Testimony: Dollar children lived like war prisoners

Date: 2005-09-09

ABBIE VAN SICKLE
St. Petersburg Times

John and Linda Dollar brainwashed their children, leading the kids to believe they deserved to be tortured for stealing food and sneaking out of the closet where they slept, said Thomas Dikel, a psychologist who examined the children.

During an Aug. 29 closed hearing where a judge ruled the children could testify by videotape at the trial, Dikel compared the children's experience to that of prisoners of war.

"Although it sounds awfully melodramatic, I would maintain that it is very close to what happened to the American GIs during the Korean War in prisoner-of-war camps, both in terms of starvation, isolation, torture, being forced to watch their friends being tortured, also the psychological torture," he said.

Dikel's testimony was made available this week in John and Linda Dollar's court files. The Dollars are accused of torturing five of their eight adopted children. Prosecutors say the couple starved the children, shocked them with a cattle prod and pulled out their toenails with pliers.

The couple have pleaded not guilty to charges of aggravated child abuse. They are being held at the Citrus County jail awaiting trial, which is scheduled to begin Oct. 31.

At the August hearing, Circuit Judge Ric Howard heard arguments by the prosecutors and Charles Vaughn, the defense attorney for John, 59, and Linda Dollar, 52.

Dikel, who testified for the prosecutors, said an examination of the children revealed that several of them had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The children, who now are in foster care, would suffer setbacks in their treatment if they faced their parents in court, he said.

Vaughn raised several concerns about Dikel's diagnosis, particularly the analogy comparing the Dollar children to prisoners of war. The research Dikel used to make the comparison is from the 1950s and '60s, Vaughn pointed out. He argued the research is outdated and questioned the fairness and accuracy of Dikel's comments.

"I have not found anybody saying this is not true, this is nonsense, (this) doesn't work," Dikel said.

When Vaughn asked Dikel whether the children could have made up the whole story about being tortured, Dikel said he had seen the physical evidence in the case and couldn't imagine the allegations were false.

There's a lot of evidence to support their claims of torture, including severe malnourishment and starvation, he said.

The children's lack of growth and their failure to go through puberty matches up with these accusations, Dikel said.

He said he has seen pieces of toenails entered into evidence.

"I don't even know the words for what I would be if that all turned out to be some kind of fantasy that (one of the children) somehow organized," he said.

Dikel disagreed with Vaughn's theory that the children's trauma could be due to the stress of being removed from their parents and placed in foster homes.

"Thousands and thousands and thousands of children, unfortunately, are removed from their homes in similar situations, and they don't end up with post-traumatic stress disorder," Dikel said. "Very, very few children are subject to the kind of torture that these children were subjected to."

Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 860-7312 or vansickle@sptimes.com.

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