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Inmate is still adamant abuse conviction off-base

UTAH STATE PRISON — The irony isn't lost on Arden Brett Bullock as he sits inside the very prison he helped design.

Once a successful architect living in an affluent Bountiful neighborhood, Bullock has spent the past 15 years behind bars after a jury convicted him of sexually abusing three young boys — a crime he still insists he didn't commit.

Now after two failed court appeals and several years of wondering if he'd ever be free, the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole has granted Bullock a May 11, 2004, parole date. Bullock, 52, says he'll leave prison adamant as ever that he was the victim of a misguided police investigation spawned by a jealous ex-wife and a therapist with a preconceived agenda.

All the while, those who played vital roles in Bullock's conviction remain just as convinced he's an unrepentant sexual predator.

"There is very strong sentiment one way or another on this case," Board of Pardons Chairman Michael Sibbett said. "All the way from him being totally innocent to the opposite pole of there are so many more victims that we don't know about. There's no one in the middle."

Keeping up the fight

A jury convicted Bullock after a six-day trial in December 1986 of abusing three boys. According to court records and trial testimony, Bullock abused the boys at his Bountiful residence between May 1983 and December 1984, then threatened the boys if they told anyone.

His hair and mustache now mostly gray, Bullock sits at a table inside the prison with an indexed binder in front of him. The stack of papers inside is full of letters from supporters, court documents from his case as well as several of his own writings outlining his theories of how he was wrongly convicted. He's articulate and respectful and emits an aura of being above the whole prison experience.

But he also bristles at suggestions he should relinquish his fight to prove his innocence.

"The one thing that these b------- can't take from me, that I won't give them, is my integrity. I won't sell out," he said.

That resolve is why Bullock has refused to undergo sex offender treatment, usually a requirement for any convicted sex offender who plans on leaving prison. Entering such a program could have helped expedite his release but would have required that Bullock confess to a crime he said he didn't commit.

"The truth is, I'm innocent, and I'm not going to sell out to get a false sense of freedom," he said.

While failing to overturn his conviction, rulings from the Utah Supreme Court and more recently the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, are replete with criticisms of how the sexual abuse allegations against Bullock were investigated.

Yet, as Bullock has languished in prison, the families of the boys he was found guilty of abusing have continued in their belief that in the end, Bullock's conviction was appropriate.

"I don't really know if I want to talk about it too much," said one victim, who now plays college football in Utah. "I don't know. It's . . . I just don't really know what to say."

"I know the victims still feel like he's guilty, and the family does," the victim's father said. "I guess God's going to have to judge that."

The Deseret News typically does not name victims of sexual abuse. In this case, the newspaper honored each family member's request to remain anonymous.

The father of another victim, who recently graduated from college, said he doesn't have a problem with Bullock getting out of prison as long as he isn't able to contact the victims or hurt other children.

"I can get very riled up for what he took away from my child at a very young age," the father said. "We've carried a scar the rest of our lives because of this. It was an ugly thing that all of us were drug through, and it's totally changed us. I hope my son doesn't carry the same scars that we do."

A weighty decision

The chasm of opinions in Bullock's case forced the Board of Pardons, responsible for determining the release dates of state inmates, to spend more than six months reviewing Bullock's case before deciding to have him paroled. Most decisions take about one month.

"I'm sure we've spent more (time) on some cases, but I can't remember one in 13 years," Sibbett said. "When you start measuring a file by inches instead of pages, you know you've got a lot of pages."

Bullock's core group of supporters has remained vocal and adamant of his innocence, but Sibbett said the board was careful to avoid judgment on Bullock's conviction.

"The board does not decide guilt or innocence," Sibbett said. "They would like us to retry it, but we're not going to do that. Our job is to assess risk."

By the time he's released, Bullock will have spent four years longer behind bars than similarly convicted sex offenders, Sibbett said.

"I think that was probably the primary issue for the board was the amount of time. In comparison with other cases overall, 15 years becomes a pretty big chunk of a person's life," said Board of Pardons member Don Blanchard, who presided over Bullock's Dec. 6, 2001, parole hearing at the prison.

After months of wrangling, the board voted unanimously to parole Bullock.

"Eventually, I think the majority of people that are incarcerated deserve an opportunity to be back in society, and I think that after 15 years of incarceration, that's appropriate for Mr. Bullock," Blanchard said.

Snowballing evidence

Devoid of much of the open bitterness usually found in most inmates claiming innocence, Bullock admits that leaving prison could be his hardest challenge yet.

"I want people to be objective and willing to allow me to rebuild my life," Bullock said. "The reality is, my life and my experiences are frozen in time back in 1986, so what I want, people have moved beyond."

