McMartin preschool trial

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Virginia McMartin
Virginia McMartin

The McMartin preschool case was an example of day care sexual abuse hysteria. Members of the McMartin family, who operated a preschool in California, were charged with sexual abuse of children in their care. After six years of criminal trials, no convictions were obtained, and all charges were dropped in 1990. It was the longest and most expensive criminal trial of its time.


[edit] Initial allegations

In 1983, Judy Johnson, the mother of one of the Manhattan Beach, California preschool's young students complained to the police that her son had been sodomized by her estranged husband and by McMartin teacher Ray Buckey, who was the grandson of school founder Virginia McMartin and son of administrator Peggy McMartin Buckey (1926-2001). The mother's belief was based on the fact that her son suffered from painful bowel movements, though he denied her suggestion that his preschool teachers had molested him. In addition, she also made several more extravagant accusations, including that people at the daycare had traveled to zoos seeking sexual encounters with giraffes. Ray Buckey was questioned, but was not prosecuted due to lack of evidence. The police, however, sent an open letter to about 200 parents of students at the McMartin school, stating that their children might have been forced into sex, and asking the parents to question their children.

[edit] Interviewing the children

Several hundred children were then questioned by the Children’s Institute International (CII), a Los Angeles abuse therapy clinic. By spring of 1984, 360 children had been identified as having been abused. No physical evidence was found to support the allegations. The mother who made the original complaint was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in the same year. Critics have alleged that the questioners asked the children leading questions, repetitively, which, it is said, always yields positive responses from young children, making it impossible to know what the child actually experienced. Some claim the questioning alone may have led to false-memory syndrome among the children who were questioned.

[edit] Bizarre allegations

Some of the children's accusations were bizarre and, at times, defied the laws of physics. Some alleged that, in addition to having been sexually abused, they saw witches fly, traveled in a hot-air balloon, and were taken in one case through secret underground tunnels, which were sought by investigators but never found. Ray Buckey was described as having beaten a giraffe to death with a baseball bat in front of the children. When shown a series of photographs by police, one child identified actor Chuck Norris as one of the abusers.[1] There were claims of orgies at car washes and airports, and of children being flushed down toilets to secret rooms where they would be abused, then cleaned up and presented back to their unsuspecting parents. Some children said they were made to play a game called "Naked Movie Star" in which they were photographed nude.

[edit] Trial

In March 1984, Virginia McMartin; Peggy McMartin Buckey; Ray Buckey; Ray's sister, Peggy Ann Buckey; and teachers Mary Ann Jackson; Bette Raidor; and Babette Spitler; were charged with 208 counts of child abuse. In the 20 months of preliminary hearings, the prosecution presented their theory of Satanic ritual abuse. In 1986, a new district attorney called the evidence "incredibly weak," and dropped all charges against Virginia McMartin, Peggy Ann Buckey, Mary Ann Jackson, Bette Raidor and Babette Spitler. Peggy McMartin Buckey and Ray Buckey remained in custody awaiting trial; Peggy McMartin's bail had been set at $1 million and Ray Buckey had been denied bail. The cases went to trial, and in 1990, after three years of testimony and nine weeks of deliberation by the jury, Peggy McMartin Buckey was acquitted on all counts. Ray Buckey was cleared on 39 of 52 counts, and freed after more than 2 years in jail. He was retried later on some of the 13 counts, which produced another hung jury. The prosecution then gave up trying to obtain a conviction, and granted Ray Buckey bail. He had been jailed for 5 years without ever being convicted of any wrongdoing.

[edit] Media coverage

Like other high-profile criminal trials in the United States, such as the O.J. Simpson murder trial, the McMartin trial was heavily covered by television and print media. In 1986, a telephone survey showed that 96 percent of adults in the area had heard of the case, and over 90 percent of those who had an opinion believed the accused were guilty.

One reporter who has received particular criticism for his role is Wayne Satz, at the time a reporter for the Los Angeles ABC affiliate television station KABC. His almost nightly reporting on the case and the children's allegations often presented an unchallenged, if not sympathetic, view of the children's and parents' claims.[2] Satz became romantically involved with one of the social workers conducting interviews with the children. Another instance of media conflict of interest occurred when the editor at the Los Angeles Times overseeing the coverage became engaged to marry the prosecutor.[3]

[edit] Spread of panic

A moral panic followed, touching off a witch hunt in which a variety of media outlets, primarily daytime talk shows and talk radio programs, claimed that sexual abuse of children in schools and day-care centers was nationwide and rampant.

