Experts testify on abuse

The Advocate, Louisiana/April 27, 2008

Amite - After a young boy with mental problems confided in his therapist that his father, Louis D. Lamonica, did not abuse him, the boy's disorders only grew worse, a therapist testified in 21st Judicial District Court Tuesday.

Lamonica, 49, is being tried on four counts of aggravated rape of both of his sons when the boys were 11 years of age or younger. The former Hosanna Church pastor is the second of seven members of the now-defunct Ponchatoula church indicted in 2005 for sexually abusing children.

Most of the witnesses presented by District Attorney Don Wall on Tuesday are people to whom the boys, in spring 2005, disclosed their alleged abuse: their regular psychiatrist, a forensic pediatrician, a therapist hired by the state for the younger boy's treatment and a recorded statement made at the Child Advocacy Center in Livingston.

Both teens later recanted their abuse allegations on the witness stand at the previous trial of another church member. Lamonica's attorney, Michael Thiel, has asserted that the boys initially made up tales of the abuse because they were coerced to do so by other Hosanna Church members.

The recantation began in late 2005 or early 2006 after the younger boy had been living with his paternal grandmother for many months, therapist Angela Mayfield testified.

Mayfield testified the younger boy told her that he had lied about the abuse because he was pressured to do so by another member of the church. The boy said he was recanting at that moment because he wanted his life to be normal again, Mayfield testified.

The son's treatment at Mayfield's clinic continued until September, but the symptoms of the boy's mental disorders worsened after he recanted, Mayfield testified.

"They appeared, in my opinion, to get worse; and he started using illegal drugs," Mayfield testified.

Mayfield confirmed in August 2005, on the boy's first visit to her office, a previous diagnosis that the boy suffered from Tourette's syndrome. Tourette's syndrome is a neurological disorder which includes anxiety, tics and difficulty controlling impulsive behaviors, Mayfield testified.

However, she said she also diagnosed the teen with post-traumatic stress disorder because he said he was anxious, suffered from flashbacks and had nightmares about sex abuse.

Although the boy confirmed on his first visit with Mayfield that he had been sexually abused, he offered few details to Mayfield.

By contrast, the younger boy and his brother both went into great detail as they disclosed their allegations of sex abuse in the spring 2005 to other medical professionals, a psychiatrist and a pediatrician testified.

Dr. Milton Anderson, a child psychiatrist at Ochsner Medical Center in Jefferson, had treated both boys for Tourette's, which commonly runs in families, for two years before they told him about the sex abuse.

The abuse by their father and other church members had stopped two years before their disclosure of the alleged abuse to him, Anderson testified.

But they told Anderson they were prompted to begin talking to others about the abuse because church member Nicole Bernard threatened them with arrest if they didn't talk, Anderson said.

The boys had been forced to perform sexual acts on Bernard's infant daughter, and the boys said, Bernard claimed that they could be arrested for having done so, Anderson testified.

Anderson said on the witness stand Tuesday that it is not unusual for children to delay disclosing sexual abuse because they are embarrassed by it or too scared to tell. He also testified that abuse is often disclosed in a therapy session when something in a patient's life has changed, such as the threats Bernard allegedly made.

Even though the boys were coerced to disclose the abuse they suffered, Anderson testified, he did not think their story was prompted or rehearsed.

Typically, there are obvious hints if an adult is prompting a child to make a false disclosure of abuse, Anderson testified. Examples Anderson offered from the witness stand were cases in which the child won't talk without the prompter present, would answer only "yes" or "no" questions and would offer few details of the abuse.

In contrast to this, the boys related many instances of anal and oral sex forced on them and told the doctor that they were physically threatened or bribed to participate in sex acts, Anderson said.

"The story was being told in a consistent way in words that were consistent with their own development level," Anderson said on stand.

The boys also were brought to Children's Hospital in New Orleans to be examined by Dr. Adrienne Atzemis, a forensic pediatrician with a specialty in child abuse cases.

Atzemis testified that even before she examined the boys, both of them offered her many details of sexual abuse they said they had experienced. She found no physical evidence of the abuse, which is typical in sex-abuse cases, Atzemis testified.

Atzemis also said that both false and true recantations are not unusual in child abuse cases.

In the case when parents are the abusers, Atzemis testified, a child might falsely recant after a parent is arrested because the child links the arrest with what it said, not with what the parent did to him or her.

"The victim typically doesn't want those things to happen," Atzemis said. "They just want the abuse to stop."

The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. today with state District Judge Zoey Waguespack presiding.

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