By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Ortiz, in a final attempt to wrest something conclusive from it all, asked Randy if he thought “those bad people that did bad things to you should stay in jail.” Randy answered, “I think they need to get out . . . I know my aunt did that to me and say that about my dad and my mom. And we went there, and he was in jail, and she said, ‘Okay, say it, say it, say it, keep on saying it.’” A few seconds later, Ortiz ended the interview.
She had interviewed Eddie just days before. He wasn’t expecting it. His parole officer called him up to San Bernardino for a meeting (Eddie has been in and out of prison for years, most recently for receiving stolen cars), and he found Ortiz and another investigator waiting for him. When Ortiz first asked him about the abuse allegations, he answered bluntly, his voice clipped with anger, “They were false.” He told Ortiz that his aunt had “kind of brainwashed” him and Randy, that she and the district attorney coerced them into testifying, that prosecutors threatened to separate him and Randy unless they testified, and subjected them to lengthy interviews, not letting them leave to use the toilet until they said what the D.A. wanted them to say. “If I was strong like I am now when I was a kid,” he said, “then the truth would’ve come out that [Rodriguez] didn’t do nothing and my dad didn’t do nothing and it was all coerced by my aunt and the D.A.”
Though at the time of the interview he had been clean for nine months, Eddie blamed the Riverside D.A.’s Office for his years of addiction to speed, and for the prison time he had done in pursuit of it. “It rides on me every day, knowing that I put people in prison that didn’t need to be put in prison. And I have difficulties living with it,” he said. He would sue the county, he said, if he only knew where to start.High school grad: Rodriguez receiving his GED at Atascadero State Hospital in April 2003
Henry’s half-acre lot in Perris is mainly dirt, littered with castoff golf clubs and fishing rods, tires, lawn furniture in various states of decay, a dead Ford in a corner, a smog-stained mobile home, and two small, white stucco buildings. Henry has been fixing up the front one, trying to make a home for his son. There’s no furniture, so Eddie sits on the carpet smoking Marlboros, his back against the wall. Henry, now in his 70s, bone thin and leathery, sits on a folding chair beside him, his long legs crossed, a pink golf shirt buttoned up to his throat.
For Eddie, the beginning of the end came the day in March of 1984 when his mom called the cops on his dad for beating Randy (“It was just a spanking,” Eddie says), when he and his brother were first separated from their parents and fell into the hands of the state. “It was a legal kidnapping,” he says. “My dad came and got me from school. We walked down the alleyway, and the cops pulled up on my dad, and they handcuffed him and threw me in the back seat.”
After a few weeks in a shelter home, the boys moved in with their aunt Naoma. The visits to the D.A.’s Office soon began, Eddie remembers. “We’d go down there every day except Saturday and Sunday, and I’d tell them, ‘No, this didn’t happen.’” Randy quickly caved, but Eddie fought as long as he could, he says. “When we were home, [Naoma] would drill it in more. She never let it rest. And after a while, I started believing it.” The D.A. threatened to separate him and his brother, he says, and he was put on drugs — Ritalin, lithium, Haldol, Thorazine. He stopped fighting. When he finally testified in late 1987, Eddie says, “I was like a tape recorder, that’s how much they drilled it into me. I knew it line for line, verse for verse.”
Not a word of it, he says, was true: Neither he nor Randy was abused by anyone, sexually or otherwise — not by his father, not by his uncle, not by James Rodriguez. The medical exam was wrong, he claims. “If there was scarring, it’s because they stuck a camera where they shouldn’t be sticking a camera.”
Dr. Astrid Heppenstall Heger, the executive director of the Violence Intervention Program at County-USC and a longtime expert in child sexual abuse, believes the exam would not likely have held up had the case gone to trial. Because the boys were examined more than a year after the alleged abuse took place, long after any tearing or abrasion would have healed and disappeared, says Heger, who testified in the McMartin case, “the chances of there being any medical findings that would withstand scientific scrutiny are very remote.”
As to his aunt’s motivations, Eddie says, “I have no clue,” except, he speculates, that “she was a money-hungry woman” and was willing to see her brothers imprisoned to get the government assistance that guardianship of the two boys entailed. Henry claims total ignorance of the source of his stepsister’s enmity. “I never did nothing to her,” he says. “She wanted that check.” Naoma has long since moved out of California, and did not respond to requests for an interview.