Perrys declare innocence in 'nightmare' abuse case
TAVIA D. GREEN
NASHVILLE — Earnest, Windie and Elizabeth Perry sat in their lawyer's office overlooking the city of Nashville on Thursday.
The family smiled and were in good spirits as they sipped coffee and met with attorney Pamela Spicer to discuss their case.
But as they began talking about what's been happening in their Clarksville home since March 2008, the smiles faded, their faces turned solemn and their voices wavered with emotion.
Earnest, 65, and Windie Perry, 51, stand to lose six of their adopted children, five of whom they've raised from birth, if a judge decides on Monday to terminate their parental rights following charges that the Perrys abused, raped and tortured the children.
Earnest, Windie and Elizabeth Perry have each been charged with eight counts of aggravated child abuse. Additionally, Windie and eldest adopted daughter Elizabeth, 20, were each charged with two counts of rape of a child and two counts of aggravated rape.
According to an indictment handed down by the July term of the grand jury, the three are accused of abusing two girls younger than 13 between May 2006 and March 2008.
On two counts, the three are accused of inflicting "bodily injuries, and said acts of abuse were especially heinous, atrocious, cruel and involved the infliction of torture to the victim," according to the indictment.
Windie and Elizabeth Perry are additionally accused of using an object to rape the girls between January and March 2008. The Perrys say all of the allegations are untrue.
The children were put in state custody and taken from the home before the Perrys were indicted in July 2008.
Perrys: It's all lies
Windie and Earnest Perry said they don't know why the allegations — which they called lies — surfaced.
"We would never hurt our children ... never," Windie Perry said. "I want people to know that we love our children and that we would never hurt our children."
The Perrys said that as their name and character are being destroyed, they have one goal in mind.
"We feel we have to do everything possible ... to get our children out of foster care and bring them back home, because they want to come home," Windie Perry said.
Earnest Perry said their lives, which have always been filled with the laughter of children, haven't been the same.
"We miss our kids being at our house, and it's not like a home without them there," he said. "I feel that my children were taken from me without justification."
Earnest said he fears his children will be traumatized by being away from them while in foster care, especially the two youngest, who are 4 and 6 years old.
"The longer they stay in foster care and think their parents don't love them, it hurts them," Earnest Perry said.
The Perrys said their family has been ripped apart by false allegations.
"They took our children without having a good reason to do that and not knowing what type of parents that we are; they just assumed," Windie Perry said. "It has been a nightmare. It's been devastation."
In Juvenile Court
Spicer said the grounds for terminating the Perrys' parental rights come from a dependent neglect case that mirrors the criminal charges.
On Thursday, the family signed papers to appeal their dependency neglect case to the Court of Appeals. Spicer said they are asking for a stay of the termination proceedings until the Court of Appeals makes a ruling.
The termination hearing is scheduled for Monday in Montgomery County Juvenile Court. If the judge terminates their rights, the children will be eligible for readoption by other families.
Spicer said the system has failed the family in a lot of ways, including not making efforts to reunite them. Spicer said without a proper investigation, the case has moved through the system too quickly.
"There was basically no effort made by the state to keep this family united together. The kids were taken out of the home in March, and they haven't seen them since," Spicer said. "This isn't a situation where they adopted these children recently — they've had these children since birth."
DCS spokesman Rob Johnson said he and DCS attorneys couldn't comment because of confidentiality laws and the ongoing nature of the case. Spicer contends the family has been judged without a fair trial.
"To my knowledge, the Perrys have never been in any trouble, this has all happened in March," Spicer said. "This has obviously been a huge blow. ... This is sort of unbelievable to them that this is happening and how fast that the process is moving."
Two cases at once
Spicer said the Perrys have not been able to speak openly during several of their court hearings.
"Because of the criminal case that is pending, the Perrys have not been able to testify in the civil proceedings. Both at the dependency neglect hearing and possibly Monday," Spicer said. "They will not be able to testify because they have criminal cases pending."
Spicer said their criminal defense attorneys think it's not in their best interest to testify in a civil proceeding, where their testimony could be used against them in the criminal proceeding.
Spicer said they feel like the termination proceedings should not take place until after Perrys can testify in the criminal case.
The Perrys are set for a motions hearing in Judge John H. Gasaway's courtroom on Jan. 22 and have previously been set for trial in April.
Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Lund is prosecuting the criminal case.
About the Perrys
The Perrys began adopting children 21 years ago, Windie Perry said. Elizabeth was the first, and through the years they adopted six more children and housed more than 100 foster children, she said.
Earnest Perry served as a security guard for 20 years at Austin Peay State University and retired in June 2007.
The couple had their own biological children and grandchildren, but they felt a need to help others in the community, Windie Perry said.
"The Lord told me to do it because he needs someone to take care of His children," Windie Perry said. "It's rewarding to me because I feel like it's the ministry God gave me, and I enjoy it. I love being a mother."
Close friends Keith and Ramona Cherry said they were encouraged to become foster parents when they met the Perrys almost 13 years ago.
They said they have been been around the family witnessing several of their adoptions, and now they have watched as their friends' lives have been turned upside down.
"We believe deeply these allegations are not true," Ramona Cherry said. "We know the children — every last one of them — from when they were babies. We saw them raising them up."
Ramona Cherry said two of the children were "troublemakers" who made up the stories of abuse by the Perrys.
"That's why they are in the situation they are in now. And there are people who chose to believe these children, and instead of investigating these allegations, they just took their word for it. We personally think that wasn't right."
The Leaf-Chronicle does not identify victims of possible sex crimes.
The Cherrys said they have watched Windie Perry take children from the street, feed lost children and give her time, money and resources to any child in need.
"They are very good friends; they are people who will help any and everybody no matter what their color or race. They are just good people. They will take you in, feed you when you hungry, clothe you when you got no clothes, then they give you money and send you on the way so you can do better."
Cherrys pursue custody
The Cherrys said they plan to file a petition to intervene in the parental hearing and try to get custody of the children.
"We would not do that if we thought for one second Windie, Elizabeth or Earnest would do anything to those children," Ramona Cherry said.
The Cherrys have stood by their side throughout the allegations and sat by them in court through their proceedings. Ramona Cherry said as foster parents they have been in similar situations, and some of their foster children had made allegations that turned out to be false.
"They would never do nothing like that," Keith Cherry said. "It tears me up too. If you are going to do something, investigate, find out, make sure it's true. They did none of this. They can't speak their side, and they won't let nobody speak for them — they won't listen. The world needs to know what's happening to these two people right now. ... They are tearing up a good family."
Tavia D. Green covers crime and courts for The Leaf-Chronicle. She can be reached at 245-0742 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.