Gunther Fiek

Innocent Victim of Mass Hysteria

In More Detail

About Gunther Fiek

Gunther Fiek was born in Peru on an October day in 1970. He was married on 05/20/2000. He has been doing Martial Arts since age 12 and is a 3rd DAN Black Belt Taekwondo expert, holding National and International certification; he also holds Black Belts in Karate and Judo. In addition to being a Martial Arts Instructor, he also holds national certification as a soccer coach through the US Soccer Federation and Georgia State Soccer Association. He has been a Martial Arts Instructor since 1993 and a Soccer coach since 1994. He attended Kennesaw State University in Georgia where he studied Business Administration.

He started coaching soccer at Metro North Youth Soccer Association in Marietta, GA, where he coached various teams since 1994 until the spring of 2000. He also gave private coaching lessons to individuals or groups.

In 1995, he became a chief instructor and Director of the Taekwondo program offered at the Christian Activity Center (CAC), a multipurpose recreation and activity building of Eastside Baptist Church (EBC) located in Marietta, GA. With time, he became involved with different areas in the recreation ministry. In 1996, he became Director of the Eastside Pee-Wee sports camp, an annual Summer Camp offered to kids between the ages of 4 thru 7 years, held at the CAC.

He started attending Eastside Baptist, a 5000-member church at the time, in the fall of 1994 and became an active member in January of 1996. As a member of Eastside, he was primarily involved with the youth and singles ministry, as well as other areas of the church. He has taught Sunday school for 5th to 8th grade students. His responsibilities with the youth ministry, in addition to teaching on Sundays, included participating in events throughout the year like weekend retreats and week long out of town camps, just to mention a few.

Eastside Christian School (ECS), a private K-8th grade school and a ministry of EBC, located on the church’s campus, approached Gunther about helping them to start a soccer program for their middle school. In the school year of 1997-98, he coached the private school’s first boy’s and girl’s soccer team. Due to lack of interest, it became the only year that girl’s soccer was offered at ECS. He continued coaching and developed the boys program until the school year of 1998-99. After that, he passed on his position as coach, but remained indirectly involved with the program as a consultant until the fall of 2000.

Since 1995, Gunther has worked with a significant number of children through the different organizations and ministries he was involved with. As a Taekwondo instructor at Eastside alone, he has had approximately 200 students. Throughout his career as an instructor, Mr. Fiek taught about 400 taekwondo students. Including all of the other activities that he taught, he had approximately 2,000 students. In all that time, not a single accusation of any kind had been made against him.

From the moment he began teaching at Eastside, Mr. Fiek’s classes were enormously popular. There was often a waiting list of children who wanted to take his classes. As of 12/01/2000, he had 150 active students taking his Taekwondo classes, which were offered twice a week for approximately 50 minutes each. Class size varied between eight and twenty-three students, the majority of whom were between four and eleven years old. Mr. Fiek also taught classes for teenagers and adults.

The Facilities

The classroom was a multi-purpose room in the recreation building of the Eastside Baptist Church. Early in Mr. Fiek’s tenure, the doors to the room were solid. At some point, windows were installed, allowing people in the hallway to see into the room. The doors were never locked during class, and were sometimes propped open. In addition, there were mirrors on three of the classroom walls, providing a broader view of the room. The majority of the alleged acts of abuse in this case are said to have occurred in this classroom, during class time, with other students present and parents coming and going from the room.

Near the entrance to the classroom, another doorway opened into a storage, or equipment, room in which pads and gear for the taekwondo class were kept, along with equipment and materials for other church activities. The equipment room had two entrances: one from the taekwondo room and the other from another room in the activity center. Four other programs shared that room with the taekwondo classes. Tim McDaniel, director of the activities program, testified for the state, that it was not unusual for people from other programs to go into the storage room during classes and that it was impossible to have known when someone might do that.

The complainants testified that taekwondo students went into the storage room for various reasons, at various times in the classes, alone, with Mr. Fiek, in groups, and in groups with Mr. Fiek. A number of acts of abuse were alleged to have occurred in this storage room, during class, while the other students were present.

Mr. Fiek’s taekwondo classroom was a busy place. Classes met one after another, with children coming and going from mid morning through the late afternoon. Parents brought students to class and picked them up when class was through. Parents watched the classes while they were in progress through the windows and several of the complainants’ parents conceded that they came and went from the room at the beginning, end and during classes, some staying to watch all or part of the classes. Several parents testified at Trial that they had stayed in the classroom for different periods of time and were able to go into the room at will.

