of Texas Monthly’s Dick Reavis that I called the
magazine’s upstart book publishing division and two weeks later found myself in
the Alamo City covering the Autumn Hills Nursing Home Case.

I was in over my head. I didn’t know come here from sic ’em about the case,
and had produced a 14 page outline to sell the book that would become Death
Without Dignity
only after spending a Sunday afternoon drinking beer and
talking about it with the now defunct Houston Post’s Steve Olafson, and the
Houston Chronicle’s Kevin Moran, plus reading a good magazine overview piece by
my pal Michael Berryhill in the now defunct Houston City Magazine.

So there I was, sitting in San Antonio watching an interminable voir dire and
wondering how in the hell I was going to make a book about old people exciting,
much less readable.

I’ve always had a talent for deals, and just making ends meet on the meager
$10,000 advance I was paid was going to be a challenge, even in 1985 when the
book was done. Everybody knew the trial would last forever. Yet I had a book
contract. That alone was far beyond my most lofty ambitions or expectations.
What’s more, I talked the owners of San Antonio’s elegant and historic Menger
Hotel into letting me have a room for $30 a night for the duration of the trial.
At least I would be living well.

The case had been moved to San Antonio from Galveston County by Judge Don B.
Morgan. On trial for murder were six of the nursing home chain’s owners and
executives, and the corporation itself.

The Menger sits right next door to the Alamo and has since memories of the
battle were only 23 years old. The building is built on the foundations of an
1859 brewery. Alcohol has always been a part of the venerable old Texas
landmark. It is said more cattle deals were struck in its bar than in anyplace
in the state. The watering hole is also the spot (probably one of many) where
Teddy Roosevelt recruited the Rough Riders. And it was here that I got to know
one of the most colorful men ever to serve as a Texas judge.

I had known Morgan for about ten years covering Galveston County politics
(rich fodder for any journalist). A lifelong liberal Democrat who grew up in the
shadow of the state capitol in Austin, he was an unparalleled raconteur,
gourmet, reader, egomaniac, and as fun a companion as any man could have. After
completing the University of Texas Law School with a proud “C” average, he went
into private practice, eventually landing in the coastal tank town of Texas City
representing blue collar workers in personal injury and workman’s comp
cases.

Morgan would quip, “I passed the bar with a 75, the lowest passing grade. I’m
a good lawyer. I didn’t give the bastards an iota more than I had to.”

He had a lifelong affinity for the little man. The well heeled and well
coiffed owners and managers of the nursing home chain wouldn’t be going before a
tougher arbiter than the judge who would preside over their case.

Morgan also liked to drink.

So did I at the time.

So did most of the defense team, as well most of the press contingent who
would endure covering the trial for seven months.

So it was at the “Roosevelt Bar” on a rainy fall evening that Don Morgan (who
always introduced me as the “Book Writer”) gave me privileges in his court that
I have never seen another journalist receive either before or since.

So that I was able to tell the complete story, a state district judge told me
that I would be allowed into chambers during even the most sensitive discussions
out of the presence of the jury.

Morgan knew that I was not filing daily. We had an unspoken pact that I would
not reveal to other members of the press what I heard during the in camera
conferences. Equally important, Morgan made me his constant companion at dinner
each evening where we would discuss the intricacies of the trial playing out
before him. I was told his innermost thoughts – some of which would have chilled
the defendants.

Yet the judge kept an even hand. Before him were some of the most skilled
trial lawyers Texas had ever produced. Roy Minton and his partner Charles Burton
are two Austin legends who made a career defending high profile clients against
the state capital’s rambunctious District Attorney, Ronnie Earle (think Tom
DeLay). Joined at the defense table was the Fulbright and Jaworski team of famed
medical malpractice attorney Tom Sartwelle and his co-counsel, Gail Friend. The
corporation was also represented by local counsel, a San Antonio legend in his
own right, Roy Barerra Sr. Rounding out the team was Mike Ramsey who would
become world famous for his successful co-defense with Dick DeGuerin of New York
billionaire Robert Durst, and his unsuccessful defense of the late Enron
Chairman Ken Lay.

Appearing for the prosecution was a rookie lawyer named David Marks (now a
successful Houston PI lawyer), Galveston County DA Mike Guarino, and a former
state appellate judge named Jim Vollers. Much of the state’s investigation had
been bankrolled by then Attorney General Jim Mattox, and in fact Marks and the
former judge were both on the AG’s payroll.

Marks had spent virtually his entire career on the case. The “baby lawyer”
had discovered it in an old file in the Galveston Country District Attorney’s
office as a Medicare fraud action. The case would eventually grow to the point
that Autumn Hills was suspected in the alleged deaths by abuse and neglect of
more than 200 frail and helpless nursing home patients. It would go through
indictments by three separate grand juries before going to trial.

Marks came to be viewed as a zealot by much of the public and some of the
press. Yet the case he presented was compelling, and most importantly,
Galveston’s new DA, Guarino, bought into it.

And so when testimony began, it wasn’t long before Morgan adjourned to
chambers to talk about points of law with the army of lawyers before him. I
followed them in.

“What’s he doing in here?” one of the uppity lawyers presumptuously asked the
judge.

“He’s in here because I say he is in here,” Morgan responded, leaving no room
for sass. “He’s writing a book on the case.”

And that was that. The lawyers now knew who I was and what I was doing there.
Earlier the defense had their investigator check me out after I told them I was
doing a book for Texas Monthly Press. I didn’t check out for them because no
by-line check had turned up my name since I wasn’t a TM staff writer.

