Injustice is Served
Convicted Day Care Provider Maintains Her Innocence In Gripping Memoir
Editor’s Note: As The Reporters Inc. continues production of its upcoming documentary about wrongful convictions, The Innocent Convicts, we also occasionally feature the insights of others who’ve faced similar ordeals.
In March 2010, 49-year-old Lynn Moller, a day care provider in Madison, Wisconsin, was found guilty of three counts of child abuse involving two children in her care. Moller had run her day care without incident for 16 years when the allegations first surfaced; she has never wavered in her claims of innocence despite losing every appeal.
In August 2016, Lynn wrote a riveting first-person account of her ordeal for The Reporters Inc. The overwhelming response prompted Moller to pen an entire book about her experience. Just released, we’re pleased to present this exclusive excerpt from Injustice is Served.
Late in the afternoon of Sept. 23, 2008, my state day care licensor, Cathy Leaverton, stopped by. She said there had been a complaint about me. We went down to the day care room to talk. She sat in the rocking chair next to my desk. I sat at the desk. My husband Ki was present also.
“This will be hard for you to hear,” she began. “There has been a complaint lodged with our department saying that you were banging a child’s head into the wall.”
I almost laughed when she said this, until realizing she was dead serious. She said a six-year-old girl was watching TV and said she saw me bang the head of a child named Cody into the wall in the bathroom. (Editor’s Note: The names of the day care children and their parents have been changed in Injustice is Served.)
Well, I thought, the only six-year-old girl in my care had been Annie, for two days in August.
Leaverton asked me where the TV was. When Annie attended, it had been mounted to the wall right above the rocking chair in which Leaverton sat. “The kids sit on the floor here to watch TV,” I explained, indicating the position. “The bathroom is over in the corner; it’s not possible to see in there while watching TV.”
Ki asked Leaverton if she wanted to get up and look from different perspectives in the room; she refused, saying she didn’t need to do that. Ki then went into the bathroom and opened and closed one of the cupboard doors. That made a banging sound, a common sound heard throughout the day. Did Annie hear that and her imagination went wild?
I had no explanation for why Annie would say what she did. Who bangs kids’ heads against a wall? I was confused. I knew the bathroom head-banging allegation was ridiculous, but feared I was in for a challenge, in terms of getting this straightened out. I knew about false abuse allegations and how hard they are to fight. My mind immediately flew to the hysterical epidemics of the McMartin Preschool case and other day care scandals of the 1980s and 1990s, which began with accusations from disturbed parents or from the odd comments of a child.
Leaverton said her department would continue to investigate and departed. Confused as I was, at least I had some idea of what was going on, unbelievable as it was. In recent weeks there had been an inexplicable mass exodus of children from my day care, and now it finally made sense. Nevertheless, why hadn’t the parents been honest with me about the reason? Had they told me what Annie alleged, I would have been able to confront its ridiculousness immediately.
I didn’t hear anything back from Leaverton the rest of the week, prompting me to call her on Friday. She reported that nothing yet had been done. Was that good or bad news?
Not knowing what was happening was driving me crazy. I knew what Annie said was false, but, until I heard that things were straightened out, I was anxious and fearful. I couldn’t eat. Sleep was erratic and filled with bizarre dreams. I had never had time off during the week (with the exception of rare vacation days), and the empty days, combined with the lack of eating and sleeping along with the fear of the unknown were wreaking havoc on me. I had a constant knot in my stomach. I missed the day care kids; I had no idea if I would see any of them again, and I never got a proper goodbye.
After another poor night of sleep, I laid down on the couch in the early afternoon of Thursday, October 2, 2008. My cat, Purrsie, had been lying on my chest; suddenly she gave a low growl and leaped off me to run upstairs. I should have taken that as an omen and followed her.
There was a knock at the front door. Upon opening it, I saw two women. They identified themselves as Madison Police detectives, and asked if they could talk to me. I was surprised it was the police; I figured that if anybody came, it would be from day care licensing or child services.