The complainants testified that the doors in the classroom were often open and that parents and siblings came and went from the classroom during the class time. Several complainants testified that the doors were open during class and that parents usually walked in and out or watched classes while sitting on chairs inside the room. Detective Streefkerk conceded that Mr. Fiek’s taekwondo classroom was one in which “people would come and go.”

The Accusations

The very first accusation against Mr. Fiek was elicited by Ms. Phelps from her son, Jimmy on December 1, 2000. She was prompted to question Jimmy after her daughter complained that Jimmy improperly touched her.

To elicit the accusation, Ms. Phelps relied on several suggestive tactics that have been condemned by an uncontroverted body of scientific research literature for their capacity to corrupt children’s ability to make accurate reports and to cause children to make, and even to believe, reports of events that they have never experienced.

Once she elicited her accusation, Ms. Phelps took Jimmy to Safe Path Children’s Advocacy Center, where he was questioned by rookie interviewer Monika Merrifield, who had not even taken any classes in interviewing children. Immediately after questioning Jimmy, without any investigation whatsoever, Merrifield told Ms. Phelps that Jimmy had in fact been molested.

Arriving home from that interview, Ms. Phelps phoned four parents in the community to repeat the accusation: Ms. Cinnek, Ms. Kramdem, Ms. Vogel, and Ms. Baker, all of who had children in the taekwondo program or the church school. Ms. Vogel’s and Ms. Baker’s children would become complainants. In addition to spreading the accusation she obtained from Jimmy, Ms. Phelps told these four that she was concerned about their children. She did not mention that Jimmy’s accusation was not freely disclosed or that she had to apply influence and suggestive methods to secure the accusation she did.

Following Ms. Phelps’s call, other parents started to call other people; within 48 hours, a given number of families had already got word of the accusation.

Thus, by Sunday, December 3, 2000, Ms. Phelps’s accusations had been spread to at least 11 families – with 9 complainants – and two school administrators. It should be noted that some of these parents passed on Ms. Phelps’s accusations even before talking with their children. Thus, it really was Ms. Phelps’s accusation that seeded the climate of accusations that grew, spreading quickly through the community. That the accusations had spread far and wide by Monday morning, December 4th, is evidenced by the fact that Ms. King, who was not on Ms. Phelps’s phone tree had heard about the accusations and reported them by phone to Ms. Drake, the mother of another complainant. At that time Ms. Drake was in a bank parking lot and the bank manager, another parent, came up to her car to ask if she was aware of the allegations.

The Church Further Disseminated Accusations
of Abuse Without Question or Investigation

Officials at the Eastside church immediately spread the accusations. On Monday morning, December 4, 2000, church staff began calling parents of the students in Mr. Fiek’s classes, inviting them to a meeting at the church the following night. Thus, Ms. Phelps’s accusation was delivered to a broader community whose children had never complained about Mr. Fiek despite his years of teaching there.

The church held three meetings, on December 5th, 6th, and 11th. According to pastor Harris, between 90 and 120 people attended the first meeting. Among those in attendance were the parents of the majority of children who would become complainants. Children were present and running around the church at the time of the meeting, talking and playing together that night.

The first meeting was conducted by pastor Harris who opened the meeting and “alerted [the parents in attendance] of the accusations that were being made.” Parents were told, among other things, that Mr. Fiek had been accused of molesting a number of children in his classes and had fled from police. Thus, the accusation elicited by Ms. Phelps, along with other inflammatory claims were dispersed by the church pastor – again without investigation or consideration of how the accusations had been elicited.

At the first meeting, pastor Harris introduced a therapist, Michael Brissette, who allegedly had experience with adolescents. Brissette then provided “comfort and guidance for [the families] in this time of grief,” and told them about ways to question their children about abuse by Mr. Fiek.

The second, December 6, 2000, meeting was attended by between 75 and 110 people, including the complainants’ parents that attended the first.

Detective Deryl Streefkerk attended that meeting to tell parents how to report incidents and what to do next. Streefkerk reported “what was being done to try to get [Mr. Fiek] to come back.” Mr. Fiek actually turned himself in to authorities when he heard that the police were looking for him.