Over drinks in the Menger the judge had given me his candid assessment of
each of the lawyers involved in the case, their strengths, weaknesses, foibles,
and his own personal opinion of them.

At the bottom of the heap was Sartwelle.

“He’s a prick,” he told me.

Well, prick that he may have been, Tom Sartwelle is the kind of prick you
want in your corner if you suddenly find yourself sitting in the middle of a
legal cesspool. He is passionate and relentless in defense of his clients. He,
and lawyers like him, are the reason the term advocate was coined. Sartwelle can
find a defense in even the most sordid medical malpractice.

But Morgan couldn’t stand the lawyer, and it was evident from watching him on
the bench. The Fulbright solon was constantly chided by a judge who could hardly
mask his disdain.

And as much as he disliked Sartwelle, Morgan adored Roy Minton. The Austin
lawyer had made a name for himself defending the powerful, and Morgan betrayed
his plebian roots when he quietly admired those with fame, money, and power.

Morgan also loved the perks that come with being a state district judge.
Honest to a fault, he was still irresistible bait to the highly paid lawyers who
did their best to influence him. We dined in the finest restaurants San Antonio
had to offer, the defense, the judge, and the journalist. I was able to watch
the delicate balancing act performed by the players as the lawyers attempted to
curry favor with the judge as we all ate at their client’s expense. I learned
the loose (not the legal) definition of the term ex parte.

All the while I was taking notes. After each session in the courtroom, in
chambers, in the bar, or at a restaurant, I would go back to the hotel room and
write down my memories.

Three months into the trial I knew I could speak candidly with the judge,
knew I could suggest damned near anything to him. We had become good friends. I
suggested we set up a dinner with Sartwelle.

I made the same suggestion to the lawyer, who felt some trepidation at
breaking bread with the judge he knew hated him, yet knew he must win over.

Morgan agreed to a dinner with Sartwelle.

We met, ate, drank, and then drank some more. By the end of the evening,
Morgan looked at the startled lawyer and said, “You know, you’re alright.”

Sartwelle quipped, “I’ve been trying to get that over to you, Judge.”

The ice had been broken.

At another dinner, Minton told the judge that he was working on three jurors,
using all of his considerable charm to win just those three over. He was making
eye contact with them as he sat at the defense table. When he questioned a
witness, he would turn and pose his query while looking at the juror rather than
looking at the witness. One, a retired Army enlisted man, he believed, would
hang the jury. In fact he did just that, along with the two others Minton had
identified as susceptible.. It was cynical lawyering at its very best.

As the trial neared its end, Morgan began to become familiar with the small
corps of media who had followed his every move for seven months. The late Jimmy
Woods of the Houston Post began joining the two of us for dinner. Finally, we
all gathered in the Roosevelt Bar for drinks with the judge. It was one of those
wonderful off the record evenings when newsmaker and media are able to be
themselves in a relaxed atmosphere. In fact, it was so relaxed that we all made
bets on the outcome of the trial, and the judge held the funds. When he put his
bet down, he made a call for conviction. I bet that the jury would hang.

When the jury went out I was in chambers with Morgan and the defense team.
The state’s lawyers skulked off to their own spot. They had been standoffish
throughout the trial.

At last, a note from the jury came in. It was nothing and the judge sent a
note back telling the twelve as much. I needed to pee. When I opened the door of
the hallway leading from the judge’s chambers to the courtroom, cameras flashed,
video rolled, and my colleagues with the print media raised their Reporter’s
Notebooks to take notes.

“What can you tell us Steve?” they asked.

“Nothing,” I replied. “Morgan will have me for contempt if I even
breathe.”

But under my arm was my notebook. In an exaggerated motion, I put it on top
of a nearby cigarette machine as I sauntered toward the men’s room.

Not a single journalist took advantage of my subtle offer and picked up the
notebook. Idiots, I thought to myself.

The Autumn Hills jury hung after six days. Minton and Sartwelle had worked
their magic. Two hours after walking out of the Bexar County Courthouse the
defendants threw a big victory party at the Cadillac Bar, a trendy Mexican
restaurant near where they had stood trial. The spread was lavish and the
tequila flowed freely.

As I stood with Morgan looking at the former defendants and their happy
lawyers I asked the judge for his post mortem on the trial he had just witnessed
He looked at me with a “Haven’t I taught you anything?” look and then
smiled.

“Talent whips truth every time,” he said in admiration of the defense
team.

They had been paid $2 million.

What Mitt Romney Faces From the Press

GOP presidential wannabe Mitt Romney is a daring man. He is running for the
Oval Office with full knowledge that his beliefs and the beliefs of millions
like him will be put under the glare of media scrutiny. That is a place where
many of his Mormon faith find distinct discomfort. I know, because I plunged
headlong into that world writing about a tragic event in Utah, the heartland of
the LDS Church.

Romney has just won the Iowa GOP straw poll. That fact alone will intensify
the media scrutiny on a candidate uncomfortable with it. He has already flared
on a conservative radio talk show in the state when asked about his Mormon
religion. That is only the beginning, and as the media asks more and more
probing questions about his faith, I predict he will flame out as a candidate
for the Oval office.

Why? Because I have personal experience with the very thin skins of many who
are practicing members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. When
Mormon beliefs and practice are illuminated by the media spotlight, many in the
church cringe. Others strike out, as I found out when I found my book on a Utah
murder case the brunt of a relentless attack of bad reviews on Amazon.

