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USA v. Peterson, et al. Trial

SUMMARY, WEEK 3

MARY SHANLEY CONTINUES HER TESTIMONY

Testimony in the criminal case brought against five former staff members of Spring Shadows Glen for insurance fraud continued this week in the Houston courtroom of Judge Ewing Werlein, Jr. Mary Shanley, the first of seven patients whose insurance companies were alleged to have been collectively bilked of nearly $3.5 million, took the stand again Tuesday to continue her testimony under the questioning of Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Eastepp. By setting Shanley’s testimony against the records her treaters kept, Eastepp has begun to show that while there was substantial agreement on the facts of the case, Shanley and her treaters had radically different interpretations of those events. Shanley’s testimony detailed alarming treatments that were coercive, paranoid. and medically irresponsible. These treatments have already been the subject of malpractice suits that have been settled against the defendants. But the major challenge for the prosecution in this criminal trial is to paint a picture of willful intent to defraud the insurance carriers of patients who had rich or unlimited insurance policies. Convictions could bring fines of up to $250,000 and prison sentences of up to five years for each count down on the defendants.

Last week, Shanley told the court how she had been a patient in the Dissociative Disorders Unit of Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago. While there, she was under the care of Roberta Sachs, Ph.D. and Bennett Braun, M.D., both of whom have been named as unindicted co-conspirators in this case. On Monday, September 28, an administrative judge in Chicago will begin hearing a complaint by the Department of Professional Regulation of the State of Illinois, which wishes to revoke the medical license of Dr. Braun.

According to testimony last Thursday, Shanley had been at Rush-Presbyterian for approximately a year an a half when her therapist, Dr. Roberta Sachs, asked Mary to make herself available for a consultation by Dr. Corydon Hammond who was in Chicago for a professional conference. Dr. Hammond, also named as an unindicted co-conspirator in this case, is the author of a notorious speech generally called the "Greenbaum Speech" which is full of theories about cults begun by Nazi concentration camp doctors and which was delivered before a meeting on "Abuse and Multiple Personality" in 1992.

In last week’s testimony, Shanley stated that Hammond asked her a number of questions that were absolutely mystifying to her. Among these was a a question about which letters of the Greek Alphabet Shanley could name. Because Shanley’s list included "Gamma" Hammond determined that she was still possessed by a dangerous cult alter who was a threat to Shanley, her family. her therapists and other patients. In May, Shanley was flown to Spring Shadows Glen without being told her destination and without being able to say good bye to her husband and son. She was told she needed to be "deprogrammed" by defendant Peterson who was supposedly an expert. Shanley was in Spring Shadows Glen for almost three years without interruption. Shanley testified that she had no intake interview with Dr. Peterson but was admitted as an MPD patient. She reasoned, therefore, that the diagnosis was provided by Sachs. By the time she left Spring Shadows Glen, Shanley was estranged (and eventually divorced) from her husband and alienated from her only child, son Ryan, now seventeen.

Shortly after her arrival at Spring Shadow Glen, Shanley’s ten-year-old son Ryan was brought into the facility. He was, however, put in a separate unit and had no contact with his mother. He was diagnosed as suffering from MPD. Peterson told Shanley Ryan needed his mother’s help to access all the alters.

From the beginning, Shanley testified, she was treated as a threat. The need to "deprogam" her justified all sorts of extreme treatments. Her treaters prescribed additional dosages of medications she was already taking in high doses. She was taken off her medication for seizure disorder. She was, she witnessed, never treated for her seizure disorders during her entire tenure at Spring Shadows Glen. She was severed from all contact with the outside world except for periodic visits and telephone contact with her husband, though she was required to submit outlines for her conversations with her husband before making the calls. Eventually, these phone calls were disallowed on the grounds that she was "triggering" or "programming" her husband through her use of tones on a touch-tone phone. Patients cowered when they heard police sirens because they were told that members of certain professions beginning with "P" and including priests, physicians, politicians, plumbers and police were cult members. Therapists forbade patients from playing card games, listening to the radio, watching certain t.v. ads, receiving certain flowers...all on the grounds that these things contained cult programming messages. Even certain words, among which was the word "love," were prohibited because they were "triggers" or "cues" for cult programming. Shanley was not allowed to tell her husband she loved him. Shanley was "one on one" with a staff member at all times, even when she was in the shower.

