By Polly Keary, Editor
Before a judge in Snohomish County Superior Court last Wednesday, Caitlin Ferry, 23, in a tiny voice said that she was guilty of molesting the son of her former boyfriend.
With that, she avoided a trial that could have cost her decades in prison.
Next month, she will be back in court, where a judge will decide how much jail time to give her. In order to do that, he will have to decide to what degree Ferry was a predator, and to what degree she was prey.
The answer to that question is by no means clear.
On Jan. 4 of this year, Enrique Sánchez-León, 39, of Snohomish, was arrested for a crime that horrified seasoned investigators.
Acting on information from two sisters, ages 5 and 8, who told their parents that Sánchez-León had abused them, police raided his home and found a massive array of computer equipment, including more than 60 hard drives, 30 computers and a server rack with 14 more hard drives. Also in the D Street apartment were pieces of video and camera equipment.
On the hard drives were thousands of graphic images of what police called “violent sexual assault, child pornography and sexual exploitation of minors.”
Among his victims were the two little girls, another girl, 3, and a girl of 16.
For his crimes, Sánchez-León was sentenced this year to 35 years in prison.
Among the photos found were several of Sánchez-León’s own son, posing nude with Ferry.
According to prosecutor Adam Cornell, the photos were of Ferry exploiting the child.
Ferry herself, according to police documents, admitted that intimate parts of her body had been in contact with the child, then 7.
According to Enrique Sánchez-León, writing to the Monroe Monitor from prison, they were intended not as pornography, but as art.
According to Ferry’s mother, Kelly Ferry of Sultan, Caitlin was told they were intended to be artistic.
She might have been relatively easy to convince, or at least to persuade.
Ferry is somewhat developmentally disabled, and has a history of being easily persuaded to compromise herself in order to win attention and affection.
Kelly Ferry’s voice, during a long conversation, was drawn tight with pain, and she often broke into the kind of disbelieving laughter that indicates abject despair.
“Caitlin has been challenged her whole life,” said Kelly. “She started out behind. She couldn’t talk until she was four. She’s been in special needs programs since she was three.”
Her school years, Kelly said, were often hellish. Ferry was overweight, developmentally delayed, and had trouble with incontinence.
“According to her brother, she was mercilessly tormented in school,” she said. “She was just a huge target from the fourth grade on. She had significant clinical depression in school when they tested her. We tried to get her a counselor, but she stonewalled them.”
Ferry, however, had a sweet and affectionate nature that she has maintained all her life, said her mother. She wanted to love people, and she wanted to be loved, and that caused her to make some very bad decisions.
“I was raised that everyone is a human being and I passed that on to her and I’m kind of regretting it,” said Kelly. “I didn’t pass on discernment.”
She was sexually assaulted as a child several times, once by a relative, once by a non-related adult, and once by a classmate in middle school.
When she got older, she learned that saying “yes” to people would get her approval. So she said “yes” to some unwise things.
“She would connect with guys on dating sites and she would let them convince her to send inappropriate photos of herself,” Kelly said.
She brought home “strays,” often kids quite a bit younger than her, closer to her developmental age, kids in their early teens. Those kids frequently used her, her mother said.
So when Ferry got into a relationship with Sánchez-León, even though he was 16 years her senior, her mother thought it was a godsend for her lonely daughter; someone to love her after years of hurtful experiences with classmates, romantic interests, and friends.
“He was part of the family”
Sánchez-León seemed stable, and although an immigrant, his English was good. He had a job. He loved photography, and never went anywhere without a camera. He was friendly, and appeared to love his son very much.
“This is one of the worst parts,” said Ferry. “I strongly encouraged the relationship. If they had an argument, I would side with Enrique. We encouraged them to get married. We paid for him to get his immigration straightened out. They (Enrique and his son) were part of our family. We never had any inkling. No one in our family did.”
They were only puzzled at his interest in Ferry, but to all appearances, he was kind and gentle with her and cared for her a great deal. He did ask her to marry him, and she agreed. According to Kelly, Ferry loved the man’s son as if he were her own. They were engaged for about six months, then Ferry broke up with Enrique.
Shortly after that, Kelly and her family got a horrible shock.
Sánchez-León defends Caitlin
When Sánchez-León was arrested, he confessed to his crimes. He had been molesting several children for years.
What he had done to them was sickening.
“We were completely and utterly astounded and devastated,” said Kelly. “It was a huge, huge betrayal.”
One thing to which Sánchez-León would not confess is molesting his own son, or involving Ferry. To the charge of molesting his son, he took an Alford plea, a relatively uncommon plea that means the defendant maintains innocence, but recognizes that a jury would likely find otherwise, and thereby accepting the penalty for the crime in exchange for a lower sentence.
And in a letter from prison, he insists Ferry was not involved in his crimes.
“I am not writing to be deceitful or to claim to be innocent, this letter is not about me but about a true innocent victim of my shameful actions,” he wrote. “Caitlin Mae Ferry has been accused and hated for being wrongly indicted to molest my son [sic]. They are using to accuse her a few pictures I took, asking both of them, on my intent to make an artistic portrait of the people I love.”
He went on to claim that Ferry and his son were very close and that Ferry loved the boy like a mother.
“I can tell you for sure without any doubt that she will rather die for my son at any time,” he wrote.
“I believe she molested that kid”
Prosecutor Adam Cornell had quite a different take on the photos.
In a legal document, he said that the contact between the two was not at all appropriate, and insisted he wouldn’t have charged her with one count of sexual molestation of a child and one count of sexual exploitation of a minor if he didn’t think she was guilty.
“If I thought she was engaged in art I wouldn’t have charged it,” he said. “But I believe she molested that kid.”
However, he is not asking the judge to impose a penalty nearly as severe as that given to Sanchez-Leon.
He will ask for an eight-year sentence, with all but six months suspended. He is asking that she be jailed for six months (of which she will get credit for time served. She was free on bail until taking a job with children at the Evergreen State Fair this summer, a violation of her conditions of release for which she was returned to jail.)
Ferry was given an evaluation to determine whether she was a good candidate for sexual offender counseling, and she was identified as such. So he will also ask that the judge make that treatment a condition of her release.
Judge Kurtz, who will impose sentence Nov. 19, is free to disregard the prosecutor’s request and impose a sentence much more severe. Conversely, he could take into account Ferry’s disability, an issue the prosecutor said has not been raised so far during this legal proceeding.
The possibility of a harsher sentence terrifies her mother, who said that Ferry herself is in deep denial about the unpleasant truths about her future.
Regardless of her sentence, her future will be difficult, said her mother. She will have to register and be labeled as a sex offender for the rest of her life. She had wanted to work with children or be a massage therapist, both careers that are closed to sex offenders. She will, her mother said, be a pariah, and virtually unemployable.
Now Kelly’s hopes for her daughter are very modest.
“The best-case scenario is if someone was willing to hire her and give her a real shot. I’d like to see her marry a nice man; someone that treats her well. I’d like her to have an independent life,” said Caitlin’s mother. “She’s not going to have the life she wanted.”