Every Woman’s Nightmare, (St. Martin’s Press) is the story of the
tragic and disgusting murder of Lori Hacking by her husband Mark, after
discovering he had been lying to her about his acceptance into the medical
school of the University of North Carolina. She was shot in the head as she
slept, her body thrown in a dumpster and later buried with garbage in the Salt
Lake City dump. The search for her remains gripped the nation.

Woven into the book is the story of a deeply religious Mormon family. During
my research, and after the book’s publication, I learned that some members of
the faith regard its inner workings and rituals as secret, only available to the
initiated. Yet I had a story to tell, and revealing those secrets was a part of
giving my reader the full picture of the world in with Lori and Mark Hacking
grew to adulthood and embraced.

As a journalist, I have always believed that few secrets are off limits to
members of my profession, none the least of which those of a church which goes
out of its ways to hide its core beliefs from outsiders.

Had I not written about the Mormon Church, Every Woman’s Nightmare,
would have been just another boring scribble about domestic violence. I don’t
waste my time, or my readers either, by writing about such droll soap opera
upheavals in a marriage gone bad.

Lori and her brother Paul were adopted children of Portuguese descent. Their
parents ultimately divorced and the children were split between their father and
mother. Lori was raised in Orem, about 45 miles from Salt Lake’s Temple Square,
the two were regular attendees at the Ward House at the end of their street.
Mark was an enthusiastic elder, an active participant in a church which
dominated the couple’s lives, as does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day
Saints in the lives of the majority of residents of the Beehive State.

So when I traveled to Salt Lake City, I naively expected to find members of a
church community willing to talk about the tragedy that had happened in their
midst. I wanted, and expected, full cooperation from the Mormon Church when I
went to Temple Square, walked into a visitor’s center situated at the epicenter
of Mormonism, and asked for directions to the sect’s public information office.
In a lifetime of journalism, I have never encountered anything but openness and
cooperation from church administrators and clerics.

A very nice elderly man quickly got on the phone and quickly connected me
with the church flacks. I informed them of my mission, to write a book for a
major New York publisher on the tragic death and heroic hunt for the body of
Lori Hacking.

First, there was silence as cold as Brigham Young’s tombstone for a time, and
then came the inevitable “We’ll get back to you” moment. I instantly knew it was
circle the wagons time as the Mormons closed ranks around their own. Later that
evening, I got a call from the big guy, an uptight fellow named Dale Bills, the
official spokesman for the fastest growing religion in America, if not the
world. I was informed that “We will not be taking part in this.”

I was polite, yet I don’t take doors slammed in my face gracefully by an ice
clod flack or anybody else. No good journalist does. Yet the church had shunned
me and I had been shunned by none other than the chief Mormon flack at that. I
suppose deep down I felt flattered. They were taking my presence seriously.

Shunned though I was, I had done the ethical thing. I had offered the church
the opportunity to refute everything I would eventually present about it in my
yet and they had rebuffed the opportunity.

I had halfway expected this sort of treatment. I didn’t know much Mormon
history at the time, but I darned sure knew that its Prophet, Joseph Smith, had
been brutally murdered by an angry mob after he had been outrageous one too many
times on June 27, 1844. The loss of Smith was just the beginning of horrendous
self inflicted bad luck that would visit the Mormons and their leadership. It
was of little wonder to me that they wouldn’t want a “gentile” like myself
poking around their innermost secrets, and reporting beliefs that most believers
would consider alien, if now downright goofy. Who could blame them for closing
ranks around their own? I certainly didn’t.

Yet to the average Mormon, beliefs cherished since childhood were anything
but goofy, alien, or strange. However, deep down, most know that the Mormon
Church is out of the American mainstream of denominations. And while it sends
legions of missionaries worldwide to make converts, the church is not open to
outsiders in many ways.

Rather than embracing their history, the writings of their forbearers, and
fundamental beliefs, when public scrutiny by outsiders happens, the Mormons
often run from it, hide it, and when confronted directly about it, speak in
vague generalities. Theirs is a colorful and truly heroic past, but all too
often only a sanitized story is told by church spin doctors.

The Lori Hacking case was a media circus that brought the glare of publicity
to Salt Lake City, and at the center of it was her mother. Like the tender
hearted across America, my heart gushed rivers for Thelma Soares. But it was
around her that the wagons circled their tightest. It was a circle that would
not be unbroken, and I tried to breach the tight Mormon web around her and
eventually made contact with her spokesman through her bishop who was
momentarily accommodating. Eventually, I was told she would talk to me, however,
Thelma and her handlers had determined she deserved a return for the investment
of time it would take to sit down with and author to discuss her relationship
with her daughter Lori.

“You are doing this book for money, aren’t you?” her spokesman said matter of
fact, his voice a monotone. “She will talk to you, but she needs something in
return.”

I have never paid for an interview in my life, and never will. I briefly put
up a fight saying that doing so would be a violation of journalistic ethics. In
the end though I knew I would have to get firsthand information as best I could.
Fortunately, Lori’s brother Paul was more than willing to help out on my project
and we became good friends.

Thelma Soares wanted to profit from her adopted daughter’s death. I would
later learn that the gentle grieving mother portrayed on television would write
a scathing review on Amazon of my book for which she was receiving nothing. When
it came out, I had to wonder if the review would have been positive had I played
ball with her handlers and offered to pay Thelma.

Without cooperation from Thelma, I determined to hit the books, cram as much
Mormon history as I could into my mind, and spend shoe leather on the pavement
retracing the steps of Mark Hacking the night he killed his wife. And like any
investigative journalist, I determined to talk to as many insiders as
possible.