I invited the detectives in. Big mistake. I always had respect for police and believed they could be trusted. That was the last time I ever had that thought.
We sat at the kitchen table. They identified themselves as Detectives Julie Johnson and Kris Acker. I was actually glad that someone was finally talking to me, and I simply thought we would get this issue resolved. It never entered my mind that I shouldn’t talk to the police. I unwisely assumed only guilty people had reason not to converse with police.
Detective Johnson asked how long I had been working in day care. “Sixteen years in family day care, and then since 1984 in other settings,” I replied. Detective Acker said that was a long time. Johnson asked if I had ever had anything like this come up before. “Never,” I answered.
Johnson said, “So what’s going on?”
I replied that I didn’t know, to which she rudely retorted, “Well, I think you do know.” I didn’t care for the manner in which she said that, but I guilelessly answered, “The only inkling I got that something was wrong was the email from a parent stating that she had heard about a child being harmed. Then there was Leaverton’s licensing visit in which she mentioned the observations of Annie. I haven’t heard anything back from state licensing.”
Johnson continued. “So what can you tell me about the complaint? What do you think is going on? Why are these parents all pulling their kids out of your day care?”
“I don’t know.”
“Yeah, I think you do.”
My heart dropped as Johnson’s tone turned even more confrontational. That remark and her attitude should have set alarms off in my head to shut up, but I wanted to be cooperative. “According to Leaverton’s complaint, I banged somebody’s head into the wall.”
“Is that true?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been racking my brain about why they would perceive something like that.” I explained about the bathroom cabinets banging when they closed and how I suspected Annie heard that. I told them about my day care medical logbook where I document injuries. Johnson asked if they could look at that.
“Is there anything else you can think of, to explain why?” Johnson inquired.
“No. Can I get a drink of water?” I was feeling uncomfortable and intimidated in this interview and thought I had to ask for a drink in my own home.
The detectives then asked if they could see the day care area. I took them downstairs. Johnson didn’t say much, but Acker literally “oohed and aahed” as she looked around. “This is very nice, very nice, very neat. I bet the kids have a good time here. This is really nice. Very, very nice down here. Very nice.” She was fascinated by the child-sized equipment.
Johnson briefly looked in the bathroom, and I demonstrated how the cupboard doors bang shut. She was clearly not interested in exploring that possibility. She never attempted to look into the bathroom from the TV viewing area.
We headed back upstairs. I had grabbed my logbook. I felt confident that the detectives would be satisfied that nothing could have happened here that matched the claim made by Annie. Little did I know that the tide of accusations was about to turn horribly against me.
We sat back down at the kitchen table. Acker looked through the logbook and noted some of my entries. She again complimented me on the day care space. Johnson then took over the interview, and asked me again if I could think of anything that would cause the parents to be concerned. “No,” I answered, again.
“Well, I’ve interviewed a whole bunch of kids and I have photos and kids on tape talking about you banging heads on walls, demonstrating how you did it,” Johnson said. “I have pictures of unexplained bruises. What I’m wondering is, was there a time when maybe you were rough with one of the kids? Is that possible?”
“Oh my god,” I said.
“Yeah, “ she continued, “the thing that concerns me is that I have all of the little kids pretty much telling me the same story, that you smack the heads against the wall, that you bang their heads against the wall and they cry and you’re mean and you do mean things to them and they weren’t coached by their parents. These kids are too young to be coached, to be so consistent with all of this stuff.”
My mind went blank. I felt my soul leave my body. I couldn’t fathom what Johnson was saying and I became flustered. I only half heard what she said, trying to process her comments about me hurting kids.
“When I ask the kids, they all tell me Lynn hurts Cody, Lynn hurts Emma, Lynn hurts Eddie, bangs heads on the table,” Johnson said. “This isn’t something that they’re making up. If it was just one child, one incident, I wouldn’t be here. We can understand how an adult can lose patience with a child, maybe be a little rough. One time, one incident, we’re going to let that go and give the person the benefit of the doubt. The reason I’m here is because there’s multiple times, multiple incidents, multiple children telling us of injury, bruising and crying, Lynn hurting Emma, Lynn hurting Cody, Lynn hurting Miles, Lynn hurting David, and I want to hear your side of it. I want to know if there’s an explanation, if you’re a little stressed out, if the kids are getting to you. You’ve been doing this a long time.”
