As she slouches on the patio of her Kent apartment, Shenna Grimm pulls long drags from Kool after Kool. Her eyelids sag over her glassy, green gaze. She trips over her words from a speech impediment that acts like a permanent tongue depressor. "It's like a nightmare I can't wake up from," she says.
The 23-year-old is the center of a high-profile case that began in 2001, when she accused her parents, Narda and John Goff, of inseminating her with a syringe filled with her stepfather's semen when she was only 16.
At first, no one believed her. It was an act too creepy and sadistic to fathom. Only after months of investigation -- and a paternity test that buttressed her words -- would anyone listen.
Even after Goff was convicted of rape, she still had dissenters. Her entire family turned on her, declaring her tale lies, all lies. They pointed to giant holes in Shenna's story and offered evidence to prove her claims false.
They insist that Shenna wanted the child, that, even at 16 years old, she was a willing surrogate. "People are surrogates all the time," says Goff. "There's nothing illegal about her being a surrogate."
The first time around, the jury bought Shenna's story. But after Goff won his appeal last year -- a judge ruled that a Stow detective's testimony was hearsay because he used statements made by Goff's wife, who refused to testify -- it'll be up to a new jury to decide.
Still, regardless what happens in the second trial, it's unlikely to produce any winners.
Ever since the first trial, Shenna has been struggling to sew the seams of her old life shut. They will burst suddenly, spilling into her good days with flashbacks, depression, and suicide attempts. Even her solace in long drives and night fishing can't keep her mind from running a constant projector of the past.
Her parents, meanwhile, have only anger. Because of what they believe is a lie, they've been bankrupted and have lost their home, their freedom, and their children. Even distant relatives have closed a few bank accounts to pay the Goffs' legal fees.
The sentiment of all is best distilled by Shenna's mother, Narda: "Do I regret it? Regret is such a minor word."
Narda isn't sure who Shenna's real father is. There are two possibilities -- one of whom knocked Narda's teeth out, leaving her with a full set of pearly dentures.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1989, Narda is deceptively frail. Despite the wobble in her knock-kneed gait, she's a firecracker with deep-set malachite eyes, which she passed onto Shenna, along with a family history of alcoholism.
Narda met Goff when Shenna was four years old. He had long hair and rode a motorcycle. "He was what she didn't want to marry," says Narda's mother, Barbara Grimm.
But she had no choice, Narda jokes. "He came up to me and said, 'Whether you like it or not, you are going to be my wife.'" The two were married within a year.
Goff never had much money. He worked as a night-shift security guard, while Narda stayed home, sometimes bed-ridden with her many ailments, which include diabetes and asthma.
An ex-Marine, Goff volunteered as an auxiliary police officer in Windham. He paid his own way through the police academy and was the proud owner of seven guns.
He was also what Narda calls a "street evangelist," preaching fire and brimstone through a bullhorn to passersby on street corners. Shenna remembers him holding services in their living room.
The Goffs lived in Collinwood, a tidy subsidized-housing complex on the outskirts of downtown Akron. They were one of few white families among the Levittown-like rows of aluminum siding and brick.
In July 1993, the family attended a neighborhood birthday party. The Goffs mingled, while Shenna was off playing. Or so they thought.
Two weeks later, Narda found her sobbing in her room. "What's wrong, sweetie?" she asked.
"I'm worried I'm pregnant," she said.
She told her mom that during the party, their neighbor, 35-year-old John Eggert, had raped her. She said he threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone.
Narda and Goff immediately took Shenna to the hospital, where doctors discovered internal scarring. It was enough evidence to charge Eggert with rape.
It seemed a straightforward case, until Shenna took the stand. She couldn't be sure whether he used his penis or his fingers.
The jury sent a note to Judge Jane Bond, asking if they could convict him if he didn't use his penis. At that time, only penetration by penis was considered rape in Ohio.
Follow the law, the judge said. Eggert walked out of a Summit County courtroom a free man.
The Goffs were enraged. "The minute the decision came back, we worked at closing that loophole so that no one else could walk through it," Narda told the Akron Beacon Journal in 1994.