Learning of the inner workings and practice of the religion was easy. My wife
is of pioneer Mormon stock – some of whom have lapsed. And one of the lapsed
ones is a cleric, an Episcopal priest, in fact. It was through him and his first
person accounts that I learned of how everyday Mormons practice their religions.
It was also through him that I got a insider’s look at the lives of the Mormon
faithful. It was also through him that I learned the intimate details of the
wedding ceremony that causes so many faithful young Mormons to become
disillusioned enough to leave the church.

I like to say I write books about lawyers, not about murders. After all, a
murder is a pretty boring event. Taken to its lowest common denominator, living
flesh is turned into dead flesh in an instant. What makes a case interesting is
the skill of the lawyer before a jury as they practice their ancient craft. And
sometimes the skill is never seen as lawyers work behind the scenes for their
clients.

Over a career that is becoming increasingly long, I’ve seen many of the best.
I’ve written books about them, and hundreds, if not thousands, of stories about
their cases. Two veteran lawyers, Gilbert Athay and Bob Stott would face each
other should the case ever come to trial. Both knew it never would. Yet their
machinations and the charade played by both were interesting.

I couldn’t have written about Athay and Stott without talking with their
contemporaries. Athay, for the defense, is a longtime liberal crusader against
the death penalty. Stott, is a career prosecutor, a Mormon, and already the
controversial subject of a book, The Mormon Murders, in which it is
alleged he protected the interests of the church over justice in a particularly
bizarre case.

And then there is Utah itself. Nature looks down upon that state and smiles.
While the desert of the Great Basin is a wasteland of truly biblical
proportions, the grandeur of the Wasatch and High Uinta Mountains is
unsurpassed. All that being said, it is without a doubt the most backward state
in the union, making Alabama look almost progressive. Why? Because the wagons
have been circled so long by the conservative Mormon hierarchy against gentiles
and their influence many institutions harken back to the 1950s. What’s more,
many Utahans would have it no other way.

I don’t know of any other state today in which to get a drink in a public
place you have to “join” a private club, or where alcohol is sold only in state
owned and run stores. And that is just one item on a long list of quirks about
the state I found interesting, and delightful in a perverse sort of way. Another
is its politics. The legislature is dominated by Mormon elected officials who
are among the most conservative politicians anywhere. Members of the LDS Church
largely vote as a block, at least in much of Utah. I recall seeing a chilling
poster of a man running for Congress once on a country road in the southern part
of the state. It showed a well dressed, beefy, white male. On it were written
two messages, his name, and the caption, “He’s one of us.”

Not a week goes by without a major story in a major daily newspaper about
polygamy. Tell me one other state in which that happens?

Yet all of Utah is not a throwback to a long vanished America. Salt Lake City
tries. It has even elected liberal Mayor Rocky Anderson to head its government,
much to the consternation of the conservatives who must deal with him. And worse
still, gentiles have surpassed the faithful within the city in the census. And
the crowning blow – an openly gay Democrat represents the district housing
Temple Square in the state senate.

So in writing Every Woman’s Nightmare I had two primary elements to
deal with, the domestic tragedy of a young couple’s marriage, and the incredibly
interesting atmosphere in which they grew up. It is an atmosphere that has
evolved an “Us Against the World” attitude which has even resulted in violence
against innocent people simply because they weren’t Mormon. In September, 1857,
a wagon train crossing Utah was attacked and more than 100 innocent pioneers
were massacred at Mountain Meadows west of Cedar City. While the modern church
has long denounced the killings, outsiders are still decidedly — well,
outsiders.

As I delved into Mormon history I learned that the flock has a convenient
habit of forgetting the foibles of their pioneer ancestors, including Joseph
Smith himself.

Mormons are an abstemious lot. They don’t drink, smoke, or take coffee into
their bodies. Yet the Prophet himself, Joseph Smith, ran a bar for a time until
his first of many wives, Emma, threatened to throw him out of the house. And
Brigham Young once thundered in a speech in the Mormon Tabernacle itself that
the faithful men of the church must absolutely stop spitting tobacco juice on
the building’s floor.

And even today some, no many, Mormons have difficulty leaving the past
behind. Old habits die hard, and for Fundamentalist Mormons, the habit of
polygamy hasn’t died at all.

The Mormon faith is a belief of prophecy and revelation. Its leader communes
directly with God – and more importantly, the faithful believe God talks back.
Such was the case in 1890 when Utah desperately wanted to join the Union. Yet
Washington made it clear that its populace would have to give up plural marriage
before the prospect would even be considered. In a revelation of convenience,
the Prophet of the moment ordered scores of Mormon men to choose a single wife
and Utah became a state in 1896.

While plural marriage is officially a thing of the past in the mainstream LDS
Church, the institution of a man with one wife is embraced with reverence and is
an integral part of the faith. Lori’s husband, Mark Hacking (as incompetent a
killer as ever walked the earth) was destined upon his own death to become a God
of his own planet. Yep, you read it right. Had he not killed his wife, Mormon
orthodoxy holds that Mark, if he remained a righteous man to the end of his
days, would get his own world, surrounded by his happy family. And since Mormon
marriage stipulates a bond for “Time and all Eternity,” then if the marriage
hadn’t worked out and had not ended in murder, too bad for the wife. At her own
death, she was stuck with the man she had married long ago but couldn’t stomach
after living with him. It is a pesky detail the prophets haven’t quite worked
out yet.