She continued, “Why do you think the kids would say this if it isn’t true? It’s not like these kids see each other every day and live in the same neighborhood and are 12-years-old and can talk. It’s not an isolated incident. I’ve got more than one child telling me pretty consistent things that concern me.”
She kept talking. “I have to be honest with you, too, that the DA’s office, you know, if you did something, you need to make it right. You need to talk about it. You need to bring it out, take responsibility, so that we can deal with this, and move on. No matter what you tell me today, I’m not arresting you. You’re not going to jail. Right now, I’m just investigating. I’m trying to find out what happened. No matter what you tell me, we’re going to walk out the door and you’re going to stay home tonight, if that’s a concern.”
DA, jail, arrest? Johnson threw those words at me so fast and that’s all I heard. I felt nauseous; if I hadn’t been sitting, I likely would have fainted.
She asked for an explanation. How do I explain all those accusations? Believing that police don’t lie, I was astonished to hear that all the kids said these things.
What were all these head-bumping allegations? Who does that to a child?
Johnson then threw down a series of photos of Miles. The photos showed Miles standing in a bathtub, with some bruises on the left side of his head. The photos were date-stamped May 16, 2006.
“How do you explain these bruises on the side of his head?” Johnson demanded.
I stared at the photos.
Johnson went on, saying, “Mom says he came home from day care that way, asked Lynn, no idea.
“What did you do to Miles?”
Her tone was even nastier. I kept looking at the photos.
“Something happened, Lynn. They were concerned enough to take the photos and discussed it, but did not want to believe that you would do anything like that to a child.”
“How do you get a bruise like this?” I asked.
“Well, I was hoping you could tell me because they think you did it. Again, they were concerned enough they took photos. Do you remember that?”
“No,” I honestly replied.
“That looks like a thumb to me. And these look like handprints. You can see better on that one; those look like fingertips, and that looks like a thumb. The common denominator is you with these injuries. Did you hurt Miles?”
“How did Miles get this? He didn’t get them at home. Something had to happen here. How did this happen?”
“I don’t know.”
Where did these pictures come from? I had absolutely no recollection of Miles having any injury or bruises, and I didn’t recall his mother speaking to me about any such thing. If anything had happened, or if she had spoken to me about suspicious bruises, I would have documented it in my logbook. My logbook had no such entries.
Johnson went on to drop more bombshells. “So, the parents take the kids to the doctor, get them checked out, the doctors are well, yeah, there’s something up with her, these are not normal childhood injuries. These are injuries to the head. The parents did not do this, so I need to know, Lynn, what happened, and I need you to be honest with me and tell me. Are you frustrated with the kids, are you a big person and maybe you’re too rough? You’re not a small woman; is it possible that you’re a little too much when you’re dealing with the children?”
I was in shock hearing this. Frankly, I don’t remember any more of this interview. This documentation comes from the transcript of the recording, as I went into a catatonic state of shock. I mumbled some responses, thinking that was what Johnson wanted to hear.
I began to question myself. Was I some sort of Jekyll/Hyde personality who hurt the kids? As a police officer, Johnson wouldn’t lie, would she? (Yes!)
“If I’m doing something that’s inappropriate or causing harm, it’s not intentional.” I muttered.
Johnson persisted. “What do you think should happen from here on out? Where do you think we should go with this? I’m trying to figure out why this happened. Why these children are getting hurt, and you’re the only one who can answer that. Do you ever find yourself losing your patience, getting frustrated?”