"What's the difference what he raped her with?" John Goff added. "Rape is rape."
The Goffs spent two years wading through Ohio's legal system. They fired off letters to 122 legislators, begging them to spare future victims from the same injustice.
Their cries were heard. A bill was drafted in 1996. Outfitted in his Windham police uniform, Goff delivered an impassioned speech before the House and Senate. Seven months later, Governor George Voinovich signed the bill into law.
A modest snapshot shows Goff at the signing, proudly standing by the governor, with Narda smiling at his side and Shenna staring blankly ahead.
By 1998, the Goffs had moved to a modest ranch house in suburban Stow, where their kids could grow at a slower pace.
But like a typical 16-year-old, Shenna still managed to stub her toe. That Christmas Eve, she discovered she was pregnant. Asked who the father was, Shenna's story kept changing.
"She told me it was someone from youth group," says John Grimm, Narda's brother.
"She said it was a 35-year-old who seduced her while she was drunk," remembers Narda's sister, Lynne Cain.
"She said it was an ex who moved to Florida, but I heard multiple stories," says her cousin Carrie Cain.
No one was concerned with the fine details. When Narda held Shenna's baby shower, all the family showed up with blue blankets and bibs for her little boy-to-be. A photo shows a smiling Shenna sitting cross-legged in the center of her parents' living room, surrounded by wrinkled wrapping paper, stacks of onesies, and relatives.
In September 1999, the Goffs drove their daughter to Akron City Hospital to deliver her son, Aaron Goff.
When it came time to fill out the birth certificate, Shenna told the nurses they should put down her stepfather as the father, because Aaron's real dad was MIA. A nurse noted Shenna's unusual request on her medical chart, among other distressing details.
According to hospital records, Goff had made "inappropriate comments" during the delivery. He'd "commented that he could get three fingers into Shenna's vagina," according to court documents. Nurses also found it strange that Goff was in the room whenever Shenna was breast-feeding. His sheer omnipresence unsettled the staff.
So did Shenna's behavior. Nurses noted that she had a "blank look on her face" and that her voice had "a flat affect." Hospital records also show that she was shaky and pale. She would walk around naked when Goff was in the room.
Finally, nurses contacted the Summit County Children Services Board. But when social workers questioned Shenna, she denied that anything was wrong. CSB never followed up.
Instead, she and Aaron were taken home.
When Aaron was 18 months old, Shenna fell in love.
The day she met red-bearded, wide-shouldered Greg Suchy, he was recklessly driving a golf cart. After successfully toppling it over, he played dead on the ground, rousing Aaron's concern. He ran up to Suchy and shook his leg, only to be met by a shower of tickles that sent Aaron screeching with giggles.
Shenna was smitten.
A month or so after they started dating, Suchy took Shenna to his parents' house for dinner. As soon as they walked in the door, she was in awe. Suchy's mom handed out hugs, while his dad chuckled at his own bad jokes. The dinner conversation was as hearty as the food. For Shenna, it was like watching a family on TV.
As Suchy drove her back home, she gazed out onto the frozen landscape, absorbing her evening with alien fascination. Suchy sang along to country radio, which always encouraged teasing from Shenna.
"Your family's weird," she said, breaking him from his imitative twang.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"They're always hugging and kissing, not screaming and hitting and getting mad," she said.
Suchy shrugged a "duh" look in her direction. "I hate to tell you, but that's the way a family is supposed to act."
"Not my family," she said.
Then, for the first time, Shenna revealed the truth about Aaron. His father hadn't run away to Florida. Aaron's father was Goff.
She told Suchy that Goff wanted a child. Narda couldn't conceive because she'd had a hysterectomy. They asked her to have it.
At first she said no, Shenna told Suchy, but Goff held a .45 to her head and said that if she didn't have his child, he'd kill her mother.
Suchy fell silent with disbelief.
