Furst testifies in her own defense amid accusations she sexually assaulted her stepson
Deborah Furst looks toward te jury during the first day of her trial on sexual assault charges at Merrimack County Superior Court; Monday, June 24, 2013. ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
Defending herself against accusations she sexually assaulted her stepson, Deborah Furst yesterday recalled a conversation with her estranged wife shortly after she filed for divorce. Furst told jurors that her wife made a veiled threat that if she didn’t back down, there would be “a train coming down the track that no one will be able to stop.”
“My emotional response in my head was, what else could you possibly do?” Furst testified during the second day of her trial at Merrimack County Superior Court. “You’ve already taken my home and my children and my dignity and my belongings. What else could you possibly do?”
Today, Furst believes she knows the answer. Her estranged wife Judy Parys could, and did, convince her own child to falsely accuse her of sexual abuse, she says. In doing so, Furst’s lawyer has argued Parys got everything Furst had been fighting for: custody of their two kids and possession of the home they built together in Bradford 25 years ago.
The couple met in 1978 and entered a civil union in 2009, which automatically became a marriage when the state’s same-sex marriage law took effect later that year. Parys legally adopted their children, and Furst is their stepmother. The couple’s divorce proceeding has been put on hold while the criminal case makes its way through court.
Jurors heard closing statements yesterday and will begin deliberating this morning, tasked with deciding whether Furst touched her now 10-year-old son’s penis and buttocks repeatedly between 2006, when he was 3, and 2012.
The boy testified Monday that the abuse happened almost every day, with Furst putting her hand down his pants and rubbing his penis as they sat on a couch in the living room. The abuse stopped happening in that room when Parys began working from home in 2010, he testified, saying that around the same time Furst started to abuse him in booths at restaurants. The boy said that during those incidents, Parys and his sister sat inches away, unaware of what was happening below the table.
Furst’s lawyer calls that blatantly unbelievable.
But prosecutor Rachel Harrington yesterday said that is exactly the kind of act expected from a pedophile who commits sexual assaults to enforce control over a child.
“What greater rush is there to know that you can do this right there, with somebody right there, and nobody is going to help that child? Because this is about her,” Harrington said, pointing to Furst at the defense table. “What she wants.”
Difference of opinion
After the couple adopted their son in 2003, it became quickly apparent that he needed constant supervision, Furst testified yesterday. She said the then 15-month-old boy was unable to sit still and often placed himself in physical danger, remembering the time he climbed on top of a table and attempted to fly off it with no sense of what would happen if he jumped.
A few years later, he was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Furst said she and Parys clashed over how best to deal with that diagnosis and the other challenges their son faced. She said Parys went to see a specialist in Boston who believed the boy needed exceptionally strict discipline.
“(The doctor said) everybody would try to get in her way and she needed to understand that her spouse and the child’s grandparents and the teachers and everybody would try to stop her, but that was the only thing that would save the child,” Furst said.
She claims Parys’s commitment to discipline made her only more committed to her own nurturing approach to parenting.
Parys’s approach often took precedence, said Furst, who described her wife as relentlessly controlling and said she often disciplined their son through humiliation and threats. There has been physical abuse too, she said, describing a time when Parys spanked her son’s bare bottom with a yardstick, continuing as he screamed for her to stop and as his screams subsided in place of tears.
“It simply became an atmosphere in the home where everything (he) did was wrong. . . . The constant consequences for bad behavior ended up that (he) had no rights in our house,” Furst said. Parys “had everything removed from his room because he disrespected his room. And I do mean everything. All that was left was a mattress and blankets.”
In 2011, long after their relationship had fallen apart, Parys began to demand that Furst move out of their home, she testified yesterday. After several months of fighting, she said she agreed to leave the day after Christmas of that year. Parys – who claims to have full rights to the children and disputes that Furst has any legal grounds for visitation – continued to let her see the kids for a few weeks, Furst testified.
But she said those visits were meticulously scheduled by Parys, down to what time she would pick up the kids, where they would go and what time they had to be back.
In February 2012, Furst filed for divorce, claiming Parys had been cruel and emotionally abusive. Shortly after, she says they had the conversation where Parys made the threat about the train “no one will be able to stop.” Furst also testified yesterday that on another scheduled visit with the children, Parys told her she would do whatever it took to “pound” her “into the ground” before the first divorce proceeding.
In late April 2012, Furst filed a motion asking for both temporary custody of the children and possession of their home.
Parys claims it was 16 days later on Mothers Day 2012 when the boy disclosed that Furst had been sexually abusing him.
Furst’s lawyer has repeated that time frame – the 16 days between her request for custody and the allegation – repeatedly during the trial, telling the jury that it’s too suspicious to ignore.
“The allegations seem to come out of the blue. They just happened. And again it’s the most advantageous moment for Judy and they resulted in her being able to keep the house and the children,” attorney Robert Hunt said. “Oh, and also, Judy had the children in her exclusive custody for several months before that.”
But Harrington said in her closing argument that the timing of the disclosure makes perfect sense.
The boy testified Monday that he hadn’t told anyone about the abuse because Furst claimed they’d both get in trouble if he did. Once Furst was out of the home, that fear lifted, Harrington said.
He “started feeling safe enough to tell someone,” she said.
Once he started talking, he shared in stages, Harrington said. The boy sat down for two separate interviews with a county employee trained in interviewing children about abuse, and he shared more details the second time.
“This is a child who was afraid. Very afraid. Because he was opening the door to the deepest, longest, darkest secret, a terrible secret, that he’d been carrying with him since he was 3 years old,” Harrington said.
But Hunt has pointed to inconsistencies between those two interviews as proof that the boy is lying, saying that at first he promised the abuse only happened on the couch and later – after five more months living with Parys – added assaults at restaurants, in his bedroom and in their home’s garden. In the second recording, the interviewer asked if everything he described really happened or if someone had told him to say those things.
“They really did happen,” he replied. “And I know that Judy would never do something like that.”
Hunt pointed out to the jury that the interviewer hadn’t suggested Parys coached him. Harrington claims the boy was referencing Parys because she was discussed a few moments prior.
Harrington also questioned whether a 10-year-old boy – particularly one with ADHD – could concoct a story as detailed as the one he testified about Monday and maintain that story for more than a year.
In the second interview, the boy testified about how Furst had abused him in his bedroom, at a time when his wallpaper was different than it is now.
“(He said) it had frogs on it. Does that sound like something that was inserted there to make this all more believable to you?” Harrington asked the jury. “Why did he have those specific childhood details in his memory? Because he’s telling you the truth. And that’s something that sticks in kids’ heads. They remember their wallpaper when they were younger, when certain things happened.”
She said the boy has no reason to lie and certainly wouldn’t falsely accuse Furst rather than Parys if Parys was really the cruel mother Furst accused her of being. Harrington also questioned why Parys would devise a plan to ruin Furst’s life using her son as the focal point rather than her daughter.
“Why wouldn’t she play on the preconception . . . that a woman who has always been in a same-sex relationship, wouldn’t people be more likely to believe she would assault a female child, not a male child?” Harrington asked. “If Judy wanted to set this up and make this believable, why wouldn’t she use her daughter?”
The jury will begin deliberating at 9 a.m. today.
They’ll make their decision unaware of the fact that the Division of Youth Children and Families reversed its own finding that Furst abused her stepson, Hunt said. DCYF appeals are not public. But Hunt wrote about the process in a court motion and said DCYF seemed to base its reversal largely on the inconsistencies in the child’s two recorded interviews.
Merrimack County Attorney Scott Murray has called DCYF’s decision “irrelevant” to his office’s case.