Lititz woman says she was harmed by her psychiatrist’s techniques in bizarre malpractice case here.
LANCASTER COUNTY, PA – It’s a scene straight out of the film “Rosemary’s Baby”: men in beast masks, candles flickering in dark cellars, chalices filled with blood and urine, rape by the devil and killing Satan’s baby by plunging a knife into its body.
For 10 years, this was the life a Lititz woman thought she was living, while being counseled by a psychiatrist who put her in a trance so she could recover memories of the satanic abuse in the varying guises of her nine multiple personalities.
The woman is suing the doctor for malpractice, saying he used questionable techniques that resulted in a terror-filled existence punctuated by frequent suicide attempts and trips to a psychiatric hospital.
Rose Gray is suing Dr. Stephen Powers, also of Lititz, in an unusual civil trial that began Tuesday and is expected to last about a week.
She is asking a jury to direct Powers to pay her for the damages she says she suffered at his hands, damages that were outlined in the opening day of her trial.
Gray’s experience mirrored a “bubble” of satanic abuse reports that swept across the country from 1985 to 1995, a wave of hysteria not unlike medieval or early American witch trials, a witness testified.
Gray’s attorney, Skip Simpson of Dallas, Texas, has handled similar recovered memory/satanic abuse cases across the country. He told the jury that the case is a “psychiatric negligence case and the negligence is the creation of false memories.’’
In his opening statement before the jury and Judge Paul Allison, Powers’ attorney, Steven Costello, said his client did not commit malpractice of any sort.
Gray, 57, had a history of mental health problems when she came to Powers, said Costello, of Allentown, a partner in the law firm of Post & Schell. She suffered severe abuse as a child and was sexually abused by a doctor in the past, Costello said.
As her mental illness worsened, Gray retreated into different “alters,” or personalities, each with its own handwriting and even style of dress, Costello said.
He showed the jury samples of Gray’s varied handwriting as well as some chilling pictures she drew at the time. One drawing showed a young woman running down a hallway while monsters grabbed at her. Another depicted a woman trying to pull a devil-like head off of her shoulders.
“Shocking as this may seem,’’ Costello said, “… this multiple personality disorder was present.’’
But Dr. John Cannell, called as an expert witness for Gray, discounted that.
Before 1985, multiple personality disorder cases were very rare, said Cannell, a California psychiatrist. Then, in the next decade, thousands of cases were reported, coinciding with a burst of reports about satanic ritual abuse.
Victims often “recovered” memories of the abuse in therapy sessions.
However, studies show that recovered memories, unless independently corroborated, are unreliable and often a fantasy, Cannell said.
“You can recover incredible memories of things that had never happened,” he said.
That was borne out when the FBI investigated the reports of ritual satanic abuse being made in the ’80s, Cannell said.
The FBI could find no proof of such acts as women being impregnated and then having their babies killed and eaten, he said.
“You know, when your baby is eaten, the mother generally doesn’t like it,” Cannell said dryly. “There was no evidence it ever occurred.”
But Powers believed Gray was the victim of similar satanic abuse, Cannell said, and that she had multiple personality disorder. He formed his diagnosis after watching some movies, such as “The Three Faces of Eve,” and talking to colleagues who also believed in the disorder and satanic abuse, Cannell said.
As Gray bought into the idea that she was being abused by devil worshippers, her life became “basically a horror,” Cannell said.
In therapy sessions that began in 1988, Powers listened as Gray outlined satanic rituals, including one in which she killed her own baby. She told her doctor she also had a baby for the cult when she was 13.
Powers never tried to warn Gray that her memories might be false. He never tried to corroborate her assertions by looking at Gray’s medical or school records or talking to her family members, Cannell said.
“If you’re 13 and breeding babies for the cult, they may notice you’re gone from school for three or four months at a time,” he said.
Powers came to believe that Gray’s husband and her mother were in the cult and encouraged Gray to cut off contact with them, Cannell said. Gray eventually divorced her husband, but has since reconciled with him.
Powers also eventually believed the cult would harm him, Simpson said, noting, “when his office was broken into, he thought the cult did it.’’
Gray will never heal from the damage Powers did to her, Cannell said. She will never know which of her memories are true. She will find it hard to trust doctors or go into therapy, he said.
Gray’s attorney said Powers did not intentionally harm Gray.
“But through lack of training, lack of skill and lack of confidence,’’ he hurt her, Simpson said.
But Powers’ attorney said the psychiatrist helped Gray enough that she was able to function as a wife and mother, raising her daughter.
In the 10 years Powers treated Gray, no friends or family tried to intervene, Costello said. When he was on vacation and she saw other doctors, no one questioned his treatment.
In many of the letters to Powers, Gray thanked him for his support, Costello noted, “expressing pain, but also great hope and faith.’’
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