Shenna told him that her mother began charting her fertility cycle. When she was ovulating, John would ejaculate into a cup, then transfer his semen into one of Narda's syringes, which she typically used for MS medicine. They did it a couple of times, until she finally got pregnant on Christmas Eve. Goff forced her to keep it a secret.
Suchy didn't know how to respond. He tried to play it cool, interjecting mechanical "OKs" and "uh-huhs." He didn't want to make her feel like a freak. But truth be told, he didn't believe her story.
They didn't talk about it again until a few days later, when Suchy went to the Goffs' for dinner.
Over supper, Goff brought it up as casually as the weather. As he confirmed Shenna's story, he spoke as if it were entirely normal.
For Suchy, there was nothing conventional about a stepdad inseminating his stepdaughter. It was a degenerate's act, and Suchy didn't waste a moment trying to get Shenna to move out. She conceded.
With noplace to go, they went to Suchy's mother. After telling her the whole story, she agreed to have Shenna stay with her. But they didn't have the space for Aaron. Plus, they didn't want any trouble from Goff.
They also encouraged Shenna to notify the cops. In January 2001, Shenna went to Stow police.
But when she told them about the insemination, they blew her off. So did the Summit County Children Services Board. When they called Goff, he denied being the child's father. "They said she was just a young girl acting out," Suchy says.
Frustrated, Suchy decided to contact Gary Lockwood, a mail-order minister who had been working with rape victims since the late '60s.
A 61-year-old hippie with a long, gray goatee and tribal tattoos, Lockwood was startled by Shenna's appearance when she first arrived at his house. "She was 90 pounds, if that," he says. "Her eyes were sunken in. She was this itty-bitty sunken human."
He took her into his art studio, where she chain-smoked and told her story. "She was such a flincher then. You couldn't touch her shoulder without her flinching," he says.
Lockwood had her come back to his house the next day, so he could tape her confession. After the taping, he asked Shenna what she wanted.
"I want John in prison," she said.
"We'll put him in prison," Lockwood responded.
Lockwood used the tape to put pressure on the authorities. He contacted his friend, lawyer Bill Whitaker. The night after Whitaker listened to Shenna's taped confession, he agreed to work the case pro bono.
Shenna decided she also wanted to get Aaron out of her parents' house. She went to the Portage County Children Services Board, where she met caseworker Cheryl Schneider. During their interview, Shenna accused Goff of a long history of sexual and physical abuse.
Schneider then interviewed Goff, who freely admitted to being Aaron's father. Schneider secured a court order to have Aaron taken from the Goff house and helped Shenna set up a paternity test.
It was 1:15 a.m. when police escorted Suchy and Shenna to get Aaron. "It was the scariest thing we had to do," Suchy says.
Narda was holding Aaron in her arms when they arrived. Shenna collected some of his clothes, but left his toys. Narda and Goff began to cry as Shenna pulled Aaron from her mother's arms. They left without a word.
For the next two days, Shenna and Aaron stayed in a battered women's shelter. She originally planned to keep Aaron, she says. "But I realized it was hard enough to keep food in my stomach. How was I going to keep food in my son's? Plus, I couldn't look at him anymore. He reminded me of John, and I hated him for it."
She returned to Portage County Children Services to give Aaron up for adoption. The results from the paternity test also arrived, proving that Goff was Aaron's dad.
The new evidence convinced police that Shenna had been telling the truth.
In June 2001, the Goffs were indicted. Narda faced charges of complicity in sexual battery and child endangerment, while Goff faced multiple rape, sexual battery, and child-endangerment charges.
As quickly as the charges were filed, the media blitz began. From German TV to American tabloids, the feeding frenzy unfolded multiple versions of Shenna's story, each as lurid as the next.
While one news source reported that Shenna was 15 years old when impregnated, another said 14. A few reports even claimed the insemination had been done with a turkey baster. Facts became fiction.
As the media spun its tales, the Goffs pleaded not guilty.
Narda waived her right to a jury trial. In March 2002, she was found guilty of child endangerment and complicity to commit sexual battery. She was sentenced to three years in prison.