Such beliefs are definitely different from those of mainstream Protestants,
Catholics, Jews, and Muslims. Many fundamentalist Christians such as Baptists
find Mormonism so obnoxious to their preconceptions of faith that they brand the
church’s practitioners a cult.

And much of the Republican base which will decide if Mitt Romney should
receive the nomination is Baptist or a part of another similar sect. The former
Massachusetts governor has a hill a difficult to climb as any slope at
Snowbird.

When Every Woman’s Nightmare was released in April, 2006, it was met
with a firestorm of Mormon indignation in online reviews posted with Amazon.
Even Lori Hacking’s mother took her pound of my flesh saying, “I’m Lori’s
mother, so I have a pretty good understanding of what happened. If Mr. Long
wanted to find accurate information about us “Mormons” and the religious
doctrines in which we believe, he should have asked Church Public Relations, not
an excommunicated member who carries a grudge. As a lifetime member of the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I barely recognize the religion Mr.
Long describes. And, this book is full of errors, errors, errors! Where are St.
Martins “fact checkers”? I think Lori is having a pretty good laugh, barely
recognizing herself in this book. Readers beware!”

I suppose I should have paid her after all. And yes, the church PR flacks
were the first to get a call from me. Hmmm. What’s more, I treated Thelma Soares
gently, reverently in the book.

While Thelma berated me and my work online, Lori brother Paul came to my
defense on Amazon saying that “Lori was every brother’s dream and this book
portrays who and what Lori really was. I feel the book was well written and
provides a good basis for this case.”

Paul continued, saying “This book is not anti-Mormon nor is the author
anti-Mormon. The people who write that this book is anti-Mormon are portraying
their own opinion. I know in my opinion that this book is nothing to do with the
LDS Church, except for the fact, that this story occurred in Utah where so much
of daily life is intertwined with the LDS Church.”

Paul ended his Amazon review saying, “This story is a tragedy that has
affected not only the families involved but everyone who become in contact with
this story. This book, in general, captures the feelings, emotions, and facts
that occurred over the search for Lori, Mark’s trial, and all points in
between.”

In researching and writing Every Woman’s Nightmare I learned several
indisputable facts. Many Mormons aren’t familiar their historical past. Others,
because they grew up with Mormon doctrine don’t understand why those of other
faiths find their beliefs and practices strange, alien, bizarre, and frankly
balderdash.

The Mormon faith will find itself increasingly under media scrutiny as GOP
presidential hopeful Mitt Romney makes his quest for the White House. The
candidate has thus far finessed soft ball questions from a timid press unwilling
to offend. That likely will not last. Some snotty reporter will eventually have
the gumption to ask the man who would be the leader of the free world if he
truly believes in the Mormon doctrine of Blood Atonement as postulated by
Brigham Young (look it up).

The questions will be hard, and an entire state will likely cringe, wanting
to withdraw tortoise-like into its protective hard shell. Yet this time there
will be no Amazon web site to provide an easy and unchallenged platform for
those in denial to vent.

Suggested Reading:

No Man Knows My History, Fawn M.
Brodie
The Mormon Murders, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith

What Mitt Romney Faces From the
Press
, July 2007, In Cold Blog

A DARK SIDE OF ADOPTION?/The story of one woman’s children

STEVEN LONG Staff

SUN 10/21/1990 HOUSTON CHRONICLE, Section Lifestyle, Page 1, 2 STAR
Edition




GALVESTON
– Adamina De Jesus, 26, wasn’t a very careful hooker. She kept having babies,
seven of them.But she hasn’t raised any of her babies herself. Instead, relatives and
friends say that she’s turned the children over to them, and – for a price – to
an attorney.

For De Jesus, the babies have been an inconvenience and, more recently, a way
to make money to support a drug habit. For the lawyer, relatives say, the babies
have been a commodity. For the adoptive families, the children were a dream come
true – until the dream turned into a nightmare.

Some couples, discouraged by the long wait in traditional adoptions, have
turned to women like De Jesus and attorneys specializing in adoptions as a quick
and painless way to find a child. But sometimes, the method is not so painless,
either for the prospective parents or for the children.

Earlier this year, two area couples believed that their prayers had been
answered when Leslie Thacker called to tell them that a child was available for
adoption. They had been referred to Thacker, a Houston adoption lawyer, by
agencies and physicians.

In May, 4-year-old Mariabel De Jesus went to live with one of the couples in
Lake Jackson; her 2-year-old brother, Isaac, was placed with a Katy couple. (The
couples have asked that their names not be used.) The adoptions were expected to
be finalized after the usual interim period of about six months.

Both couples say in sworn affidavits that they were not told by Thacker that
the children had been taken from Louise Martinez, a De Jesus family friend who
had raised them from birth. Nor, they say, were they told that the children’s
birth mother was an intravenous drug user or that both children had been
addicted to cocaine at birth, as medical records show.

De Jesus has said in court that she is an intravenous drug user.

By June 29, the children had become the centerpiece of a bitter custody
struggle between Martinez and Thacker in a Galveston court. The two women were
named joint managing conservators of Isaac and Mariabel.

Another De Jesus child, “Little Adamina,” 6, could also become the focal
point of a custody battle. Juanita Sustaita Medrano, a cousin of De Jesus, says
De Jesus gave her the child to raise. Thacker has filed documents seeking
custody, although De Jesus had previously signed affidavits of relinquishment of
the child to Medrano.

The two oldest of De Jesus’ seven children, now in elementary school, are
being raised by relatives in Galveston.

The youngest – twin boys born to De Jesus this spring – were recently adopted
by an Austin couple. De Jesus family members charged in court that De Jesus
continued to do drugs while she was pregnant with the twins.

