A Rageful Mother Cruelly Wins Child Custody Dispute With Her Estranged Husband -
The Robert E. Shafer Story
By Robert E. Shafer
Edited by Laurie Solomon, JD Editor
Justice:Denied magazine, Issue 25, page 9
name is Robert Shafer, and I was sentenced to a Texas State Prison in
May 2001 for 122 years for crimes I did not commit. I have been
convicted on one count of indecency with a child, two counts of
sexual assault of a child and one count of aggravated sexual assault
of a child.
I refused the State's offer of 5, then 10 years when charges were first filed, because I am innocent; I believed in the justice system, and that the truth would be told.
I was one month from completing unsupervised probation for a D.U.I. (the one time I had been in trouble with the law, with no re-offenses) when my stepdaughter, Jessica Csonka, filed sexual assault charges against me.
I met my now ex-wife, Heather Csonka, and her 4 year old daughter Jessica, in Washington State in 1985. Heather claimed she was fleeing a husband in Galveston, Texas that had abused and raped her. Heather and I married in 1987 when Jessica was 6 years old. She had had no contact with her biological father so I became the “only father she ever knew” and she stuck to me like glue. Heather and I had a daughter and son during the first two years of our marriage. We had a loving and open home with the normal ups and downs in our marriage. Heather was a loving and good mother.
We moved to Galveston, Texas in 1989. Heather was working for the Women's Resource and Crisis Center where her mother also worked. Eventually Heather went to work for The Aids Coalition of Coastal Texas (ACCT). I worked Monday through Friday for Galveston Railroad and from 1996-1998 I also worked weekends for Sterling Combustion. We worked our schedules around the care of our children.
In 1998, Heather began staying out until the wee hours and spent a lot of weekends out of town on “business.” I felt she was seeing someone else and we separated. I went to Washington State to set up household and be near my family. I kept in continual phone contact with all three children. Jessica even asked me to send her summer job applications so she could work when they came to visit. Heather and I sometimes argued about the children, or when she was “broke” and needed money. She said our son was having behavioral problems in school and blamed it on me because I was not nearby. She told me she was leaving for a month to participate in a benefit for ACCT. Her sister, Katrina, would be staying with the children while she was gone. I didn't like what I was hearing, missed my children very much and wanted to repair my marriage, so I returned to Texas in November 1998 unannounced.
My children were elated, but Jessica was in shock and Heather was very angry and asked me why I had returned. When I told her, “to be with them”, she threw a fit and told me to take the two younger children with me and go back to Washington. Then she became angrier and told me that I would not take our daughter. Then in a rage she said I would not take either child from her, and that she would have me killed or put away if I tried. I told her I would not take the kids from her; instead I would get an apartment nearby (which I did) and help her with them. I offered to keep them on weekends or whenever she needed me to. Jessica would join us at times, telling me she liked this arrangement with separate households. Jessica was always by my side and never had a problem with going places with me alone. It’s when I moved back to Texas that the problems began.
During visits with my son he was often upset and finally told me that he wanted to move in with me. He claimed that their home was chaotic, that Jessica was partying a lot and that he had caught her in his mother’s bed with a naked man. He maintained that his mother did nothing about Jessica's behavior. He also said his mother was dating a doctor that had turned his world upside down. He asked me when we would move to Washington. I told him when I had enough money we would leave. It was after these conversations that Jessica told me that “I would not take her sister and brother from her mother and she knew how to stop me.”
In January 1, 1999 I was offered a company expense job working in Arizona. Before I was to leave I made my usual good night call to the children. Heather got on the phone very angry and told me to use my visitation times to contact them and to give them their privacy. When I asked her over and over why she was so angry, she finally said, “You raped my daughter, Jessica.” I was then served a Protective Order and it would be the last time I would be able to make contact with my children. I decided to take the company expense job in AZ, and it was only after I left that she filed charges. She testified at trial that she hated me and would never have to deal with me again. At one point Jessica told her grandmother and aunt (Heather's family) that I was doing things to her. Heather and her mother both worked at Women's Crisis Center. Why did they not report it then? Heather claimed at trial she had NO idea of what process was on these things.
In March 1999, while I was in Arizona, I learned that I had warrants for my arrest in LaMarque, Texas. I returned to find out what was happening. This is when I learned that I had been charged with sexual assault against a minor, my stepdaughter Jessica. The officer told me to turn myself in and let the courts settle the matter, as these things sometimes “get out of hand.”
I then spent 7 months in the Galveston County Jail. My friend, Gene Williamson, said that he had talked to Heather and she was bragging and laughing about how I would be put away for a very long time. My friends offered to bail me out and I returned to work in Arizona in October 1999.
In May 2001, when I returned to Texas for trial, Judge Norma Venso was not there. She appointed my attorney, Robert Coltzer, and she was the judge I went before in 1999. Now a retired visiting judge, Allen Lerner, had replaced her. Twenty-four of 28 charges were dropped immediately.
My lawyer was in ill health, often asked me to repeat testimony to him and was unable to read his own notes. He never questioned my witnesses or Jessica in depth. At one point Mr. Coltzer made an objection. The Judge asked him what he was objecting to and Mr. Coltzer answered, “I’m just objecting.” With this the Judge looked over at the Prosecutor and smiled.
Ms. Joy Blackmon, a physician's assistant for ABC Center/Women's Crisis Center (where Heather worked at one time) examined Jessica on January 28, 1999. At this time Ms. Blackmon observed two healed superficial tears to the hymen and an asymmetrical fold in Jessica’s anal tissue. Ms. Blackmon said none of these findings were “particularly indicative of sexual abuse.” Ms. Blackmon considered the anal fissure she observed to be “acute or new” although Jessica later testified that she was 14 years old when I had anally assaulted her. Jessica did admit at trial that she had sexual relations prior to the exam.
