McMartin Judge Asked to Ban Some Questioning

Times Staff Writer

The prosecutors in the McMartin Pre-School molestation case, alleging that some lines of cross-examination were damaging to the mental health of an 8-year-old witness, have asked the judge to forbid abstract questioning of future child witnesses.

The questioning cited in the prosecution’s motion took place last month, when the defense asked a child why statements she made on the stand apparently contradicted what she told therapists and a grand jury a year ago.

In filing the motion, the prosecutors submitted a report by Spencer Eth, a Los Angeles child psychiatrist who viewed transcripts and videotapes of the 8-year-old’s testimony and said many of the questions were “inappropriate for the age level of the child.”

Eth said that while a child can have a good practical understanding of a word, reconciling contradictory statements “may be difficult or impossible.”


Mental Development

The questions dealing with the contradictions “were too abstract for the child’s stage of mental development and that while she is capable of reasoning logically, she cannot think about her own thinking,” Eth said.

He added that the questions “represented a clear threat to her psychological well-being . . . and resulted in a humiliating sense of defeat as she struggled to reply.”

The defense attorneys, in hallway interviews during a recess, said the motion is “merely a red herring” being presented by the prosecutors because they are worried about their witnesses’ credibility.


The attorneys for seven former teachers who are charged with 208 counts of molestation and conspiracy have based much of their “affirmative” defense on this type of questioning, seizing on inconsistencies and blank spots in the children’s memories as signs that the molestation allegations were fabricated or that the children were brainwashed by therapists.

No Ruling

Municipal Judge Aviva K. Bobb did not rule on the motion and did not indicate when she might do so.