An accused child molester and his girlfriend Tuesday branded as "nonsense" and "ridiculous" suggestions that a pair of rabbit ears, a black cape and cloak and a black candle found in the woman's house have any connection with the McMartin Pre-School child molestation case.
Sheriff's investigators said they recovered the items in a raid last week on a house rented by five adults, including the girlfriend of Robert H. Winkler. Prosecutors have described Winkler as an uncharged suspect in the McMartin case, in which seven teachers at the Manhattan Beach school are accused of molesting 41 children.
Winkler, a 35-year-old unemployed Torrance handyman, has been held since December in County Jail in lieu of $50,000 bail pending a preliminary hearing on separate charges that he molested children he met through a baby-sitting service.
The first child witness called in the McMartin preliminary hearing, now in its seventh month, testified in January that defendant Raymond Buckey cut off the ears of rabbits to scare them into silence about the molestations. A second child, who completed his 13th day on the witness stand Tuesday, testified that he was taken to a church by preschool teachers where moaning, black-robed figures conducted animal sacrifices.
Winkler said in an interview Tuesday that the rabbit ears found in the home rented by his girlfriend, Mary Sue Dorothy, were from a jack rabbit that he and a friend had shot while hunting in the San Bernardino mountains.
"It wasn't a bunny rabbit type of pet. It was a wild rabbit, and if they'd look close they can see the shotgun holes in them."
He added: "This cult stuff is a bunch of nonsense. I'm not a Bible thumper, but I believe in God. I've never been into Satan worship."
Winkler, who said he has volunteered to take a lie-detector test, added that he has never met Raymond Buckey.
Dorothy said the rabbit ears were "a conversation piece that we attached to the television as a joke." She added that the black cape found by investigators belonged to one of the four other adults living at the house in Lomita where she has lived since Winkler's arrest.
"The candle came from a convent. One of my (former) roommates was a nun," Dorothy said. She said the other "cult" item that investigators had taken from a box of her mementos was a peace symbol. It was carved on piece of tree bark and had been a gift from some children she baby-sat years ago.
'Soft Porn' Movies Found
Winkler said copies of Playboy magazine and two reels of "soft porn" movies found by investigators at the Lomita house belonged to a friend.
Dorothy said, "When you have several families living together, you can gather together enough miscellaneous items to make it look like anything. They (authorities) are making something out of nothing. It's ridiculous. "
Winkler, who has a beard and long hair, was initially linked to the McMartin case when three children identified him as one of "the strangers" involved in the alleged molestations from among several photos of bearded men shown them by investigators, prosecutors said. None of those children are testifying in the preliminary hearing.
Winkler also said that McMartin children had described seeing a motorcycle similar to the dirt bike he now drives. Deputy Dist. Atty. Lael Rubin, a prosecutor in the McMartin case, said the find was "tremendously corroborative" of some preschoolers' accounts of abuse. However, she said she didn't know whether charges would be filed against Winkler.
Defense Attorneys' Charge
In court Tuesday, defense attorneys in the McMartin case charged that the district attorney's office had attempted to circumvent them by publicly naming Winkler as a suspect but failing to include him in the list of suspects provided them as required by law.
"We have the names of over 75 people, including some of prominence, who have been so identified," said defense lawyer Forrest Latiner. "They'd be very disturbed to know that their pictures were picked out in the first place, or to have their names revealed to the media in the second place."
Municipal Judge Aviva K. Bobb said she was concerned about what she views as "the extent to which this case is being tried in the press," and invited motions to curtail such practices.
A gag order proposed by defense attorney Daniel Davis to prohibit both sides from discussing evidence or testimony outside the courtroom was scheduled for hearing Friday afternoon.
Several defense lawyers said they now oppose closing the hearing to the public or placing restrictions on their impromptu press conferences during recesses.
"The horses are out of the barn," said William Powell Jr. "To gag us now would jeopardize our ability to balance" the picture already painted of the seven defendants, all former teachers at the seaside nursery school.
Outside the courtroom, Latiner said that the identification of Winkler has little meaning in light of the long list of South Bay-area residents implicated by former McMartin pupils.
"These children are simply picking out pictures because they were put in front of them with the suggestion that there's somebody in there they ought to recognize. The two witnesses we've had so far don't remember who they picked out a year ago.
"You are looking at Salem reincarnated," he said.
Accused in 208 counts of molestation and conspiracy involving 41 preschoolers left in their care since 1978 are school founder Virginia McMartin, 77; her daughter, Peggy McMartin Buckey, 58, and grandchildren, Peggy Ann Buckey, 28, and Ray Buckey, 26; Betty Raidor, 65; Mary Ann Jackson, 57, and Babette Spitler, 36.
Their preliminary hearing is being held to determine whether they should stand trial.