In addition, Shanley was encouraged to have "abreactions." "Abreactions" are dramatic emotional events in which the patient is supposedly recalling "repressed" memories and "re- living them" emotionally. According to Shanley, she had about three "abreactions" a week. They seemed never-ending. "Whenever you thought you were close to the bottom there was another level they said they had discovered," she reported. Shanley recounted that for these reactions she was often put in up to eight restraints for her ankles, legs, waist, arms, and even neck. At one point, she was kept in restraints for 26 consecutive hours. Shanley often went through "contortions" during these abreactions. At one time she injured her back and was in a wheelchair. But the abreactions continued. At one time, Shanley said, "I was in very bad physical shape. I was under 100 pounds."

Defendant Peterson encouraged Shanley to recall alters that included one who remembered chopping off a friend’s head one Halloween. "Peterson always believed in any memories that had to do with Halloween," Shanley explained. Another alter was a dog. At a time when Peterson had "discovered" seventeen alters in Shanley, defendant Seward, a psychiatrist, reported to Shanley’s insurance company that she had 10,000. When she had a grand-mal seizure, Shanley said, defendants Dr. Raymond and Dr. Peterson told her that she was experiencing "body memories" of electrical shocks administered by the cult. These seizures--and Shanley had as many as four in one session--were reported in her medical records as "pseudo" grand mal seizures. A June 17, 1991 note reports that Shanley "became disoriented and unable to stand." This is a symptom of seizure disorder. Another entry records that Shanley reported headaches for three days running. Headaches often followed a seizure.

Shanley often expressed doubts about her memories and her treatment. Frequently her therapists would tell her that if she left the facility she would be subject to criminal charges because of her cult involvement, or they threatened her with an involuntary commitment to Spring Shadows Glen. Shanley’s doubts about the treatment are reflected in her medical records. Peterson often attributed these doubts to a "lying" alter. Therapist and defendant Sylvia Davis recorded in her notes of June 6th, 1991, that "Patient expresses anger at being here." "Patient very unhappy," said a June 13th note recorded by a psychiatric technician. In a Saturday group session, Mary is on record as having said, "I don’t trust some of the staff and I don’t want to be here." On July 1, Shanley told Peterson she had never belonged to a cult. Peterson said this was "typical" of cult patients in denial. "Therapy sessions were always stressful." Shanley testified. "Peterson kept demanding information I did not have. I was told that if I did not have memories about Ryan I could never go home. I was made responsible for Ryan’s therapy."

On July 1, an entry in Shanley’s medical records said, "Patient sad. Misses husband and wants to get out. Asked for her husband to come get her." But Joe Shanley was told this was a typical reaction to therapy. On July 5, Shanley had her last session with her husband. Shanley was put in five-point restraints for the session. The therapists coached Joe to encourage Mary’s alters to come out. Mary raged that her husband was abandoning her.

There was testimony concerning a 1993 tape of a conversation between defendants Peterson and Seward. Attempts are being made to obtain a transcript of the tape and an update will be forthcoming once further information is available.

Spring Shadows Glen was closed by state authorities in March of 1993. It has reopened under the ownership of Memorial-Hermann Hospital and is now called Memorial Spring Shadows Glen.

On Wednesday, Judge Werlein suspended the trial pending the recovery of Juror #12 who was ill. Because the trial is expected to last 2-3 months, Werlein was reluctant to start replacing jurors with alternates.

Shanley’s testimony resumes Monday, September 28.

Reminder: Hearings on a recommendation by the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation to revoke the professional license of Dr. Bennett Braun open on Monday, September 28 in Chicago. These hearings were initiated after lawsuits were filed by the Burgus family and their lawyer, Zachary Bravos (also Shanley’s lawyer in a recent action against Braun that was settled out of court). The Burgus family won a record $10.6 million settlement against Braun, Sachs, Rush-Presbyterian et al. last fall. According to a report in the Chicago Tribune last week, other prior clients of Braun are contacting Bravos to ask how they can participate in the hearings.

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