Judge rules incest case against 11-year-old boy may proceed

Wednesday, October 20th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GOLDEN, Colo. (AP) -- The 11-year-old Swiss-American boy walked
into the courtroom with his hands in his pockets, a shy smile on a
face framed by a neat polo collar.

His demeanor might have painted a picture of innocence. But a
magistrate ruled there was probable cause to arraign him on a
charge of aggravated incest.

The boy, identified as Raoul, is accused of making inappropriate
sexual contact with his 5-year-old sister. His full name is being
withheld by The Associated Press because of his age and the nature
of the charges.

His case has grabbed headlines in Switzerland and placed the
boy, who has dual citizenship, in the center of an international
debate over when childhood play crosses the line and becomes a
criminal act.

Prosecutors had charged the boy in juvenile court with incest,
and a judge ruled Tuesday that the case can proceed.

Though he did not speak at Tuesday's hearing, Raoul raised his
hand as he was led out of the courtroom.

"The boy continues to want to say that he is not guilty,"
defense attorney Arnold Wegher said.

Raoul, who was released into foster care, faces a trial and up
to two years in the juvenile justice system. Wegher said the boy
will plead innocent at his arraignment scheduled for Nov. 8.

Raoul had been in a juvenile detention center since he was
arrested at his family's home in Evergreen on Aug. 30.

Meanwhile, Raoul's parents have fled to Switzerland with the
5-year-old girl and their two other daughters, ages 12 and 3.

Their lawyer, Vincent Todd, said the couple fled because they
had been threatened by social service workers with losing custody
of their children because of the allegations.

In a statement the parents said, "The rule of law is currently
suspended in Colorado."

Their cause has been taken up by the mass-circulation Swiss
daily Blick, which has clamored for the boy's immediate release and
gathered thousands of signatures in a petition drive.

"Ten years ago, a harmless play of `doctor' was considered
quite normal. But today, the prosecutors label it a crime of
violence," Blick said Monday in an editorial. "Ten- and
11-year-old children are imprisoned because prudish and unrealistic
lawyers want it that way."

The investigation and subsequent arrest of Raoul was prompted by
neighbor Laura Mehmert, who testified Tuesday that she saw the boy
fondle his sister.

Daniel Jarboe, an incest expert with an independent group that
interviews alleged child victims for the state Human Services
Department, testified that the girl said her brother touched and
kissed her genitals.

Thomas J. Acierno, a Jefferson County sheriff's investigator who
interviewed Raoul, testified that the boy told him he was only
trying to help his sister go to the bathroom and he did not kiss
her genitals.

Raoul's supporters say the way the case has been handled has
been a miscarriage of justice.

"I feel this was totally blown out of proportion," said
Hanspeter Spuhler, president of the Denver-area Swiss-American
Friendship Society. He was among a dozen Swiss-Americans who
protested outside the courthouse and then attended the hearing.

"In Switzerland if something like this were to happen, someone
would talk to the parents and say 'Let's sit down and discuss
this,"' Spuhler said. "But to make a federal case out of it, this
is just unbelievable."

Howard Davidson, director of the American Bar Association's
Center on Children and the Law, said people in Switzerland "may
regret the idea that an 11-year-old can be locked up, and some in
the U.S. do, too."

"Courts need to take cases of alleged juvenile sex offenders
very seriously, because this is the time when we probably do the
most good in terms of treatment intervention," Davidson said.