Sergeant Alexander, from the Crimes Against Children Unit, and Jinger Robbins, the executive director at Safe Path Children’s Advocacy Center, also spoke at the meeting. Robbins’ purpose in attending was to “reduce[e] the trauma for children and their families as they go through in investigation and intervention proceedings around allegations of sexual abuse.”

In addition to the church meetings, several letters were sent to parents. On December 6th, executive pastor Ward sent a letter offering counseling services.

The School Was Also a Mouthpiece For The Accusations

Almost immediately after learning of the accusations, principal Jeannie Borders prepared a letter that was read to the entire school and sent home to the parents. One complainant testified that the letter was “about what happened,” so they would know about the accusations. The letter also contained prayers; one calling for Mr. Fiek to admit guilt. At least one teacher led her class in a prayer about the accusations broadcast by Borders.

With the letter to the parents was a note instructing parents, “if your child has had any contact with Mr. Gunther, you may want to take this opportunity to begin to question them to find out if you need to take any action.”

There is no indication in the record that there was any thought expressed in any of the forums utilized to spread accusations by the church or the school that the claims elicited by one parent and spread by telephone and rumor through the community might not have been true. There is nothing indicating that anyone did anything but immediately subscribe to the hypothesis of Mr. Fiek’s guilt. Nor does the record include any consideration of the suggestive and influential means used to produce them.

Complainants Mixed and Mingled as Accusations Spread.

A number of the complainants attended the Eastside School. Thus they and their parents were subjected to these announcements and letters of accusations and prayers of Mr. Fiek’s guilt, prior to the parents eliciting accusations. Many complainants had the opportunity to discuss the accusations because they were in the same classes, knew each other in school, or were neighbors.

Influential Methods of Questioning Used by Parents, the School and State Investigators Produced the Accusations of Abuse.

Accusations were not discovered or “disclosed.” They were elicited through numerous suggestive, coercive and influential tactics that have been condemned by a substantial body of uncontroverted scientific research literature for corrupting children’s memory and recall ability, resulting in inaccurate reports, that children can come to believe, of events they have never experienced.

Parents’ Use of Influence to Elicit Accusations

After she learned that her son Jimmy had inappropriately touched his sister, Ms. Phelps elicited the first accusation against Mr. Fiek. She claimed that she never did anything that might influence Jimmy and that she did not even react to the accusation of molestation that she elicited from him. Jimmy revealed, however, that prior to taking him to be interviewed by police, his mother told him that Mr. Fiek had improperly touched his other students. Jimmy also testified that his mother told him what to tell detective Merrifield during his interview with her. The prosecutor challenged that statement, however, prompting Jimmy to change his answer.

A significant number of the complainants revealed that their parents had given them a variety of pieces of information before taking them to be interviewed by police, all of these pieces referring to Mr. Fiek’s “multiple acts in touching his students”.

In fact, according to the parents and complainants’ testimony, most of the accusations were elicited by direct and specific questions at home, without a single complainant making a spontaneous statement.

Thus, the parents of the complainants who provided the initial accusations – all prompted by Ms. Phelps’s telephone calls that started the whole thing – used various suggestive and influential types of questioning to elicit accusations from them. The parents who elicited accusations after hearing of the first ones did the same.

The State Interviews

Detectives Mary Finlayson – who testified as an expert – Streefkerk and Merrifield interviewed the complainants and preserved on videotape the accusations that had previously been elicited by the parents. It is worth to mention that, according to their own testimony, these interviewers had never been trained in Child Development or Credibility and Reliability of Children.

Streefkerk, the lead investigator in this case, revealed the ignorance of the interviewers, and stark contradictions between what the investigators believe are appropriate tactics and all of the scientific literature on the subject. For example, Streefkerk did not find it improper to praise a child for a particular answer. He conceded that it is their practice to tell an interview subject that others have made accusations and that the police need help to make sure abuse doesn’t happen to anyone else.

These detectives had concluded, prior to speaking with the complainants that Mr. Fiek was guilty. Their bias is exhibited most clearly in several aspects of their conduct during and subsequent to the interviews.

First, interviewers made no attempt to discover whether the complainants had been questioned by their parents, what types of questions were asked or what influence was applied to elicit the accusations that were repeated during the interviews. Indeed, one parent conceded, “I was expecting them to ask me a lot of questions. They just wanted to know, “what he disclosed.”