Although court records are sealed in most adoption cases, the De Jesus case
has been fought in open court, providing a rare glimpse into the secretive world
of adoption. Though secrecy is generally believed to protect the child, in some
cases, say critics, it may be used as a shield for shady practices. For many,
the De Jesus case has been a frightening look behind that shield, a vision of a
dark side to adoption.

In court testimony, family members accused Adamina De Jesus of selling four
of her children – Mariabel, Isaac and the twins – to Thacker this spring. In her
own testimony, De Jesus denied that she had sold the children.

Because of allegations made by prospective adoptive parents in the De Jesus
adoptions, the state has begun the process of revoking Thacker’s child-placement
license. Thacker has asked for an administrative review hearing; no date has
been set.

On Oct. 12, the state filed a motion for a permanent injunction in a Travis
County court to stop Thacker from operating as a Texas licensed adoption agency.
A hearing date on the injunction is set for Nov. 15 in Austin.

Contacted after the motion was filed, Thacker would not comment.

Galveston County Criminal District Attorney Mike Guarino will not confirm
whether his office is investigating Thacker’s relationship with Adamina De
Jesus.

Adamina De Jesus, one of 13 brothers and sisters, has been an intravenous
drug user, a prostitute and a thief, according to conviction records in Harris
and Galveston counties.

De Jesus refused the Chronicle’s request for an interview.

This summer she began serving a six-year sentence in state prison in
Gatesville for burglary of a vehicle. Her criminal record goes back to the early
1980s. Galveston courts record 20 cases involving De Jesus.

Medrano, De Jesus’ cousin, is raising “Little Adamina,” a bright and cheerful
child, in Galveston’s Magnolia Homes housing project. The project is dreary at
best and dangerous at its worst. But Little Adamina’s home is different from
many of the others. Its stoop is surrounded by flowers and plants. Inside, the
home is clean and cozy, although poor. Medrano is a former official with a
Galveston longshoremen’s union.

Adamina De Jesus has frequently stayed in the Medrano home.

Medrano said physicians told her that both Mariabel and Isaac, sister and
brother of Little Adamina, were born cocaine-addicted. The children’s medical
records, obtained from a co-managing conservator, have notes from social workers
and doctors regarding the mother’s heavy intravenous drug use, and the
children’s health problems shortly after their birth.

Mariabel was given by De Jesus to family friend Louise Martinez two weeks
after the child’s birth in 1986.

“We met in front of Ball High School and she gave me the baby,” Martinez
said. “She (Mariabel) was real sick when I got her. She would have a lot of
shakes that were from withdrawal from drugs.”

Today, Mariabel is a lively, smiling girl in pre-kindergarten. She lives with
Martinez and her family on a south Houston street lined with neat,
working-class, brick homes, manicured yards and shade trees. A playground is
just down the street. Martinez’s home is filled with children, toys and
religious objects. Mariabel has her own room. She no longer suffers from a
congenital addiction to cocaine.

Two years after the birth of Mariabel, Isaac was born to Adamina De Jesus.

“She came here with Isaac and said, `I don’t want this damned baby.
Somebody’s got to want this damned baby,”‘ Medrano testified.

Rosie Dominguez said she was there when her sister Adamina gave the
2-week-old Isaac to Martinez.

Dominguez said that, minutes before bringing Isaac to the Martinez home, the
mother had wanted to drown the child in the Gulf of Mexico. Driving along
Galveston’s seawall, Dominguez pleaded with De Jesus to take the baby to
Martinez instead, according to social workers’ notes in the child’s medical
records.

When Martinez took Isaac, she said in court testimony, the infant had a
swollen penis, blisters on his fingers, was suffering from a rash and was
dehydrated.

Today, Isaac is a strapping 2-year-old, already given to rough-housing with
the Martinez children.

As Louise Martinez was raising Mariabel and Isaac, Adamina De Jesus went to
prison.

“She came out of the penitentiary and about two months later, she was
pregnant again,” Medrano said. De Jesus was carrying the twins.

When not in jail, De Jesus lived on the streets and in the Hispanic taverns
that dot Galveston’s East End.

“She never had any money, clothes, three meals a day, or a place to stay,”
Medrano said in court testimony. “She was a prostitute.”

Other family members also testified that De Jesus was a prostitute. Even if
De Jesus had wanted to find legitimate work, she would have had a difficult time
because she has no basic skills, family members say.

Adamina De Jesus hit rock bottom by April of this year, when she couldn’t
find a family member or friend to bail her out of jail.

Enter Leslie Thacker.

Thacker is an attorney, but you won’t find her listed with other lawyers in
the current Houston Yellow Pages. Her State Bar number is 19817000.

She practices law through a Texas licensed adoption agency, where records are
routinely sealed by statute.

According to Chronicle files, Thacker is a graduate of Sophie Newcomb College
in New Orleans and South Texas College of Law in Houston. She is also a
certified public accountant.

The 73-year-old attorney is a smallish woman given to wearing dark glasses,
even in the courtroom.

De Jesus’ relatives first heard of Thacker when Adamina unexpectedly got out
of jail and showed up at Medrano’s home on April 19.

In court testimony, Thacker said that she paid Galveston bondsman Gale
Lilliman $650 to post bail for De Jesus.

“I met this lady over the phone through one of the inmates,” Medrano says
Adamina told her. “She said she wants to buy my babies. This lady has a lot of
money. She is my lawyer friend.”

Thacker waited for Adamina in her car outside Medrano’s home while De Jesus
talked to Medrano.