[edit] Aftermath

The McMartin preschool itself was closed and leveled. Three of the accused have died since the trial concluded. At least one former "victim" has completely retracted his story and admits he lied, believing he was protecting his younger siblings, and to please his parents. [4]In many states, laws were passed allowing children to testify on closed-circuit TV so the children would not be traumatized by facing the accused. In 1988 case of Coy v. Iowa these laws were held to violate the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees the right of the accused to confront witnesses against them. However, this doctrine is limited; in the 1990 case Maryland v. Craig, the United States Supreme Court ruled that closed circuit testimony was permissible where it was limited to circumstances in which the judge found likelihood of harm to the minor from testifying in open court. One lasting legacy of the trial is an increased understanding of how to question very young children for evidence, with an eye toward their capacity for suggestibility and false memory.

[edit] Allegations of secret tunnels

An excavation undertaken in May 1990 claimed to reveal tunnels under the McMartin Preschool. [5] A relevant quote from the summation is written as follows: "If the stories of the children were bogus fantasies, there is no excuse for the tunnels discovered under the school. If there really were tunnels, there is no excuse for the glib dismissal of any and all of the complaints of the children and their parents." The archaeologist's claims were refuted in a 1995 article published by the Institute for Psychological Therapies. The study showed that the concrete slab floor was undisturbed except for a small patch where the sewer line was tapped into. Once the slab was removed, there was no sign of any materials to line or hold up any tunnels, and there was no way for the defendants to fill in any purported tunnels once the investigation began. The report concluded that any disturbed soil under the slab was from the sewer line, and from construction fill buried under the slab, before it was poured. Some dated fill material under the slab was from the year 1940. [6]

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. ^ "McMartin Daycare Case"
  2. ^ "Reporter's Early Exclusives Triggered a Media Frenzy" by David Shaw, Los Angeles Times January 20, 1990 (link inactive)
  3. ^ "How Lawyers And The Media Turned The Mcmartin Case Into A Tragic Circus" by Robert Reinhold, New York Times January 25, 1990 Section: Living Page: 1D
  4. ^ citing Los Angeles Times Magazine; October 30, 2005; McMartin Preschool accuser recants[1]
  5. ^ "Tunnels"
  6. ^ "Vol7, 31"

[edit] Further reading

  • New York Times; April 1, 1984; To the children at the Virginia McMartin Preschool, it was The Hollywood Game or Naked Movie Star. Adults use more sophisticated terms to describe the sexual games the children were reported to have played with trusted teachers, such as pedophilia, felony child abuse, child pornography. Despite stricter laws against the sexual abuse of children, three cases pending in Los Angeles alone indicate that trafficking in children for pleasure or profit has not disappeared. Seven defendants, including 76-year- old Virginia McMartin, who founded the school in 1956; her daughter, granddaughter and grandson, are scheduled to be arraigned Friday in Los Angeles County Superior Court. They face a total of 115 counts of having sexual relations with children as young as 2 years old at the preschool center in suburban Manhattan Beach. Prosecutors say 125 children have told therapists that snapshots and movies were made while they were raped, sodomized, orally copulated or fondled. Mrs. McMartin, in a wheelchair when she surrendered on the March 22 indictments, termed the charges against her a bunch of lies. Attorneys for the others in the case told the judge reviewing their bail amounts that they were upstanding citizens. No pornographic photographs or films have been recovered in the McMartin case, but Deputy District Attorney Eleanor Barrett says she believes some were made because so many children talk about being photographed on so many occasions. ...
  • New York Times; January 7, 2001; The Lives They Lived: 01-07-01: Peggy McMartin Buckey, b. 1926; The Devil in The Nursery ... Buckey's ordeal began in 1983, when the mother of a 2 1/2-year-old who attended the McMartin preschool in Manhattan Beach, California, called the police to report that her son had been sodomized there. It didn't matter that the woman was eventually found to be a paranoid schizophrenic, and that the accusations she made -- of teachers who took children on airplane rides to Palm Springs and lured them into a labyrinth of underground tunnels where the accused "flew in the air" and others were "all dressed up as witches" -- defied logic. Satanic-abuse experts, therapists and social workers soon descended on the school and, with a barrage of suggestive, not to say coercive, questioning techniques (lavishly praising children who "disclosed," telling those who denied the abuse that they were "dumb," introducing salacious possibilities that children had never mentioned), produced increasingly elaborate and grotesque testimonials from young children at the school. ...

[edit] Movie

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