Bullock says his conviction has its roots in a bitter divorce with his first wife, which spawned a custody fight for the couple's children as well as allegations of sexual abuse against Bullock by his ex-spouse.

According to Bullock, in September 1985 when it appeared Bullock and his wife at the time were likely to win custody, the ex-spouse took the children to Dr. Barbara Snow, a therapist with the Intermountain Sexual Abuse Treatment Center.

Before long, Snow was spearheading the investigation into the alleged abuse, which she told police was rampant in the neighborhood. Bullock was eventually charged with abusing four boys when they were 6 or 7 years old.

Snow did not take notes or record any of her interviews with the children, and police found no physical evidence of the alleged abuse, according to court records.

A recent 10th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion, while denying Bullock's request for a new trial, dubbed Snow's interview techniques "dubious."

"The quest for the truth in sexual abuse cases is always difficult, particularly when the prosecution's case heavily relies upon the testimony of young victims. In this case, Dr. Snow's disturbing and irresponsible conduct has made this quest especially difficult," the court concluded in its decision. "We do not know whether Dr. Snow still counsels children or testifies as a prosecution witness in sexual abuse cases; if she does either, we hope that she now follows proper professional and ethical standards."

In a 1989 Utah Supreme Court dissenting opinion, Justice Daniel Stewart penned a scathing diatribe of Snow's techniques, calling her failure to record or take notes of her interviews "highly unreliable."

"The defendant was tried and convicted on an avalanche of hearsay," Stewart wrote in his response to the 3-2 majority who ruled against Bullock's request for a new trial.

"The record is replete with instances of the use of coercion, threats, pressure and suggestion by both Dr. Snow and several parents," Stewart also wrote.

A strong believer that Bullock was denied a fair trial, Stewart attended Bullock's parole hearing last year in a wheelchair and connected to an oxygen tank.

That scene only seemed to embolden Bullock and his supporters, some of whom include prison officials who admit privately that Bullock may be one of the few inmates in Utah who actually is innocent.

In a letter to the Board of Pardons prior to Bullock's parole hearing, Craig L. Smith, a former stake president in Bullock's LDS Stake in Bountiful, wrote there were still "many questions unanswered . . . regarding what, if anything, really happened."

"I interviewed Barbara Snow after having six sets of parents complain regarding the pressure she was placing on their children during her interviews," Smith also wrote. "These parents felt Barbara Snow was using techniques to confuse and cause their children to question their own knowledge of what really occurred."

Smith did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this story. Some of the alleged victims, including Bullock's own son, later recanted their accusations.

"I've spent two-thirds of my life without a dad because of some stupid social worker," Bullock's son said following his father's parole hearing.

'I'm the messenger'

For her part, Snow would prefer Bullock's case remain out of the spotlight. She does, however, maintain her belief that Bullock is guilty and that she simply served as the "messenger" between the alleged victims and investigators. Snow now runs a private practice in Salt Lake City specializing in treatment for trauma-based disorders in adults.

"Probably the best statement is simply that the jury heard the information that I heard and they convicted him on felony counts," Snow said. "It was my role to offer the information that the children had offered me. I testified to what I had heard and what I had seen."

Snow said her involvement began when a 4-year-old boy was sent to the Intermountain Sexual Abuse Treatment Center, a private, nonprofit agency where Snow served as the clinical director.

The child said he'd been sexually assaulted by two 7-year-olds. One of the 7-year-olds said their behavior was based on exposure to an adolescent.

"That adolescent reported, in turn, that their behavior, in fact, emanated from their contact with Mr. Bullock," Snow said.

Snow said she interviewed several children in Bullock's neighborhood who reported being sexually abused by him. Snow characterized the acts as "sophisticated sexual conduct."

"This was by no stretch of the imagination conduct that was age-appropriate for children," Snow said.

While convinced his boy was abused, one of the victim's father admitted Snow "always used questionable techniques."

Another victim's father considers his son's allegations legitimate.

"You would really have to be a master manipulator in order to have all those things second-hand into a child's mind and have them hold up in a prosecution," the father said.

Snow was also involved in the prosecution of a similar sexual abuse case in Lehi. The Utah Supreme Court, however, later overturned the convictions based largely on criticisms of Snow's interview techniques with the victims.

"Within a year she was totally destroyed as a credible witness, but it was too late for Bullock," his appeals attorney Craig Cook said.

With the most recent setback in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Cook said he plans to appeal Bullock's case to the U.S. Supreme Court on the grounds police and prosecutors gave too much authority to Snow to conduct the investigation without the proper supervision.

"But," Cook said, "my odds are about the same as going to Vegas and winning the jackpot."