Houston Chronicle Copyright 1995
Sunday, September 17, 1995
JIM SCHUTZE, Houston Chronicle Dallas Bureau Staff
DALLAS - The Krasniqi family home, like the bizarre criminal case that has swallowed their lives, is a kind of magic mirror, typically American, middle-class, even bland on the surface.
But by pausing and looking just a little more carefully at the furnishings and pictures on the wall, one can step right through that veneer into medieval Albania.
Sadri Krasniqi had around himself the cloak of suburban familiarity on the day he was arrested for what appeared to be a calm molestation of his 4-year-old daughter in front of hundreds of people in a crowded high school gymnasium. On the surface he looked like a garden-variety, middle-class father, proudly videotaping his son at a suburban karate tournament.
The difference between him and other fathers at the tournament, witnesses said, was that he was a monster. He had placed his young daughter across his lap, they said later under oath, and he was sexually abusing her with his hands beneath her clothing while sitting in the front row to watch his son compete.
Even more amazing to authorities at the time, Krasniqi, then 49, was oddly willing to admit his actions. A 25-year-old social worker who interviewed him in jail (in spite of the fact Krasniqi barely understood English), said in her case notes: ""He also stated that he has fondled his daughter at his restaurant, Brothers Pizza, on several occasions in front of his customers."
Eventually Krasniqi (pronounced Kraz-NEE-chee) was acquitted of all charges against him, when a noted anthropologist came to court and solved the mystery of his behavior: Beneath the suburban-Joe veneer, beneath the Polo shirt and the fastidiously creased chinos, Krasniqi was an ethnic Albanian thousands of miles and thousands of years away from Plano, Texas, in the district of Kosovo, Serbia - a land of rigid custom where the intimate touching of children was acceptable because sex with children was unthinkable.
The large Islamic community in north Texas has held its tongue during the six years of this strange case's passage through the courts and in and out of public consciousness. Estimated by its own leaders at between 100,000 and 150,000 people, served by 16 mosques and prayer rooms scattered across the region, it is a mainly business and professional population, for the most part un-politicized and reticent.
But in recent weeks, as people have come to realize what the end of this story may be, Muslims here and around the nation have expressed a growing rage.
In spite of the fact he has been acquitted of all charges, in spite of the finding that he was not guilty of the accusations, in spite of testimony from friends and experts alike that Sadri (""Sam") and Sabahete (""Kathy") Krasniqi were model parents, their children are gone. Taken from them by the state of Texas. Forever.
Krasniqi has not seen his son, Urtim, 15, or his daughter, Lima, 9, in five years. The children have been adopted and are being raised as Christians.
According to Sabahete Krasniqi, who last saw the children two years ago, they wear crosses around their necks and T-shirts with sayings about Jesus on the front; they eat pork, forbidden in the Koran; and they barely remember their native language of Albanian.
And it's final. According to the state, the Krasniqis will never see their children again.
Driving the anger Muslims here and elsewhere feel is the perception that the state would never have treated a Christian family with the severity it has imposed on this family of Albanian-American Muslims. In spite of strong denials by the judge involved in the adoption, many Muslims believe he caused the Krasniqi children to be taken from them and given to Christian parents because he thought they would be better off Christian.
""That's a slap on the Muslim community," said Ghulam Warriach, a local businessman and president of the Dallas Muslim Council. ""One judge cannot tell millions of people that Muslims are not fit to have children."
Khalid Hamideh, a Dallas attorney who is Muslim, said he will file lawsuits in both state and federal courts soon, seeking a wide-ranging review of the case on grounds of basic equity and fairness.
A week ago, protesters rallied outside Dallas' new Juvenile Justice Center with placards demanding a reversal and apology from Juvenile District Court Judge Hal Gaither, who presided over the jury that made the decision about the adoption five years ago.
Last week, George Bennett, acting regional manager of the Office for Civil Rights of the federal Department of Health and Human Services in Dallas, confirmed that his office has launched an investigation.
State officials have declined to identify the children's adoptive parents. They will say only the children are in Texas and are doing well.
The case has elicited a flurry of computer electronic mail among Muslims around the country and was a front-page story in a popular Albanian-American newspaper published in New York and distributed nationally.
In spite of all this, the legal reality is daunting. In the beginning, the Krasniqi case was divided into two separate legal processes - a civil trial to decide what to do with the children, and a criminal trial to decide what to do with the father. The criminal trial took longer. It was not resolved until February 1994.
Long before then, in April 1990, a jury in Gaither's civil court had ruled that returning the children to their natural parents would endanger them. Therefore, the jury concluded, the Krasniqis' parental rights should be terminated. Their family was legally dissolved.
