by Virginia McCullough


For the past two years this writer has been researching the case of protective mother Kelli Nunez and the desperate actions she took to protect her daughters from abuse.  This determined woman hid her girls from the father, Danny Nunez, and his finance, Sharon Zeff, who she believed were endangering her children.  She believed co-defendant Richard Peterson when he told her that her daughters would be protected when he placed them with Lana Hescock, a mother and member of a legal support group for protective parents called California Family Advocacy Centers Justice for Children located in San Jose, California.  Kelli Nunez has been sitting in a Contra Costa County Jail since May 8, 2002 because she truly believes that the courts and those charged with protecting children have utterly failed to do so on behalf on her daughters, Anna and Emily Nunez.

But a wonderful father named Joe Caetano, a member of the same Santa Clara based group, took an entirely different approach in seeking to reunite with his beloved son and daughter, Jason and Lisa Caetano. 

Joe Caetano told this writer that his marriage was initially very happy but after three years and two beautiful children, the marriage began to dissolve.  His wife, Judy, kicked him out of his own home.  She promptly made what were later proven to be false charges of molestation against Joe and obtained a restraining order barring Caetano from seeing his own children until he received psychological treatment.  Joe Caetano continued to adamantly deny he ever molested his children and consequently received an unfavorable psychiatric evaluation by court appointed officials.  His ex-wife, now married to Gregorio Lopez, a man with a police history of child molestation in two counties, continued to harass Caetano, often employing the court system to prevent him from seeing his two children.

Caetano continued to fight bravely against ever mounting odds to reunite with his kids.  The struggle to be apart of their lives cost this father his job, his health and his emotional condition became increasingly fragile because the only thing that finally meant anything to him were the two babies he had lost.  Still he continued to fight for his rights as a father.

His struggle for justice brought him a legion of supporters in the legal community and hundreds of friends who point out that Caetano was a victim of a legal system out of control.  Finally a  Santa Clara County Superior Court jury awarded Caetano $12,500 from his ex-wife Judy Lopez and $31,400 from Gregorio Lopez for the damage they had caused  (Caetano v. Barry, Santa Clara Case 717893).

At the time of the verdict the attorney for the defendants,  John Padilla, was quoted as saying he was surprised at the verdict but that his clients now were willing to assure Caetano has visiting rights with his children.  "The system did Joe wrong but the Lopezes are the ones who will have to pay for that because the system can't be sued," Padilla said.

The promises made by attorney Padilla on behalf of his clients, Lisa and Jason's mother and step father never materialized.  The court system and another lying attorney, Michael C. Schwerin, appointed by the courts to be Lisa and Jason's attorney made certain that visits with father Joe Caetano never happened.  The father never saw his babies again.

When Joe Caetano died this year suffering from many health complications, his sister Adrianna, said, "He truly died of a broken heart."

The very last thought that Joe Caetano had was of his children. The father longing to see his babies for a last time wrote two separate letters to his son and daughter.  His longing for both of his children was almost the same and his combined thoughts are reprinted below so that they will know how much he loved them.

March 3, 2003

My Dearest Jason and Lisa;

I know that you are extremely angry with me.  I don't know what I can say to get past that, except to tell you that you really don't know me.  It has been so long  since I have been able to communicate with you.  I have tried every way I know to reach you, but I have been blocked at every turn.  I want you to know that not a day has gone by that you have not been in my thoughts and my prayers.  You will always be my son and daughter, no matter how old you get or where you are.

I am writing now to let you know how much I love you and I miss you.  You are almost adults now and can make your own choices.  I am not trying to push you, only to give you the opportunity to learn more about your father and hopefully to build the relationship that we have been denied for too many years.  I know this will take time and I am willing to wait.  I can promise you that I will never lie to you and that I will tell you anything you want to know, but only what you ask.   You don't really know who I am and I would give anything to get to know you.

My health has not been very good lately and it doesn't appear to be getting any better.  I am doing everything the doctors tell me and hopefully things will get better.  They are better than they were at the beginning of the year.  The doctors did not think I was going to make it.  I am losing weight now and hopefully that will help.

I was glad for the opportunity to at least see you in court.  Your words hurt, but I understand.  As I already stated, you don't really know me, but you must know that I am proud to be your father.

There are so many things I want to tell you, but most of all I want you to know that I am always here for you, when you are ready, no matter what.  There is nothing we can do to replace all the time we have lost, but we can, when you are ready, build from here on out.

If there is anything you need or anything I can do to make things better for you, please let me know and I will do my best to make it happen for you.  I don't have a lot, but I will do what I can.

There have been a lot of misunderstandings over the years and I know that you do not really know who your father is.  All I am asking is for the opportunity for you to get to know me and for me to get to know you and share in your life.  I know this will take time and I can be patient.  I have so many wonderful memories from when you were little.  If you do decide to contact me you will find me different than I have been with the court system.  My intention is not to discuss anything to do with the court system with you, unless you ask.  All I truly want is for us to get to know each other again.  The problems that your mother and I have had are our problems; they should not be yours.

I miss you and I will always love you, no matter what.  If you want to get a hold of me you can at any time.  My address, both  telephone numbers and my e-mail are listed in the heading.  You can contact me how ever you are most comfortable with.  It is totally up to you.  As much as I miss you, I don't want to pressure you in anyway.  I am praying that you do contact me though, we have lost too much time already.

Love Always,
Your Dad

Joe Caetano

P.S.  Your Grandmother and Aunt Anita would love to hear from you as well.  Please give them a call.  They miss you and love you too. 

You were the epitome what is means to be a dad.  Happy Father's Day, Joe!

by Virginia McCullough © 6-13-04

THE KELLI NUNEZ STORY: CLICK. [Part 8] CLICK. [Part 7] CLICK. [Part 6] CLICK. [Part 5] CLICK. [Part 4] CLICK. [Part 3] CLICK.  [Part 2] CLICK  [Part 1]