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Some family psychologists and other experts, like law professor Susan B. Apel, have repeatedly suggested that Mitrano suffers from “false memory” syndrome, and that no abuse actually took place.
Foretich, who rebuilt his life, which was ruined for years by their allegations, and who is a successful oral surgeon now living in Virginia, claimed that Morgan was a “pathological liar” who fabricated details in order to retain sole custody of the little girl. Some critics have even suggested that it was Morgan, not Foretich, who was the perpetrator.
Mitrano’s jaw stiffens at such suggestions today. She sits upright and places her hands in her lap.
“My mother was made out to be a liar,” she says. “She was made out to be crazy and vindictive and a woman who was just trying to spear her ex-husband and make him look bad and steal his daughter from him. ... My mother was trying to save my life.”
It all seems incredibly distant from 1987, and it is. Morgan has term papers to write. Mitrano has glitzy Hollywood events to attend. But they always make time to play gin rummy together each weekend.
Their apartment is made homey by a plush purple chaise, welcoming furnishings and fully stocked bookshelves. But there are no photographs from Mitrano’s early childhood.
“Life is good now,” says Morgan with a red-lipped smile, nodding and interlocking her fingers. “But looking back can be kind of a downer.”
In the summer of 1987, temperatures in Washington, D.C., soared above 100 as a crime wave gripped the city. The D.C. jail was full of murderers, carjackers and rapists jammed in a pink-toned building. The Washington Post described it as “plagued by chronic sanitary conditions.” Rats scuttled along the corridors. Flies buzzed around puddles of who-knows-what.
On a Friday that August, an unusual guest checked in, a Harvard graduate and plastic surgeon with more than 20 years of schooling. “I think that’s the most I’ve ever seen,” a guard told the media of Morgan’s education as he checked her paperwork. She had refused — once again — to tell Judge Dixon where her daughter was.
“Either you tell me where your daughter is, or you go to jail,” a weary Dixon had told her.
Morgan replied, “That’s not a problem. I’ll go to jail.” She was escorted from Dixon’s courtroom, strip-searched, hosed down and given a jump suit. “It wasn’t so bad,” she now tells L.A. Weekly. “At least I got to read a lot of books.”
The Morgan vs. Foretich case was a white-hot news story. She remembers being harangued in her cell by a journalist from the Washington Post, who, Morgan claims, suggested that her jail venture was a stunt to aid her plastic-surgery business.
“Isn’t it true that they’re letting you out to see patients?” the journalist asked.
“If you think that’s true,” Morgan replied, “why don’t you ask my guard?” As Morgan tells it now, the guard looked at the Post reporter in disgust.
Quietly whisked to New Zealand, Mitrano remembers growing up afraid of being found by her father or New Zealand officials. Says Mitrano, “I felt that looming feeling as if someone was always standing behind me.”
Someone was. When Interpol discovered the little girl’s location, the police in Christchurch, New Zealand, began accompanying her to swim meets and sometimes tracked her schoolmates — purportedly in case her father showed up and nabbed the wrong girl.
Mitrano’s grandparents tried to protect her from TV images of her jailed mother. With her pale skin and long brown hair, Dr. Morgan was a photogenic inmate and international media sensation. The press loved to have her pose with her delicate hands wrapped around prison bars. But on day 759, she was freed by Congress — thanks to its District of Columbia Civil Contempt Imprisonment Limitation Act, limiting contempt-of-court terms to one year. She had served almost two.
Time has padded the sharp edges of the past with protective cushioning. Eric Foretich is more than 2,500 miles away practicing dentistry in Virginia, his office confirms. He is living in an alternate dimension as far as the mother and daughter are concerned.
Under law, Mitrano had until age 21 to file criminal charges against her father, but she decided to leave the past alone. In 1987, when the threat of having to visit her father was highest, the little girl was suicidal, according to Mary L. Froning, her therapist at the time, who testified in court in 1989.
Since she arrived in Los Angeles, and began climbing steadily up through the competitive, creative music scene here, her demons started to grow quiet. “I remember a lot,” Mitrano says. “And I still get sad sometimes.” Her brown eyes glisten as she sits in the sunlit living room with her mother.