Most of the complainants began the interviews claiming that they had been told what the interview was about, if not what to say.

Examples of the interviewers’ refusal to even hear about the influence to which the complainants were subjected include Streefkerk, who was the most brazen in his disregard for gathering accurate facts or that the product of his ineptitude would result in 90 years of incarceration. “You can only do what you can do” was Streekerk’s justification for refusing to find out what influence the complainants endured as accusations were elicited. He knew that some complainants had learned about accusations from others, but was not concerned with that at all. He knew it would have been helpful to know about influence and that parents, who elicited the first accusations, were not concerned with accuracy. Because he didn’t think parents would remember how or how many times they questioned the complainants, he never asked. Their trial testimony conceding their methods and repetition shows that Streefkerk’s assumption was dead wrong. He also conceded that they never looked at the letters read to all of the students and sent to the parents. Thus, the influence of these letters was never considered.

Finlayson, never asked about how the accusations were elicited in the first place and conceded that she “never” asks parents about influence asserted prior to her interviews. She conceded also her belief it is not important to know what kind of influence might have been endured.

Merrifield also knew nothing about the influence used to elicit accusations from the complainants. It appears that she never asked.

Several complainants implicated others of Mr. Fiek’s students, either as victims of molestation or as witnesses. Those other students contradicted those accusations, either expressly or by failing to corroborate the claims of the complainant. However, the defense was barred to even mentioning these other interviews.

All of this was ignored by interviewers, without question or concern, but for the fragments that included accusations. Thus, the interviewers elicited and accepted only stories that were consistent with their a priori beliefs of the occurrence of abuse.

State Experts

The state presented two expert witnesses, Jinger Robbins, director of Safe Path Advocacy Center, and Karen Nash, Safe Path’s clinical coordinator. Detective Finlayson, who interviewed the complainants was also qualified as an expert in forensic interviews. All of them presented made-up faux-scientific claims that are unsupported and contradicted by the scientific research, and reveal as little knowledge of the scientific research literature as the detectives. They all bolstered the state’s case and the complainants’ veracity.

The Scientific Research Literature Disproves
the State’s Experts’ Claims

In her testimony, Robbins ignored all of the scientific research, despite its universal acceptance. Indeed, none of Robbins’ claims about suggestive questioning are supported by the research literature. She cited none, but conceded that she had read the leading text in the field, Jeopardy in the Courtroom, by Ceci & Bruck, p. 8, a book that describes and explains all of the scientific research conducted in the last century on the effects of suggestion on children’s memory and recall ability.

The research in Ceci & Bruck illustrates the corrupting effects of suggestive interview features, many of which were present in the parents’ and interviewers’ questioning here. Ceci & Bruck’s conclusions have been accepted by the scientific community and remain uncontroverted. See, Rosenthal, at 364-368. The dozens, if not hundreds, of studies explained in Ceci & Bruck disprove all of Robbins’ claims.

For example, Robbins claimed that “selective reinforcement” or offering praise for a particular answer is not suggestive. Pages 139 – 146 of Ceci & Bruck reveal that it is. Robbins told the jury that “peer pressure has not been studied [and]…is typically around issues like doing drugs…” Pages 146-152 of Ceci & Bruck define peer pressure (telling children what others have said) and cite studies revealing that it is a powerful corrupting interview feature. Robbins alleged that repeated questions and interviews are of no concern because clarification is necessary and “good parents” respond to their children. Pages 107-125 of Ceci & Bruck are devoted to studies demonstrating the highly corrupting effects of repeated interviews and questions. And, Robbins told the jury several times that research shows that suggestion is not a concern with older children. Again, the research reveals the contrary. E.g., Ackil & Zaragoza, (1998); “The memorial consequences of forced confabulation: Age differences in susceptibility to false memories.” Developmental Psychology, 34, 1358-1372; Zaragoza, Payment, et al. (2001). “Interviewing Witnesses: Forced Confabulation and confirmatory feedback increase false memories.” Psychological Science, 12, 173-477. Also, as stated above, Robbins told the jury that children do not state false beliefs after one single 15 to 20 minute interview. She neglected to tell the jury about research, including Garvin, Wood, et al. (1998), “More than suggestion: the effect of interviewing techniques for the McMartin Preschool case, Journal of Applied Psychology, 83, 347-359 (several suggestive features in a single 10-minute interview can result in false reports) that disprove her claims.