“That doesn’t seem normal. I would think that anybody would get frustrated dealing with that many little kids.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
Detective Acker jumped in. “I would love to hear some sort of explanation for these injuries. What I think is happening here is completely understandable. These children, especially Cody, are fraying at your last nerve. What I would respect you for is if you were to come forward and say you lost your patience. You would only be human, and you didn’t intend to cause these injuries, but I would like to hear some sort of an explanation. You probably lost your patience, which is completely understandable. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t get frustrated with children. Admitting that you were frustrated helps us understand how these injuries could have happened and we can understand that. It’s either you didn’t mean to do it or you did it intentionally. Do we want to leave here and think that you’re beating the crap out of these kids because you’re a bad person, or is this completely accidental and you’re not meaning to hurt them?”
Acker continued. “Maybe you don’t want to admit it, but does that make you a bad person? No. But otherwise we’re going to come away thinking that beatings are going on here on a daily basis at this place, and I don’t want to think that’s true. So either you meant to do it or you didn’t mean to do it, but somehow the injuries are here. I’d like to hear something, Lynn.”
I either did it intentionally or didn’t mean to do it. These were the choices I had? In my shocked and unnerved condition, I couldn’t get out the words I wanted to say: “I did not do any of this!”
The detectives wanted me to say something. I mumbled, more to myself than to them, “I’m not meaning to harm any child, of course, and if I am, then I’m doing it out of frustration, or that I’m not even aware of it, which is scary.”
“That’s completely understandable.” Johnson said. “Your explanation is either you’re beating these children intentionally or you’re frustrated and perhaps things happen, and that people can understand because we are human. I haven’t met a perfect human being. We get angry. We have good days and we have bad days. We’re police officers. We carry guns. We also have good days and bad days.
“People do burn out in their job,” she continued. “I can’t imagine anything more stressful than taking care of children, day after day, with no end in sight because they’re coming back the next day and the next day and then the next day. That has to be stressful. We can leave our homes for eight hours. We can leave our stressful jobs, go home, and get a break. You can do neither. Day after day after day, this is your life, and it’s a long time to have that kind of stress, with no break and no end in sight. I feel bad for you. So you didn’t mean to do it?”
“No.” I wanted these women out of my house.
What did they want me to say? I was intimidated by these officers, and unable to latch onto their devious interrogation techniques. My reasoning ability was compromised due to stress, anxiety, and exhaustion. They had me believing I did something.
In my rattled state, I answered, “If I’m responsible for what’s been happening, I’m terribly sorry, and it’s not me—well, it is me, but . . .”
“It’s not you.” Johnson agreed. “I don’t think it is either, or I think we would have been here a long time ago.”
Johnson asked for a copy of my logbook. Foolishly, I gave her one. “I’m meeting the DA tomorrow and we’ll discuss everything you’ve told me. I’ll tell them what you said, that your intent was not to harm a child, but that the injuries happened here. I have to tell you, the evidence is pretty overwhelming, but I do not make a final charging decision. The DA does. So that’s why we’re meeting tomorrow. I don’t know what the DA will think. I know that you like kids. That’s pretty obvious. But I have a lot of kids with a lot of injuries and I have a lot of kids that have been harmed, physically and emotionally. There probably will be consequences. It’s not okay that this happened. Children were hurt. That’s what it comes down to.”
What had I said to them? It had been a mentally exhausting interview. How did suspects survive hours and hours of these interrogation tactics? After only an hour-and-a-half, I was stressed out and confused. I wanted them to leave and be finished with the psychological intensity and questioning.
Acker asked, “Are you going to be all right?”
“No,” I responded.
“Well, don’t hurt yourself.” Acker continued. “This isn’t worth hurting yourself over.”
I thought that was a bizarre thing for her to say.
They finally left and I collapsed.
What just happened? What did I do? What had I said?
I frantically called Ki at work and told him about the police interview. “I think I said something to them, but not sure what.” He rushed home and tried to talk to me about it, but I was in shock and incoherent.