The civil trial jury did not hear a raft of witnesses who came later to the criminal trial - physicians, psychologists, the anthropologist -who testified there was no physical evidence of sexual abuse, that Krasniqi in no way fit the profile of an abuser, that the children never had been harmed and were in fact cherished and protected, that the entire case had been a fundamental, cultural, ethnic and religious misunderstanding.
There is finger-pointing now over whose fault it was the right witnesses did not come to the civil trial and over why the case was not successfully appealed. But the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, in charge of child welfare, says it must deal with the verdict of the jury as it stands.
In a written statement last week, the agency said, ""The court decisions to terminate parental rights and granting adoption are final. Our agency has no legal authority to overturn a verdict by a civil court jury."
In the welter of charges, counter-charges, protests and legal actions now swirling around the Krasniqi case, there probably is only one place where one can see and feel what the case really means - at the kitchen table of the Krasniqi home on Dundrennan Street in a prosperous stretch of north Dallas.
The differences begin at the front door. The rambling ranch-style home, with an impeccable lawn and perfectly tended pool, is typical of the street, except that shoes are left outside. The furnishings are contemporary, but the house is also draped in Persian rugs.
Born in 1941 in Kosovo, an extremely conservative ""autonomous region" in what was then Yugoslavia, Krasniqi worked as a workman's compensation inspector, then as a village policeman under the Yugoslav regime of Josip Broz Tito.
Krasniqi is a powerfully built man, dignified, trim in his mid-50s, with short white hair and a face that opens and closes, smiles and frowns like a man looking out from a mask. Over the coffee that is poured immediately by his wife and kept full while one sits at his table, Krasniqi explained in still broken English why he came to this country in 1971 at the age of 30.
""I have friend who is friend of Tito," he said. ""My friend say
to me, 'When Tito dies, Yugoslavia will die.' I have money there. I came here first to visit, go two, three months, like a vacation. But this happen, that happen, and I stay."
He worked hard at menial jobs, saved money, went into business and eventually owned five restaurants in Dallas. In 1979, his brother in New York informed him that he had a friend whose sister in Montenegro was available for marriage.
When Sabahete Krasniqi, 15 years her husband's junior, first came to Dallas, she was overwhelmed by its strangeness. She understood little of her surroundings.
""My husband send me to store for beer for him," she said with a smile, ""and I brought him home root beer."
But Sabahete Krasniqi's face can change dramatically, too. Asked what her reaction would have been if she had believed the charges against her husband, she leaned forward with a very convincing menace on her face and said, ""I will kill him."
The subtle differences between the Krasniqi home and others on their street are at the surface of much more fundamental differences between their view of human reality and the typical American view, according to Barbara Halpern, the anthropologist who testified at the criminal trial.
In American society, where it is conceivable for adults to have sex with children, all adult touching of children is suspect. In Albania, where Halpern did research intermittently for 40 years, the sexual molestation of children is unknown but the intimate touching of them is common.
In that context, adults may often pet and caress children, even on the genitals, in a manner Americans would find very disturbing. Halpern told the court it took her, as an American mother, a while to get used to the fact that villagers on the street would pet her own chubby 5-year-old daughter on the chest and say, ""Oh my, sweet little breasts."
""Now that would never happen in our culture," she testified, ""but it's ordinary, perfectly normal there."
That was what Krasniqi was doing in the gymnasium that day six years ago, Halpern told the court - petting and caressing his little girl in a way that had absolutely no sexual content and which he had absolutely no idea was wrong or even inappropriate here. The strongest witness at the gym that day has insisted throughout that the touching she saw was invasive and sexual. Halpern is equally insistent that the witness did not see what she thinks she saw.
At his kitchen table, Krasniqi tells the history of his own effort to understand. The first place he went for answers was to his mosque. There, he was told by other men that the people who had ""kidnapped" his children probably wanted ransom.
He told his lawyer he would pay whatever it would take - sell the house, the businesses, raise the money somehow. Gradually, he says, he came to understand that money would not help.
He believed his victory in the criminal trial in February 1994 would mean the return of his children. ""I expect them next day," he said.
But as their attorney filed appeal after appeal, he and his wife eventually came to the realization they may never see their children.
The most recent disappointment came last week when a federal district court in Dallas denied the Krasniqis' last-ditch legal maneuver, a writ of habeas corpus asking that their children be returned to them.
Sitting rigidly at the end of the table, both hands flat before him, he says he understands now. The law has spoken. It has taken his children. It will not give them back. It will not tell him why. And now finally, fighting hard against it, his face cries.
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Photo: Albanian-American Sadri Krasniqi and his wife, Sabahete, saw their Muslim children adopted by Christians after he was accused of molesting his 4-year-old daughter. (color); Credit: Michael Mulvey / Special to the Chronicle
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STORY ORIGIN: DALLAS
EDITION: 2 STAR
Word Count: 1914 9/17/95 HSTNCHRON 1 END OF DOCUMENT