On January 23, 2014, the Florida Parole Commission sent Frank Fuster a letter informing him that, owing to a recent policy change, it had determined that his initial interview was scheduled for March 2134. No, that isn’t a misprint. His first parole hearing is scheduled in 120 years. And this for a crime that, by any fair reading of the evidence, not only did Fuster not commit but never even happened.
Thirty-three years ago, Fuster, along with his young wife, Ileana, was convicted of sexually abusing children at his suburban Florida home, where Ileana provided day care. He is the last person charged in the mass sex-abuse-in-day-care scares that made headlines from the 1980s to the mid ’90s to remain in prison. Part of a broader obsession with child sex abuse — therapist-induced repressed “memories” of incest destroyed thousands of families — the day-care cases were a modern version of the Salem witch trials of the 1690s, down to allegations of Satanic rituals by caregivers. They stand as a warning to those who look condescendingly at our Salem ancestors, incredulous that judges and public alike would believe girls writhing and shrieking that they were at that moment being pinched by the accused sitting far away in the dock. As a young attorney, Robert Rosenthal cut his teeth on the day-care cases, winning reversals on appeal in a number of them.
“These cases made normal people abandon their disbelief,” he says. “In another situation, would they believe this crazy stuff about pentagrams and Satan? But here they believe it.” These cases attest to the inability of our justice system to deal with mass hysteria and, worse, to rectify injustice in a timely fashion even after the hysteria has passed.