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“Did Your Father Touch You?”

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Daryl Kelly with wife Charade, daughter Chaneya, and three of her siblings, in the early nineties.  

Unlike many defendants who would not risk testifying in their own defense, Daryl was eager to take the witness stand. He told the jury he had been born in Brooklyn, abandoned at the hospital, adopted, raised in Queens, and had served six years in the Navy. And he insisted he was innocent of all the charges:

“There are no true statements in any of the allegations.”

“No way, no how; I would never do that.”

“I haven’t touched my daughter since the time I pulled her out of the womb.”

“It never happened.”

But not everything he said helped his cause. While describing his military service, he mentioned the “Vietnam era” (implying he’d served in Vietnam, though he was too young for that) and said he had a Purple Heart (though he does not). Later, when his sister heard what he’d said, she chalked it up to desperation: “I think he was just trying to save himself, and he was making it up as he went along.”

It took only about four hours for the jurors to come to their decision: guilty.

Nearly three months later, on August 27, 1998, Daryl was brought back before Judge ­DeRosa to be sentenced. He pleaded with ­DeRosa to spare him prison and keep his family intact, but the judge was unmoved. He called Daryl a “pathological liar” and chastised him for embellishing his military record. “I find that personally insulting, as a Vietnam veteran,” he said, “and I find that incredibly insulting to the 58,000 of my brothers in arms who never made it back here.”

Then Judge DeRosa announced his punishment: 20 to 40 years in prison.

Chaneya and her younger siblings were now living with their maternal grandmother, Patricia Thomas. When Thomas had first heard about her granddaughter’s accusations of sexual abuse, she had been inclined to believe them. She knew firsthand what it was like to be molested by an older relative, since it had happened to her when she was 6. In the months leading up to the trial, she never talked to Chaneya about what her father had or had not done to her. But one day in the spring of 1999, she asked her if the allegations were true. “No,” Chaneya told her.

Soon after that admission, Chaneya, now 10, found herself in the office of Gary Greenwald, her father’s appeals lawyer, facing a video camera. In the footage, a female lawyer asks the young girl questions, while Brownie, Greenwald’s cocker spaniel, sits on Chaneya’s lap.

“Do you remember what you said in court that day?” she asks.

“No … ,” Chaneya says.

“Do you remember making some statements about your father?”

“No …”

“Do you know why you testified in court?”

Chaneya stares off to the side, vigorously petting Brownie with one hand, saying nothing for 30 seconds.

Eventually Greenwald takes over, telling Chaneya, “You must tell us what the truth is. … Did your father lie you down on the bathroom floor, do different things to you, and the next day do essentially the same thing? Did that occur or did it not occur?”

Chaneya, stroking the dog, stares at him. “No,” she says.

“Why then did you say that in court?”

“Because before, I was home sick and my mother—my mother asked me if he did it, and I said no, and I guess …” She speaks so softly her words nearly disappear.

The lawyer’s phone buzzes. He stops his questions, tells his secretary not to bother him with any calls, then turns back to Chaneya. “I’m sorry. I apologize … Say it again?”

“She got the belt, and she was about to beat me.”

When he asks Chaneya why she told officials at the medical clinic that her father had sexually assaulted her, she gives the same answer three times: “I don’t know.”

When he asks what she’d say to the judge if he interrogated her about why she lied, she doesn’t quite answer the question, instead saying, “I want my father to come back home.”

The interview ends after 25 minutes, but then her grandmother asks one final question: Where did the story that she told on the witness stand come from?

“I just made it up,” she says.

The story had been so convincing, with so many graphic sexual details that a typical 9-year-old would not know, that it had to have come from somewhere. But when her grandmother presses her—“You’ve got to come clean”—Chaneya doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t mention that her mother used to have frank, adult conversations with her about sex or that she used to sneak into her parents’ bedroom and watch their X-rated videos. Instead, Chaneya begins sobbing loudly, doubling over and hiding her face in her palms, putting an end to her interrogation.


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