Goff's trial began that August. The testimony of cops, caseworkers, and nurses corroborated a tale that had once seemed unbelievable even to them.
Some of the most incriminating evidence came from the Stow officers, who had originally disregarded Shenna as a "young girl acting out."
"The whole thing was kind of unbelievable, to be honest with you," Detective Randy Brink said during the trial. "But once I talked to [Goff], it became very believable."
Stow Detective Ken Mifflin revealed details of a conversation he had with Narda. He said Narda admitted to being reluctant to assist in the insemination, but went along with it to please her husband. He also says that Narda admitted that Goff had inseminated Shenna.
Then, just three days before the jury would give their verdict, Shenna took the stand.
She entered the courtroom in a turtleneck and blazer, her hair in curls and her face uncharacteristically painted. Still, she spoke with the same stutter and little-girl shyness as always, unfolding a life of repeated horrors.
She accused Goff of abusing her since she was eight. He'd beat her and tell her she was stupid. She said he'd hold a .45 to her head to force her to give him oral sex. He'd smother her with his heavy frame and rape her while her mother was sleeping.
Shenna claimed that when she was pulled out of school in the fourth grade, she never continued her education. Instead, she became a real-life Cinderella, essentially working as the Goffs' servant.
She wasn't allowed to have friends, which is partly why she never told anyone of the abuse. She wasn't even allowed out of the house.
She was hospitalized at age 10, after Goff raped her with his fist. She tried to kill herself when she was 8 and 13. Recently, she'd taken over 300 pills, then driven herself to the hospital.
Even Aaron suffered at Goff's hand, she said. He'd held a gun to her son's head.
She admitted that she despised Aaron. Whenever she looked at him, she saw Goff, and it disgusted her.
She said Goff put the syringe inside her himself. On one occasion, he even forced her to help him ejaculate.
Three days later, the jury convicted Goff under the same law he had helped change just six years earlier. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Before he was carted off in his bright orange jumper and plastic slippers, Goff stood before the court and delivered his final statement. Like a manic street preacher, he breathlessly quoted four Bible passages, preceded by a long, confusing parable.
Not even the judge could stop him as his voice cracked into a high-pitched squeal. "Shenna," he announced to the court, "I will never have that little boy standing on the doorstep waiting for me when I get home ever again. And you know what? The hardest thing in my life, I forgive you."
On a sticky July afternoon, 10 of Shenna's relatives gather around wobbly tables at a Hardee's in the boonies south of Akron. They're pissed.
A stack of brightly colored folders sits in front of Narda's sister, Lynne Cain. Each is stuffed with different statements made by Shenna, including police reports, a Children Services interview, a court deposition, and transcripts of her trial testimony.
Cain grabs the yellow and blue folders. She flips them open to highlighted sections. "I'm absolutely sure she knew she was lying from the start," Cain says.
"Don't get me wrong. I love Shenna, but I hate the lies."
Cain begins to point out discrepancies. "See here? She told CSB that he first penetrated her with his penis when she was six years old," Cain says, pointing to a transcript from Portage County.
"Then, here, in the police report, she says there was never any penile penetration, just other stuff."
The list goes on. She points to gaping holes and silly mistakes that even the prosecutors acknowledged during the trial. But it isn't just inconsistencies that bother Shenna's family. It's the dreary picture she paints of her life that rubs salt in their wounds.
Narda sits at the table next to her mother, weeping between stories. She was released from prison after serving 10 months. She is currently on probation and is prohibited from speaking to Shenna or Goff by court order.
She and her family describe Shenna as a typical boy-crazy teen who never cleaned her room and preferred hanging out to homework.
Shenna was pulled out of school in fourth grade because her mother thought the public schools were atrocious and Shenna had fallen so far behind. They worked five to seven hours a day together on schoolwork. Shenna often studied alongside her cousin Carrie Cain, who was also home-schooled. She was such a good speller, a family friend asked Shenna to tutor her son.
Their home in Stow was hangout central. Friends and family were constantly coming and going. "Their house was incredibly busy," Carrie says. "Their front door was like a revolving door, people were always coming and going. Someone would have seen something."