“She said, `You see that old lady out there in the black Cadillac?”‘ recalled
Medrano. “`I’m just going to use her. She paid for me to get out because she
wants these kids real bad,”‘ Medrano said her cousin told her.

De Jesus, said Medrano, told her that Thacker also had provided money while
she was in jail.

Adamina De Jesus left the Medrano home and rode away with Leslie Thacker.

The following day, De Jesus returned to her cousin’s apartment.

“She came in with a plastic bag full of new clothes, and she pulled out a wad
of money from her pocket,” Medrano said. “She never had any money. She was
always borrowing from me, but now she had money.”

For a mother about to sign away her parental rights, Texas law allows payment
of reasonable medical expenses, housing costs, food, utilities, clothing,
personal hygiene necessities and transportation directly related to a need for
services through an adoption agency.

Adamina De Jesus frequently worked at the corner of 25th and Market, family
members say. This gateway neighborhood, peopled in part by prostitutes, pimps
and pushers, is at the heart of Adamina De Jesus’ world. And De Jesus began to
spend money there in a way she never had before.

On April 21, Adamina De Jesus gave birth to twins in Galveston’s John Sealy
Hospital, then signed over her parental rights to the newborn infants, as well
as the rights to Mariabel and Isaac, to attorney Leslie Thacker.

Judge Andrew Z. Baker of Galveston’s 306th District Court signed an order
allowing Leslie Thacker to take the newborns and the two De Jesus children
Martinez was raising as her own.

At noon on May 2, Galveston County Deputy Constable Max Nevelo came to the
door of the Martinez residence.

“I had not been told anything,” an angry Martinez said. “They served me with
a paper that said I had to turn over the kids.”

“I thought the kids were well cared for,” Nevelo said. “When I picked them
up, the kids were very concerned.”

Panic-stricken at losing Mariabel and Isaac, Martinez hired Houston attorney
Berta Mejia, president of the regional Mexican-American Bar Association, to
recover the two De Jesus children.

After leaving Martinez, the two children lived in foster homes chosen by
their legal managing conservator, Thacker, and began having short visits with
prospective adoptive parents.

On May 8, before a hearing in Baker’s court, Thacker confronted Martinez
about the two children.

“She came up to me and stood over the desk and said, `I don’t see why you are
fighting it. The rich always get what they want,”‘ Martinez said Thacker told
her.

In mid-May and early June, Thacker placed Mariabel and Isaac with their
prospective adoptive parents. Mariabel went to live in Lake Jackson with a
professional couple. Her brother Isaac was placed with a Katy couple, both
engineers, who had been trying to have children for years. Wanting to adopt,
they had approached Thacker in April. One month later, Thacker brought them
Isaac De Jesus.

Thacker had also found parents for the newborn twins.

Isaac and Mariabel had never been apart, and Martinez didn’t know where the
children had been taken.

On May 31, Mejia filed court documents to get Isaac and Mariabel De Jesus
returned to Martinez.

Court records show that Thacker has filed 83 Galveston County cases of
parental termination and adoptions since 1984.

Thacker said in a brief interview in early September that the number of
children adopted from mothers serving time in the county jail is “negligible.”
She wouldn’t discuss the De Jesus case.

“Because of the rules of our ethics, I would not be able to discuss the case
with you,” she said.

Thacker declined further interviews.

In a De Jesus custody hearing before Judge John Thoma on June 29, Thacker
said that she would consider Martinez as an adoptive parent if she came to her
as a client.

“She’s never applied to me to adopt. If she likes to, I will be glad to talk
with her,” Thacker testified in the same hearing.

Martinez doesn’t have the $22,000 to pay Thacker’s fee to adopt the two
children. But at that hearing, Martinez was appointed joint conservator of
Mariabel and Isaac De Jesus, along with Thacker.

The children would alternate, living for two weeks with the Lake Jackson and
Katy couples, who had not yet finalized the adoptions, and then with Martinez
for two weeks, until November, when Thoma was expected to make a final decision.
(Thoma later withdrew from the case, saying that he had once represented De
Jesus’ sister, Rosie Dominguez, in a personal-injury suit.)

On July 13, however, the two couples gave up claim to the children in an
emotion-charged meeting with Martinez. They realized, they said, that Thacker
had taken the children from someone who really cared for them, not a poor mother
who could no longer care for her children and who wanted her kids to have a
better home, as they had been told by Thacker.

While the prospective parents were out of the picture, Thacker wasn’t. The
Houston attorney was still joint conservator of the two children – and still
looking for new parents for them. She was also sole conservator of the twins De
Jesus had given up.

The twins have since been adopted by an Austin couple. The couple have told
state human services investigators in a sworn affidavit that they had been told
nothing initially about drug use by Adamina De Jesus. But one of the twins was
tense and hyperactive, and the couple suspected drug addiction.

The couple contacted Thacker, who responded in a July 19 letter that Adamina
De Jesus had a history of drug use but had not taken drugs during her pregnancy
with the twins.

About the time Mejia was filing to get Mariabel and Isaac returned to
Martinez, De Jesus signed away her parental rights to another child, “Little
Adamina,” to Thacker. De Jesus’ sometime boyfriend, Raymond “Blackie” Licerio,
signed as a witness.

On Sept. 11, the day after Thacker filed the relinquishment documents, a
deputy knocked on Medrano’s door and served her papers that could eventually
lead to the adoption of 6-year-old Little Adamina, the child she’s raised from
birth.

