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Groups step up sex-abuse fight

Clackamas County detectives tapped 2013 Milwaukie High School graduate Isabella Butler’s phone while Cliff Robert Martinez admitted to his perverse acts, thinking that only his stepdaughter was listening.

Oregon City-based Children’s Center employees conducted an independent forensic analysis. Then prosecutors turned a cold case into Clackamas County Circuit Judge Robert D. Herndon’s Thursday sentence of Martinez, 47, to 15 years in prison, stipulating no possible reductions in time served for admitting to sodomy in the first degree, unlawful sexual penetration and abuse.

“He committed, short of murder, the most horrible act,” Herndon said.

Martinez agreeing to a plea deal last week is part of a pattern of Clackamas County child-abuse cases that have resulted in convictions, often without going to trial. Although state courthouse budgets have been slashed, county officials have increasingly swayed juries or encouraged plea deals by partnering with the sole local agency providing medical assessments, forensic interviews, and family support services to children who are suspected victims of child abuse and neglect.

“This is our bread and butter, unfortunately, and we do a lot of Children’s Center cases,” said Mike Regan, the Clackamas County deputy district attorney who runs the child-protection department. Several employees under Regan meet every week to discuss active cases at their offices in Oregon City. “They’re all bad,” he said.

Martinez began abusing his stepdaughter in the state of California when she was 8 years old. After she reported the abuse in 2008, he denied her claims and was able to move back into their home in West Linn. She endured continued molestation and recanted her accusation because she feared losing his financial support for her wheelchair-bound mother.

Wanting to share her name and story with the public to prevent other abuse cases, the now 18-year-old Butler lives with her mother whose divorce from her stepfather is now pending.

Brave speech

After pronouncing the sentence, Herndon and prosecutors lauded Butler’s bravery in coming forward to the witness stand to read a statement. She wrote it in all capital letters on a few sheets of notebook paper that she folded up until they fit into the palm of her hand.

Before reading the statement, she asked Herndon if she could bring a friend with her to the front of the courtroom for moral support. After Herndon granted her request, the two girls who had been holding hands let go of each other only to walk about dozen steps to the witness stand.

Butler then read clearly, with only a slight shakiness in her voice, glancing up occasionally to look directly in Martinez’s eyes:

“Today I finished a horrible chapter in my life,” she told her stepfather and a courtroom with more than a dozen of her friends and family members. “Cliff, what you have done to me was not OK. …”

During that post-conviction speech, the only part of her story that she wanted to take back was the fact that she ever thought of Martinez as her father. She blamed him for her mother’s failing health and their ongoing financial struggles:

“You didn’t stop to think about what you were doing. … I just want you to know that I will never forgive or forget what you have done to me.”

Martinez, who had answered the judge’s questions about his guilt by only saying “yes,” did not offer any closing statement. Escorted to jail by two deputies, he shuffled out of the courtroom in shackles.

Pattern of violence

Shortly after the abuse of a girl in a separate case, Children's Center investigators recorded an hourlong interview with the 9-year-old victim of Gary Lee Rose. Jurors who decided on Rose's guilt in June had the opportunity to review the interview during their three-hour deliberation.

A detective was able to retrieve pornographic photos of the girl that Rose had tried to delete from his phone. Earlier, she also had gone to her aunt to report abuse by her father.

"I knew there was something wrong with him when he told me he wouldn't hurt me like my dad and brother did," the girl said in a Children’s Center interview during the investigation.

After Rose, 39, showed no remorse, Circuit County Judge Douglas Van Dyk sentenced him to 50 years in prison. News stories tend to focus on cases like Donald Lee Cockrell’s life sentence for murder for abuse and criminal mistreatment of his 3-year-old daughter, whose battered body was found at the 30-year-old's home in Sandy. DAs resolve most abuse cases with sparsely attended public hearings and no media coverage.

“As bad as that Rose case was, it was pretty typical of the cases we see,” Regan said.

Most sex-abuse cases going through the DA’s office in Clackamas County pass through a Children’s Center’s multidisciplinary approach of physical exams and interviews. Although as the designated medical provider, Children’s Center medical providers work closely with law enforcement aiding convictions in certain cases, they’re not always backing up DAs’ views of seemingly clear cases. They are an integral part of the multidisciplinary team, but their focus is far more medical and clinical.

“The defense attorneys frequently try to paint the Children’s Center as an arm of the prosecution, but they make their own determinations, and we often disagree with them,” Regan said.

Prior to 1985, there was no independent organization to aid detectives in child-abuse investigations. That year, Dr. Jan Bays, spurring state legislation that transplanted the medical model to Oregon from San Diego, created a child-abuse clinic at Emanuel Hospital.

“After the 1980s, the interest in exploring it as a physical and medical issue exploded,” Regan said. “They’re able to treat the child and let the child know that despite those years of abuse, their bodies are going to heal.”

That’s why the public needs multiple partners to protect families against abuse, said Barbara Peschiera, Children's Center executive director.

“Because we’re not an arm of the law enforcement or DHS, we can do much more support for the families,” Peschiera said.

Families are very complicated, and it’s not our job to be judging or blaming, she argues.

“Parents and families, in general, are doing the best with what they have, and, hopefully, with investigating sexual abuse, we’re helping them have the tools to improve their situation,” she said. “In situations where families are challenged, we also point out things they do well, because the only bad guy is the offender, and it’s important to remember that.”