The appeal adds that raising further abuse allegations served "no useful purpose" in 2002, "because supervised visitation was ordered and because the children were protected." Too, the appeal asserted, alleged sex abuse is "a particularly difficult issue to address with children at younger ages." In all, the complaint read, Val Clark was acting on advice that was "not unreasonable."
(The appeal was rejected by the state's Superior Court, on the grounds that it was filed too late.)
But the accusation surfaced again in 2004, when Val Clark challenged the unsupervised visits awarded to Kevin Clark. This time, the accusation prompted an investigation by the county's office for Children, Youth and Families. As Mulligan later wrote, the agency's investigation "did not reveal substantial evidence of sexual abuse or exploitation" and was "unable to determine that [the abuse allegation] was credible."
Flynn says that finding helps prove the charges were baseless. "There were a lot of people who came in contact with this family during this case," Flynn says. "If they had heard about allegations of sexual abuse then they would have been mandated to report it." That didn't happen here, he says.
In legal filings, Kevin Clark's attorneys contend that Val Clark, out of "bitterness" and "dissatisfaction" with child-support payments, has "continued to fabricate incidents of sexual abuse." Filings add that Michael Clark has Asperger's syndrome and is thus "particularly susceptible to [her] suggestions." (Michael Clark denies having Asperger's.)
"Those kids' names are on the lawsuits," Flynn says, "but she's the one controlling the direction of the litigation."
"All I've ever tried to do is protect my children," Val Clark says.
"They've claimed this from the beginning, that I learned this from my mom, that she somehow brainwashed us," Michael Clark says. "But I was there. My brother and sisters were there."
Moon Township police, at least, believed it. After an officer attended a November 2004 forensic interview at Children's Hospital with three of the Clarks' children and their mother, police compiled an affidavit summarizing the children's allegations. Among the accusations, according to that affidavit: Michael Clark charged that his father had "attempted to assault him two times in a sexual manner with a foreign object" when Michael was between the ages of 12 and 13. While the affidavit alleges his mother interrupted the broomstick assault, he later testified that another child witnessed the second incident, which he said might have involved a curtain rod.
Another child also accused Kevin Clark of an assault with a broomstick.
Kevin Clark was charged with offenses including criminal attempt to commit involuntary sexual intercourse with a child, and unlawful restraint. While former deputy prosecutor Daniel Cuddy says he can't remember specifics of the case, he says in an email that "there was definitely enough [evidence] to support it or I wouldn't have prosecuted it."
According to the transcript of the May 2005 preliminary hearing, however, Michael Clark testified he couldn't remember whether he'd actually been penetrated during the second incident. But his father had violated him with his fingers while Michael was fully dressed, in the car, he said. "I think he likes to think of these things as a joke," he testified.
Robert Stewart, Kevin Clark's attorney at the proceeding, countered by asking how his client could be charged "when he is driving with one hand supposedly trying to reach under and put his fingers in his anus?"
The other child to allege an incident involving a broomstick also struggled to recall details. According to the hearing transcript, when asked if Kevin Clark did anything with the broomstick, the child answered, "I am not positive, but I think he did."
Flynn notes that some charges were tossed out at the preliminary hearing, including some of the sex-abuse allegations. District Justice Mary Murray also dismissed the balcony charges, saying there was insufficient evidence that the behavior constituted child endangerment. "I agree it is probably not the best type of playing," she said, according to the transcript.