Defense witness refutes earlier Hess testimony — (Wausau Daily Herald)

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Wausau Daily Herald (WI)

August 26, 1999

By Peter J. Wasson Wausau Daily Herald

Jurors have heard for weeks about Carolyn Decker Muir, the therapist who was treating Joan Hess when Hess first had memories of childhood sexual abuse. Throughout the first four weeks of trial, there were continuous references to Decker and her unconventional therapy, involving crystals, pyramids and visits to psychics. Wednesday jurors got to hear from Decker, but her statements refuted large portions of earlier testimony and appeared to help neither Hess nor Juan Fernandez III.

Hess is suing Fernandez after accusing him of using hypnosis to implant memories of childhood sexual assault, including satanic abuse by members of a cult who practiced murder, rape and bestiality. Fernandez convinced her, Hess said, that she developed dozens of personalities from 1991 to 1994 in response to those false memories and that her relationships with her family were destroyed. Hess originally went to Decker in 1990 complaining of mild depression, anxiety, and stress over her job and relationship with husband John Hess. John Hess later went on to become Wausau mayor. There is no doubt Decker was the first therapist to use hypnosis with Hess in an attempt to help her recall blocks of time in her childhood Hess said she couldn’t remember. Decker said Wednesday she used hypnosis to help Hess relax and focus because she believed Hess’s self esteem problems were rooted in something in her childhood. At the same time, Hess’s family doctor prescribed depression medication.

In February 1991, Hess complained of complications from her medication and Decker sent her to Fernandez, a psychiatrist, to help her adjust or change drugs. The following several months are the critical time period in the trial. In May 1991, Fernandez and Decker hospitalized Hess for her suicidal thoughts and both of them visited her in Community Health Care Wausau Hospital’s psychiatric unit. It was during that stay Hess first reported memories of her father molesting her. Fernandez has said he was only responsible for Hess’ medication, not her therapy, in early 1991. Hess’ witnesses have said Fernandez, as the senior medical official involved in Hess’ treatment, was responsible for all her care. Decker said Wednesday both are true. She was primarily responsible for Hess’ therapy and hypnosis, she said, while Fernandez was mainly concerned with medication in May 1991. But she acknowledged Fernandez had the final say in all of Hess’ treatment and couldn’t explain Fernandez’s records that show he was providing an hour of psychotherapy each day he saw her in the hospital.

She also denied ever using crystals or other unconventional therapy with Hess and said she never sent Hess to a psychic named “Rianna,” though she said she herself had visited the “intuitive.” Her testimony was contradicted by several earlier exhibits in which Hess, Fernandez and hospital nurses noted Decker’s use of “new age” techniques. Perhaps even more confusing to the jury, Decker denied that she ever treated Hess from the time she left the hospital in May 1991 until January 1992.

Jurors already have heard testimony from both Hess and Fernandez that Decker provided therapy for Hess weekly during that time. It was during that period that Hess said she read the book “Courage to Heal,” about recovering from abusive relationships.  Hess’ witnesses have said the book is extremely suggestive and could be the source of some of Hess’ satanic memories, which also started to emerge at the time.

Decker said she has given some of her patients suggestions to read the book, but said she had no memory of telling Hess to read it. Of clear help to Fernandez’s case was Decker’s testimony that Hess was suicidal well before she met Fernandez and that her supervisors never expressed concern that her therapy could be harming Hess. On the other hand, she aided Hess by saying all hypnosis after May 1991, including the time satanic abuse memories were recovered, was conducted by Fernandez.

Former Wausau Mayor John Hess and his ex-wife Joan accuse local psychiatrist Juan Fernandez III of implanting false memories of childhood sexual molestation and satanic abuse in Joan Hess’ mind. Fernandez denies the allegations. The matter will be settled in a trial that began July 26. Section:  Local Page:  3A Copyright (c) Wausau Daily Herald. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc. Record Number:  wau10155984339964 OpenURL Article Bookmark (right click, and copy the link location):