“We need an attorney,” Ki said. He called Deb Johnson, a friend and former parent of day care kids. She came right over upon hearing what had happened. She was an attorney, although not in criminal practice, and gave us some attorney suggestions. I honestly can’t remember her coming; later she would tell me that I was curled up on the couch and totally out of it. Ki had bowling league later that night, and, not wanting to leave me alone, called my friend Lynn to come over and stay with me. He also talked to my brother, PJ, who happened to call on another matter. PJ was absolutely floored.
I don’t know how I got through that night. Deb called me Friday morning; she was in touch with Attorney Bob Burke, who agreed to call me. Lynn came over shortly before noon to take me for lunch. I didn’t think I’d be able to eat anything, but it was good to get out of the house. As we pulled into the parking lot of Panera, Ki called me on my cell phone. He said that the detectives had come back to our house, wanting to talk to me again. Ki told them that I was not home, and Johnson demanded to know where I was. He laid into them about questioning me the day before without another person or lawyer present. He then said we had an attorney, and they left.
“What more do they want with me?” I fearfully asked. “Are they going to arrest me?”
Ki thought that was their intention. I had a few bites of tasteless soup for lunch before coming back home with Lynn. She graciously stayed with me for the afternoon.
Bob Burke called me a few hours later. I explained what had happened the past few weeks and about the meeting with the detectives. He agreed to come by and meet me at my house on Sunday.
I received another phone call later that afternoon from the state day care licensing department. It was the licensing chief, Diane Bloecker. She told me that due to the allegations of abuse, I could either voluntarily give up my day care license temporarily, or they would take it away from me. I was confused and asked for clarification. Bloecker was not very nice, and bluntly said, “Well, do you think we’re going to let you keep a day care license after what you said to the police?”
What did I say? How did she hear about anything I allegedly said? It seemed that there was communication between agencies. Since I didn’t have any day care kids, I agreed to close my day care business only on a temporary basis. Bloecker said she would stop by on Monday with paperwork for me to sign to this effect.
Bob came over on Sunday. He asked questions and looked around my day care space. I showed him the view to the bathroom. Bob agreed that it was impossible to see anything there. He said Annie’s claims were absurd, but concurred that I needed legal representation. He assured me that he was a good attorney. I gave him a retainer check.
Money worries began; not only did I have no income now, but I also needed to pay an attorney.
Bob said he would try to contact Detective Johnson. He assured me that the detectives couldn’t talk to me anymore without my attorney present. I told him that they had me flustered. Why hadn’t I asked for a lawyer when they threw abuse allegations at me?
Talking to Bob calmed me down a bit, but my contact with him now was like shutting the barn door after the cows had escaped. I should have told the detectives to get the hell out of my house, but that wasn’t in my nature. I was unsophisticated about my legal rights. A person with a stronger personality or one with more experience with the police likely would have asked for a lawyer. It never dawned on me to ask for one since I was innocent of these accusations.
With my head starting to clear, and relieved that I had legal representation, I thought more about the interview with Johnson. I realized that I had been duped and taken advantage of due to my calm, easy-going manner and vulnerability. I hadn’t wanted to displease or alienate the detectives, and in my anxiety about the false allegation, I deferred to their authority. I have the inclination to subordinate my own wishes to a stronger person, resulting in the habit of being conciliatory and self-sacrificing, traits that do not bode well in a police interrogation. My attempts to deny allegations were brushed off by Johnson; she would quickly change the direction of her questioning any time I said “no” or gave an outright denial. Johnson was biased against me from the start. I naively trusted her not to lie, and my natural reaction was confusion and hopelessness.
While I did not make any outright confessions to the child abuse allegations, I was drained by the persistent accusations and demands for explanations. I almost believed I had done something wrong. In my vulnerable state, I lost the ability for self-defense as I tried to make sense of the accusations thrown at me.
On Monday morning, Bloecker showed up with the paperwork about giving up my day care license. I called Bob to have him talk directly with Bloecker before I signed anything. After Bloecker and Bob hung up, I signed the paper, stating that I agreed only to a temporary, voluntary closure of my day care, and would re-open once these abuse accusations cleared up (which I believed would happen).