Thus, while Robbins claimed that the questioning by the parents and investigators was of no concern, the research thoroughly disproves her bogus conclusions.

Like Robbins, Nash’s claims about disclosure are unsupported and contradicted by the scientific research literature.

Finlayson told the jury that she has never had a situation in which a child claimed to have been molested because of something another child said to him or her. Coming from a witness that had been qualified as an expert in forensic questioning, this statement carried the force of “expertise.” Finlayson failed to mention to the jury that several scientific studies show that peer pressure is a powerful corrupting feature. See, Ceci & Bruck, p. 146-152. Mr. Fiek objected to Finlayson’s qualifications as an expert.

Other factors

Some other factors that played a significant role in Mr. Fiek’s trial:

  • Many complainants and their parents conceded that tying the belts with the required knot was difficult and that Mr. Fiek had to help the students with it. Testimony by state witnesses revealed that it was not unusual for the belts and pants to become lose during exercises, making it necessary to retie them.
  • The students also wore protective cups over their genitals during sparring matches. These were worn either over or under their uniform pants. Some of the students testified that they had trouble putting on or adjusting their protective cups and that Mr. Fiek had to help them with that and said that Mr. Fiek might have touched their privates while doing that.
  • The state presented 63 witnesses, including: 22 complainants, 33 of their parents, two experts, three interviewers, the church pastor, the director of the church athletic center, and Mr. Fiek’s taekwondo instructor. The state also presented videotapes of the complainants’ interviews. None of the 41 other of Mr. Fiek’s students who were interviewed but would not accuse him and who contradicted the complainants were presented. The defense was barred from even mentioning their videotapes or mentioning these “non-accusers” for any purpose, including cross-examination of state witnesses.
  • The state’s theory is that the accusations against Mr. Fiek arose spontaneously, all at once, from 23 children, without suggestion, influence or any type of taint from outside sources. The state presented its witnesses, not in the order in which the accusations were obtained from the complainants, but rather in a random order. Thus, it was impossible at trial for the jury, or the defense, to recognize the direct route of telephone conversations and other methods of dissemination of allegations, as the claims against Mr. Fiek multiplied exponentially through the community, producing complainants along the way.
  • For each complainant, the state presented one or both parents. Thus, parents injected massive amounts of hearsay by repeating the accusations they elicited from the complainants and multiplying the number of times the accusations were heard and the number of accusations presented – as some of the hearsay included accusations that had been abandoned by the complainants by the time of their interviews or trial.
  • Several complainants revealed that they had been told what to say at trial.
  • There were several absurdities; for instance, Billy Edwards told interviewers that Mr. Fiek licked his penis 59 times in the classroom during taekwondo class; also that his penis had been touched by his brother and licked by his friends Matthew, Taylor and Christian. At the trial he mentioned other names but also said 3 times that “nothing happened”. No one checked with these boys.

The Indictment, Trial and Sentence

On March 2, 2001, Mr. Fiek was charged with three (3) counts of Aggravated Child Molestation and twenty-one counts of Child Molestation pursuant to Cobb County Indictment # 01-9-1025. The indictment involved allegations from twenty-three (23) children. A jury trial was held in this matter from August 20, 2001 to September 6, 2001. The jury found Mr. Fiek guilty of 18 counts of Child Molestation and 3 of Aggravated Child Molestation.

At the sentencing hearing on October 21, 2001, the sentence was structured in a manner requiring Mr. Fiek to serve ninety (90) years in custody without the possibility of parole (three 30-year sentences for aggravated child molestation to run consecutively).

The conviction in this case is the product of the state’s reliance on repetition and piling-on repetitive evidence, massive amounts of hearsay, and success at preventing Mr. Fiek from introducing evidence necessary to mount a defense, confront the state’s case and cross-examine witnesses.

Once the inappropriately admitted evidence is stripped from the case and the erroneously excluded evidence is considered, Mr. Fiek’s conviction is revealed to be a chimera cast by influence and suggestion, unsupported by common sense. The result of so much error is that an innocent young man has been sentenced to spend 90 years in prison, a virtual life-sentence. Such an unjust result cannot stand.

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