I had a bad feeling about the Caitlin Ferry story when it first broke back in January. A Snohomish man had been caught with a horrifying array of photographs of himself molesting several children. It was soon reported that his girlfriend, Caitlin Ferry of Sultan, would also be charged.
The image that came to mind was of a woman rather like some murderers about whom I’ve written over the years; adult and mature, reasonably intelligent but morally bankrupt.
But Sultan is a very small town, and when one of its own is implicated in something so awful, it becomes important to try to make some sense of it. So I called around to some folks in Sultan and asked if they knew of the girl, and sure enough, several people did.
I learned something from them I hadn’t learned in police paperwork or in other news coverage. Ferry is somewhat developmentally delayed.
I immediately got mad. That she is delayed doesn’t necessarily absolve her, of course. But it was a relevant detail, and it should have been in the other news coverage, I thought.
I found Caitlin’s mom on Facebook and considered her plight for a while. It was horrific. No one loves anyone the way a parent loves a child, and the parents of kids who are delayed suffer a lot more worry and protectiveness than do parents of typical kids.
Here was this woman, whose child had just been charged with the most stigmatizing crime there is. No matter the degree of the guilt of Caitlin, her mother was in one of the worst places a parent could possibly be.
In cases like that, when someone is charged with a serious crime, I generally try to talk to the accused. It’s only fair. We get the perspective of law enforcement easily enough from the police reports and the prosecution’s affidavit of probable cause.
It is rare to get a defendant to talk, though. Often he or she is simply not answering phones, or may have been advised by an attorney to say nothing to the press.
I sent Mrs. Ferry a message inviting her to tell her daughter’s side of the story, and she got back to me and expressed some interest. It never happened for whatever reason, so I let it drop.
Two weeks ago, I got a handwritten letter from prison. That’s not uncommon; inmates occasionally write letters to the editor from the Monroe Correctional Complex. But this one wasn’t from there. It was from Enrique Sanchéz-León, the man now serving 35 years for molesting those kids. In it, he insisted forcefully and repeatedly that Caitlin had not been involved in what he called his “shameful acts.”
He insisted that the handful of photos he’d taken of her nude with his nude son, a child, were intended to be artistic.
No one but he, police and the prosecutor have seen those photos, so there’s no way to evaluate that claim. And a guy who would do what he did to those kids surely would have no problem telling a lie. I tried to reach Mrs. Ferry again, thinking maybe I’d revisit the story with this new piece of input, but her Facebook page was down.
Oddly, a week later, Mrs. Ferry sent me a message.
She was ready to talk about the case, as Caitlin was to enter a plea deal that week.
She and I spoke at length, and I feel terrible for her. Anyone would. Her voice reflects the enormous strain she is under. She truly believes that Caitlin had no intention of molesting a child. It runs counter to everything she knows of her daughter. But she has no problem imagining Caitlin exploited. That has happened to Caitlin many times already.
I have no trouble imagining it either. Chubby, somewhat delayed, incontinent at times as a child, her social life can only have been awful. Kids like that often grow up to be people who will do anything for approval.
I talked to the prosecutor, and he said with what sounded like real emotion that he believed she molested the boy. But he said that her disability had never been discussed in the entire legal proceeding so far.
No matter what, this is a horrible story. Either Caitlin is a heartless monster who got kicks out of fooling around with a little boy, which given what everyone who knows her with whom I spoke said seems unlikely; or she did something she knew was wrong in her desperate quest for approval; or she truly didn’t think what she was doing was wrong.
And the prosecutor could be a conscientious, honorable guy doing his best to see that the right thing is done. Many are. He could also simply care more about winning than justice. He wouldn’t be the first.
I also know that people who think there is even a chance a jury could convict, ensuring them decades in prison, will plead guilty to lesser charges in exchange for a far lighter sentence; even if, as has happened in some famous exoneration cases, that person doesn’t believe him or herself to be guilty.
As Caitlin entered a plea of guilty in court, witnesses described her as nearly catatonic. Her mother said she is in deep denial about what this whole thing means.
We will never know the truth of this case. We will never know for sure if justice was served or if it just made another victim.
Very seldom do I wonder about the guilt or the degree of guilt of someone convicted in a court case I’ve covered. I do in this one, and it’s an unpleasant, uneasy feeling.
But I know one thing. The Ferry family needs support.
The family has been in Sultan a long time, and many people know them.
In this age where every online news story like this one is followed by hate-filled comments, it’s easy to imagine the sense of isolation and stigma that have settled onto the shoulders of her parents and perhaps her siblings.
If nothing else, I hope to God people take what opportunity they can to keep from making this unhappy series of events even worse.