For the next few weeks, I heard nothing. I was a zombie, slinking around the house like an extra from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I couldn’t eat and lost a lot of weight in a short time, not a healthy thing to do. I had nightmares. I had a constant feeling of dread and a persistent knot in my stomach. Innocent people under a cloud of suspicion by the authorities live in a constant state of fear. Every time the doorbell rang, I thought it was the police coming to arrest me. Even to this day, the sound of someone knocking on our front door or ringing the bell causes my heart to skip a beat.
I don’t know how I got through the days. I’d look out the window and see people passing by, going about their normal lives, seemingly without a care in the world, while I felt like my world was ending. A sense of hopelessness consumed me. Ki worried about me, and made sure that I had friends come over when possible to keep me company. He wanted me to talk about my feelings, but I couldn’t get any words out. I attempted to keep up a good attitude for the sake of my sons, but when they weren’t around, I fell apart. Why was this happening to me? What had I done to upset these parents, whom I had considered family, but who had now turned on me?
Going down to the day care area was painful. I half expected to hear delightful child voices and noises; the reality of the new normal jolted me as I faced an eerily quiet, cavernous space. Would this room ever be used for its intended purpose again? Would I ever be able to participate in my life’s work and passion again?
On October 1, 2008, I received a letter from the Dane County (Wisconsin) Department of Human Services/Child Protective Services, stating that they had received a report on September 20, 2008 alleging that I abused Cody Marshall. This letter alerted me of their involvement in the investigation, and stated that I was named a “maltreater” in a report to the agency. I called the contact person and requested copies of any reports. She said it would take up to a month for me to get these.
Early in the week of October 27, I called Bob. I was weighed down by the constant fear and lack of information. “I can’t take this anymore,” I said. “Can you please find out what is going on?” He asked me to come to his office so we could go over things. Ki and I met with him for a couple hours on October 29th. I once again explained everything I knew, recalled what I could of the police interview, and gave him a rundown on all the families and kids involved in my day care. Bob said he would try to get a meeting with the DA that afternoon. Ki and I left Bob’s office and stopped at a restaurant for lunch, but I had absolutely no appetite. I couldn’t shake the impending sense of doom.
We headed back home. Ki had a visit from a relative that afternoon, so I left the two of them to visit. Bob called me a short time later. I took the call down in the basement so I wouldn’t disturb Ki and his cousin. I had a bad feeling, and Bob wasted no time affirming that.
“I met with the assistant district attorney assigned to this case, Karie Cattanach. She is going to charge you with child abuse.”
A wave of horror swept through me. I started trembling uncontrollably and mumbled something in the phone. Bob told me to take a deep breath and try to listen to what he was saying. I attempted to grab a pen and paper to make notes, but my hand shook.
Bob continued. “There is a child advocacy center called Safe Harbor, where children who are victims or witnesses to abuse can go to tell their story. The purpose of this place is for kids to tell their story one time instead of repeatedly in court proceedings. Annie was interviewed there and said she witnessed Cody being hurt in your care. She said she reported it because she was afraid it might happen to her little brother, Miles.”
Bob described Assistant District Attorney Cattanach as a tough prosecutor. I would be charged with two counts of abuse, both at Level I Felony, the lowest level. I couldn’t believe I heard the word “felony.”
Bob stated that Cattanach had no problem offering me a plea deal through the DA’s Deferred Prosecution Unit, also known as the First Offender’s Program. He explained that if I admitted responsibility for my actions, pled guilty, and followed the requirements of the program, I could avoid criminal conviction.
All I heard was that I would have to admit responsibility for something I hadn’t done. Bob told me to think about it; there was no immediate need for me to decide. He did tell me, however, that in the near future I would need to make an initial court appearance, at which time I would be booked (mug shot and fingerprinted). He assured me I would qualify for a signature bond and would not go to jail.
Upon ending my phone call with Bob, I remained in the basement, frozen. From this moment on, my life would never be the same.
Injustice is Served is now available for purchase here at Amazon.com.
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