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When 5-year-old Zackary approached the witness stand to testify against the man accused of sexually abusing him, prosecutor Leslie Lewis was apprehensive.

The boy was afraid of the defendant - his father - and of the courtroom filled with adults.Lewis knew the boy's testimony was crucial to the case. Jurors needed to hear Zackary's story from the child's perspective.

The little boy answered questions from the defense attorney whose job it was to catch Zackary telling a lie.

"Why would your dad do these things to you?" the attorney asked.

The boy then turned his attention away from the interrogator leaning over him toward his father sitting across the room. With an expression of hurt and wide-eyed puzzlement, the boy looked his father directly in the eye and asked, "I don't know. Why did you do it, Dad?"

After 10 years of prosecuting some of the toughest criminal cases - child abuse, rape and child homicide - Lewis has left

he Salt Lake County attorney's office for a job with a civil firm.

As she cleaned out her office desk, photographs of Zackary and the other children she had represented in court, their letters and handmade thank-you cards, evoked memories - some painful, some satisfying.

During her career as a prosecutor, Lewis has had her life threatened, her name cursed and her reputation challenged in print by those who had been defeated by her in her battle to defend children's legal rights.

Ask any prosecutor what kind of case is most demanding - professionally and personally - the answer will be the same: child abuse.

Despite its pressures, Lewis has loved her job.

"It's tremendously satisfying to see a child muster the courage to face his or her abuser, take charge of his life and begin to restore shattered self-confidence," said Lewis.

Defense attorneys describe her as"aggressive, uncompromising, formidable" yet "compassionate and caring" opponent. The tough side of the no-nonsense prosecutor mellows as she speaks with sensitivity and affection about the children she has helped through the terror of abuse. Her voice reveals her emotion as she shares her feelings for "these small children whose trust in adults has been cruelly violated."

"Zack's ability to take the witness stand in a crowded courtroom facing his own father was one of the most courageous things I've seen.

"You don't expect a child to have that kind of strength."

To prepare a child for the trauma of testifying, Lewis establishes a friendship with the victim by meeting many times and discussing the case on a child's level of understanding. The jar filled with jelly beans on her desk, a bag of toys and cheerful posters create an inviting and comfortable setting for the scared child.

When Lewis met Zackary, he was a hostile, aggressive, distrustful boy. He had been sexually abused since he was an infant. Charges were filed against his father when Zackary was 4.

He is 8 now. The youngster has had no contact with his father since his conviction three years ago. While Zackary still has difficulty trusting others, he is happier, more loving and more self-confident.

"Children are extremely vulnerable and helpless for a few critical years of their childhoods. Those years make so much difference to the quality of their entire lives.

"Prosecutors have the sobering responsibility to safeguard that innocence and protect them from any further assault," she said.

Lewis remembers a case involving an 8-year-old girl who testified against her father. The jury, convinced by the child's straightforward testimony, found him guilty of all charges.

The day the man was to be sentenced, he committed suicide.

Given the difficult task of informing the girl about her father's suicide, Lewis tenderly took the child aside to explain that she was not responsible for her father's death.

The child's mature reply surprised her. "I think in life we do what we have to do, and then we live with the consequences."

The harrowing photographs of children who have been severely battered - and some murdered - remain in Lewis's mind as an awful reminder of the unspeakably grim side of a prosecutor's job.

One of her cases involved a child who had been severely beaten, then left to die. "The child lived in incredible pain for a week before dying from the poison in his body from his liver. No child should have to suffer like that."

Another child had been burned with a cigarette by his father between each of his fingers.

"When I told him it wasn't his fault that he was burned, he didn't believe me. He was convinced he was battered because he was a bad little boy."

In the past decade, with the increase in the numbers of reported child abuse cases, new tools have been developed to assist children through the court process.

Recognizing the need for literature on abuse written at a child's level, Lewis initiated the creation of coloring books illustrating the child's role in the courtroom.

The coloring book reads:

"I meet my victim counselor before court starts. She is my helper and friend.

"I sit in the witness chair and answer questions. I know it is important to tell the truth.

"The judge is glad that I told the truth, it helps him do his job. Everyone is proud of me. I feel proud too."

The coloring books have increased the self-confidence of child victims entering a courtroom.

"You can tell a child that he or she is not alone in facing the problem of abuse, but if a child sees in print and through drawings that other children have been abused and gone to court, it's very comforting. It gives them confidence."

Statutes passed in the last five years provide prosecutors with the option of allowing a child to testify via close-circuit television - only if it is determined that the child is absolutely incapable of testifying in the presence of the defendant.

While Lewis views videotaping as a useful tool, it is not a prosecutor's panacea.

"The size and vulnerability of the child is lost on a TV screen. For a juror, it can mean the difference between viewing a television drama from a detached perspective versus witnessing a real-life tragedy.

"Because the testimony must be taped by a camera from a specified distance, the juror misses the tears of a child or the trembling hands."

Salt Lake County's 83 percent conviction rate is higher than the national average, she said. That statistic reflects those cases in which defendants are either found guilty or have pleaded guilty to first- or second-degree felonies.

In her new job with the firm of Jones, Waldo, Holbrook and McDonough, Lewis intends to continue helping those who have been criminally victimized by seeking compensation through civil litigation.

While she is excited about the challenge of another area of law, she knows she will miss some of the personal rewards of being "a kind of guardian angel" to abused children.

A letter from Zackary's mother is a cherished reminder of her years as a county prosecutor.

The mother writes:

"I witnessed my son in tears as he spoke of his terrible experiences, unable to understand why his daddy made him do the things he did. Zackary was told by his tormentor not to talk about these sexual encounters.

"However, with the skillful care and tender understanding shown him by Ms. Lewis, Zack was confident and able to speak out. He is improving steadily in his emotional, physical health and social behavior.

"This can only mean a more positive future for him. My sincere thanks."