Carrie insists Shenna had lots of friends. "We went to prom together," Carrie says. "We shared all the same friends, and we were always hanging out."
Relatives describe road trips to California and days at the park. Sure, there was never much money, but they were wealthy with love, they insist.
Yet they can't deny that Shenna had Goff's son. And they don't. They do, however, insist that it wasn't done by force. It was done out of concern.
Narda's brother, John Grimm, says that Shenna came to him when she was just 13 and said she wanted to have a baby. She was envious of her brother, Mike, who had just had a kid of his own. She wanted one too. "She's headstrong," says John. "When she wants something, she'll find a way to get it."
Narda says it was her idea to inseminate Shenna. She says she took the syringe to Shenna; Goff was never in the room. She said it was better than her daughter throwing herself into prostitution or getting AIDS. "He was very hesitant at first," she says.
"It took a lot of discussion and encouragement to get his sperm. Women, in general, manipulate their spouses to get what they want. If anyone would be guilty, it would be me," Narda says.
From behind the glass of a visiting booth at the Summit County Jail, Goff tells a similar story. "I never wanted kids," he says. "Not because I hate kids, but because this life is filled with so many evil people, it's not fair to place it upon any child.
"But somewhere along the line, when Shenna said she'd try to get pregnant any way she could, I was finally convinced that maybe it would be nice. This was never done illegally, pervertedly, twistedly, violently, or forcefully."
Immediately after Goff was sentenced, Shenna headed off to New York with Suchy and Lockwood for an appearance on Montel.
They spent an evening strolling around the city, dining at candlelit tables, and searching for cups of coffee, only to stumble upon Times Square. "It was one of the few good times out of a lot of really, really bad times," Suchy says.
The next day, Shenna was again outfitted in an uncharacteristic red velvet pantsuit and makeup.
Onstage, she sat between Suchy and Montel Williams. Shenna left the drama up to the host, who helped guide her with provocative questions, punctuated gasps of disbelief, and imposed pauses so she could "calm down," though Shenna, like always, appeared numb and distant. She later turned down a chance to appear on Larry King Live.
When Shenna and Suchy returned to Kent, Whitaker was busy working on Shenna's civil suit against Goff, Akron City Hospital, and Summit County Children Services for neglect.
As the suit dragged on, Shenna and Suchy were dealing with trials of their own. Shenna continually attempted suicide, from downing the entire medicine cabinet to trying to hang herself. For days, she'd act recklessly -- she'd sleep with other men, drink herself into stupors, and medicate with cocaine.
She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome during infrequent counseling visits. She also suffered frequent flashbacks.
Suchy struggled to deal with Shenna's bursts of violence and infantile regression. She'd act like a little girl for days. She'd try to coax Suchy to hit her. In the middle of the night, she'd spontaneously collapse into the fetal position, asking for her "dad." Suchy would have to call Lockwood, whom Shenna now refers to as her father.
Still, things seemed to be getting better. Shenna was making new friends. She was holding down a steady job at a gas station, where she recently was promoted to manager. She found joy in her two cats and going night fishing with Suchy, who by that time was her fiancé.
In March, Shenna was awarded $4.3 million, mostly from Goff's dust-lined pocket. Children Services was dismissed from the case. Akron City Hospital, which owed Shenna $224,000, later appealed and won.
But as much as Shenna's trying to get her new life started, her old one keeps bursting through its loosely sewn seams.
In February 2004, Goff won his appeal. Shenna will once again have to face him in court and tell her tale, which the defense will attempt to discredit.
At a pretrial hearing last week, seven of Goff's relatives piled into the courtroom. Among them was Narda, who hadn't seen Goff in three years.
She wobbled into the courtroom on her cane and sat silently on the last bench. The sight of Goff made her break down in tears, which only streamed harder when the judge refused to lift her no-contact order.
As Goff stood before the judge, he spoke for everyone. "I have nothing," he said. "My entire family, my entire family, has nothing."