Dr. James Lukefahr never established when or whether Jessica had consensual sex or was sexually assaulted. He said that the discovered tissue tears could have happened from the hymen being breached, that it was undoubtedly was quite painful when it happened, that the tears probably caused excessive bleeding in one so young that would be quite obvious.
This 4-day trial brought a guilty verdict and I was taken to Galveston County Jail to wait for sentencing. Judge Norma Venso came to see me. When I asked her why she was not at trial, she said, “I am wondering, too, as I was out of town.” She then said she was assigning me the best court appointed appeals attorney they had: Mr. Thomas McQuage.
My girlfriend in Arizona, Gail Boatman, called my mother in Washington to tell her of the results of trial. My oldest daughter, Amanda Shafer, (also in Washington) later called Gail asking what had happened to her Dad. When told of the charges and the testimony of Jessica, she began to cry, saying she did not understand why Jessica wanted to do this to her Dad. She told Gail that she and Jessica had corresponded from December 1995 until October 1996 and that she still had 14 of the letters. Because of the distance and infrequent contact that Amanda and I had, I had chosen not to tell her of Jessica’s allegations. These letters were then presented to Mr. McQuage, and a Motion for New Trial based on New Evidence was made in June 2001.
14 letters seem to provide a timeline of accusations. Her testimony
was that he “raped” her occasionally at age 13 (this is
when she lost her virginity to a boyfriend in her bedroom closet).
Jessica had come to me at age 13/14 telling me about the
“bedroom closet” sex. She was afraid that she was
pregnant. I bought her a test kit that came up negative. This
happened another 4-5 times until she asked me to take her for birth
control pills. I then told Jessica her mother was going to have to
deal with it. I pleaded with her to please stop her active sex life
behind closed doors. Jessica would tell me her hopes, dreams and
fears. When I asked her why she did not go to her mother, she said,
“We know how she is, you are more understanding.” At
trial she claimed that these conversations were when I would rape
her. My son opened the door numerous times, but never found me raping
Jessica. She said that I had stopped and then had again started
raping her every day starting at the age of 16. (This is a time that
it appears from the letters that she was very sexually active with
These quotes were used for Discovery of New Evidence.
On January 8, 1996. Jessica, 14 years of age, wrote Amanda the following: “Well, anyway if you want to know I'm not a virgin, I've had sex 1 and don't plan to do it again until I really, really, really love the guy a lot. Well, I can tell you this the FIRST time is so awful!!”
Jessica's use of the numeral “1” was intended to signify she had experienced sex only one time.
In February 1996, Jessica wrote: “....and you wanted to know about me and my first time, well my only time. It hurt like hell!!!! And it hurts a lot emotionally especially if you're not ready for it. I was devastated for two full weeks. I did nothing but sleep and me and the guy Bryan haven't talked since it happened.”
On May 4 1996 Jessica described her new boyfriend John. She wrote: “I wish I could have saved my virginity though because now I think about it I would have wanted it to go to John.”
In July 1997, Jessica added: “Next year I'll be going to the prom with Todd, he's my current boyfriend, and I really think we're gonna last awhile. What's weird is, do you remember when I told you I lost my virginity 2 years ago? Well, Todd is the guy's stepbrother. Todd knows it. (Todd) He hates his stepbrother Bryan.”
In stark contrast to the oblique, but damaging references at my trial to Jessica’s loss of her virginity, Jessica’s letters describe a very different set of circumstances explaining the same event in her life; that Jessica had lost her virginity in her first and only experience at age 13 to her young boyfriend, Bryan.
Jessica protested during Motion for New Trial that she considered ‘virginity’ to be a reference only to consensual sex. Jessica and her mother clearly intended to convey an entirely different meaning to the jury when they used that term at trial.
Jessica testified that she never really liked Amanda and it was just something to do. Jessica had 11 diaries that never mentioned her “sexual assaults” so why would she tell Bob's daughter Amanda?
After the first trial Jessica refused to make a victim's statement. Bob's wife Heather, did say “It's too bad that you will never see your son graduate from college, get married or be part of his life.” Never any thing about the “abuse” he imposed on her daughter Jessica.
Judge Lerner took the new evidence into consideration, wanting to look it over before making a decision. The decision came in late August when they woke me up early in the morning to take me to the prison in Huntsville, Texas. My cell-mate called Gail to tell her the news. She then called Mr. McQuage to question him about what had happened. His return call stated that he knew nothing of this decision and that he had gone to the courthouse to find out why. He found Judge Lerner had affirmed my conviction and filed the paper work away without notifying Mr. McQuage or myself. Mr. McQuage filed the necessary appeals, but each time the Court of Criminal Appeals has affirmed my conviction. The State of Texas claimed that I should have had this new evidence prior to trial, that I was only whining about my conviction, and that the new evidence was only being presented to “impeach” Jessica's testimony.
My Habeas Corpus petition was recently denied based on “trial testimony.” I am now awaiting a decision on my federal appeal.
Robert. E. Shafer
I can be contacted at:
Mr. Robert E. Shafer 1053332
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351
outside contacts are:
Belinda Lee (sister)
P.O. Box 216
Omak, WA 98841
P.O. Box 270
Alief, TX 77411
Copies of Jessica's letters, transcripts, and attorney notes are available through Julie Carpenter.