TEXAS Human Services standards require that prospective adoptive parents be
given a medical examination report from a doctor, plus reports on the child’s
biological parents and on the physical development of the child.

The state contends that Thacker met none of these requirements in the De
Jesus case, although medical records available from Galveston’s John Sealy
Hospital are extensive on both Mariabel and Isaac.

On Sept. 27, Nanci Gibbons of the Residential Child Care Licensing division
of the Texas Department of Human Services hand-delivered a letter to Thacker
telling her the agency intended to revoke her child-placement license.

The letter, obtained by the Chronicle under the Texas Open Records Act,
stated that prospective adoptive parents of the De Jesus children were not told
of the medical history of the high-risk mother.

The letter said: “Because of repeated violations of minimum standards which
endanger the health and safety of children, the department intends to revoke
your child placing license.” The Oct. 12 motion for a permanent injunction
followed.

Thacker’s license had been revoked before – in 1984. It was reinstated in
1988 after Thacker agreed to abide by the department’s minimum standards for
child placement.

Testifying in the June 29 hearing, Thacker said she has been involved in the
exchange of 750 babies. Thacker currently charges U.S. adoptive parents $11,000;
her fee is $15,000 for overseas placement of American children, according to her
published fee schedule. Based on this, her fees for adoption of the five De
Jesus children would total $55,000.

The average fee paid to adopt a child through a National Committee For
Adoption member agency is $5,204, according to “The Adoption Factbook,”
published by the committee. However, adoption fees have run as high as $50,000.

Formed in 1980, the committee is a Washington, D.C.-based organization of
agencies and individuals interested in adoption. According to its president,
William L. Pierce, the group wants all adoptions handled only by public or
licensed not-for-profit adoption agencies.

Pierce said that while there are many ethical attorneys representing licensed
adoption agencies, Texas regulators have voiced concern about the proliferation
of new agencies going into the adoption business.

Charging a fee to adoptive parents is legal. And some financial support for
the birth mother is legal as well, but there is a gray area as to how much can
be paid to a birth mother who forfeits her parental rights. Going beyond that
gray area could result in a third-degree felony.

Thacker collected fees and interest of $220,534.61 in 1988, according to her
most recent financial statement filed with the Texas Department of Human
Services, a copy of which was obtained under the Texas Open Records Act.

Thacker’s history of skirmishes with state authorities over her license goes
back to 1978, when she was accused in civil suits by the Harris County Child
Welfare Unit of illegally placing babies with adoptive parents out of state. The
suits were dropped when Thacker obtained a child-placement license in 1980. The
suits alleged that Thacker operated a child-placement agency without a license.

Gene Danial is regional director of Children’s Protective Services. His
agency sued Thacker, he said, “with the urging of a great number of the judges
that were here. They were kind of hacked at the way she was operating. We sued
her because she was operating without a license. She eventually got a license,
and we dropped the suits.”

Thacker was represented in the licensing matter by state Rep. James Hury,
D-Galveston. Hury, now chairman of the Texas House Ways and Means Committee, is
no longer Thacker’s lawyer. He said that he was prohibited by statute from
giving details of the settlement.

Assistant attorney general Ed Horn, who represented the state in that
licensing dispute, did not return calls from the Houston Chronicle.

But Nanci Gibbons of the Texas Department of Human Services said an agreed
judgment was reached in 1988 between Thacker and the state saying that Thacker
would follow the minimum standards set by the department.

Human Services investigator Cathy Kennedy has confirmed that Thacker has been
under investigation by the agency. The current investigation of the De Jesus
case began on July 27.

According to Harris County court records, Leslie Thacker hasn’t had a case in
family court here since Dec. 10, 1981. Her office is in her home on Woodhead.

“She won’t work in courts here (in Houston),” says Danial of Children’s
Protective Services. “Apparently, she has worked out an arrangement in Galveston
County, and has for a number of years, to work with that court down there. She
can have a child born and, in a matter of hours, have a court order, and, zoom,
they are on their way.

“You go anywhere else, you set a hearing, get an order signed and all that
kind of stuff (which takes time). She can do it in just a matter of minutes,”
Danial said.

Galveston County Judge Andrew Z. Baker said that Thacker “does have quite a
few cases here.”

“She has a licensed adoption agency, and as far as I know it is all
aboveboard,” he said. “I wouldn’t have any reason not to hear an adoption from
an adoption agency. Hell, they are all the same as far as I know.”

Baker said that he didn’t see any legal reason not to sign adoption orders
submitted to the court by Thacker, nor had he heard that Houston judges would
not sign her adoptions.

An ad with a toll-free number appears on Page 2 of the Galveston Southwestern
Bell Yellow Pages. The ad also appears in the Beaumont Yellow Pages. It does not
appear in Houston.

The ad names the agency Abortion Choice and lists Thacker as a Texas Licensed
Adoption Agency and attorney at law. The only address is Houston.

Just as in 1984, should Thacker’s agency license be revoked, pending
adoptions likely will be turned over to other licensed adoption agencies.

Meanwhile, on Oct. 4, Baker recused himself from proceedings at which Thacker
intended to seek custody of Mariabel, Isaac and Little Adamina De Jesus, saying
that his former law firm had once represented members of Adamina De Jesus’
family.

The Lake Jackson couple said that they are so embittered that they will never
attempt to adopt again.

Mariabel and Isaac have once again settled into a routine at the Martinez
household. Little Adamina is still living with Medrano.

Martinez and Medrano wait warily, praying that Thacker will lose in her bid
to regain custody of their charges and that their fears can be put to rest.

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