Judge Drops 64 Charges Against McMartin Figures
In a stunning development in the McMartin Pre-School molestation case, a Municipal Court judge Tuesday dismissed dozens of charges against the school’s founder and two former teachers, saying that prosecutors had failed to present witnesses to substantiate the allegations.
Municipal Judge Aviva K. Bobb dropped a total of 64 counts against the three defendants and said she will dismiss many more counts against the remaining four today, leaving fewer than half the original 208 charges of molestation and conspiracy intact.
The surprising turn of events was triggered early Tuesday afternoon when Bobb denied a prosecution request that the rest of its child witnesses be allowed to testify by way of closed-circuit television, as permitted by a recently enacted state law.
After Bobb denied the motion, the prosecution announced it would not call any of its 28 remaining witnesses and abruptly rested its case in the 10-month-long preliminary hearing.
Six of the seven defense attorneys in the massive case then also rested, and quickly began moving for dismissal of the charges against their clients.
“I move to dismiss each and every count to which named plaintiffs have not testified,” attorney Forrest Latiner, who represents Peggy Ann Buckey, 29, shouted as his colleagues joined in, each scrambling to itemize the unsupported counts.
After Bobb and the lawyers sorted through the charges, the judge, in rapid-fire succession, tossed out 64 allegations for which the prosecution had not called alleged victims.
Bobb dismissed nine of 12 molestation counts against Virginia McMartin, 77; 13 of 14 counts against Peggy Ann Buckey, and 42 of 67 counts against defendant Peggy McMartin Buckey, 58. She took several other counts involving the three defendants under submission.
As the court’s day drew to a close, Bobb recessed over the protests of attorneys who wanted the counts against their clients dismissed too. She assured them she would dismiss more charges today.
The unexpected development in the 15-month-old case came when, after several days of deliberation, Bobb announced that she would not allow alleged McMartin victims to testify by way of closed-circuit TV, despite the recent statute.
The judge explained that while she found the statute, for which McMartin parents had lobbied hard for months, to be constitutional, she did not believe it could be applied to a case already in progress. Both sides had expected her to approve televised testimony.
Answering the prosecution’s argument that its case could not move forward except by TV testimony, Bobb pointed out that the 13 children who have taken the stand have testified to 90 counts of molestation and one count of conspiracy--enough, she said, to put defendant Raymond Buckey, 27, behind bars for 300 years, and his mother, Peggy McMartin Buckey, in prison for 40 years, should they be held to answer and found guilty at trial.
Her decision not to allow televised testimony, Bobb told prosecutors, is “hardly fatal to your case.”
However, prosecutors fear that several of the defendants, who face few charges, could go free--or if convicted, receive short sentences as a result of Bobb’s ruling. They cite, for example, Mary Ann Jackson, 58, who is charged with 15 counts, but implicated in the alleged sexual abuse by only one child witness.
Outside the courtroom, Deputy Dist. Atty. Lael Rubin told reporters that while all 41 of the alleged victims named in the complaint had been expected to testify, only the first 13 could do so in open court.
Prosecutors had hoped to call five other children to testify by closed-circuit TV--out of the physical presence of the defendants, who, the children said, had threatened them.
Rubin said 16 children had been withdrawn from the case by their parents after they saw the effects of lengthy cross-examination on the early witnesses.
Prosecutors had eliminated six other alleged victims who they believed could not withstand even the protective television procedure. Some McMartin parents, however, said their children had been dropped as witnesses because their testimony might take bizarre twists thought damaging to the case.
In another surprise move, the McMartin defense attorneys rested without presenting witnesses, although they had insisted throughout the preliminary hearing that they intended to call former McMartin teachers and psychology experts to refute the allegations in an “affirmative defense.”
Bobb did not immediately rule as to whether the defendants should be ordered to stand trial, and it was not clear when she would decide.
She must first dispose of the remaining counts for which no evidence was presented, rule on the myriad counts she took under submission and on motions to strike the testimony of several witnesses and hear arguments about the sufficiency of testimony on the remaining counts.
The seven defendants, who had been charged with 207 counts of molestation and a single, combined count of conspiracy involving 41 pupils at the school between 1978 and 1984, were indicted in March of 1984. Key defendant Raymond Buckey and his mother are in jail; the other five are free on bail.
Those charged also include former teachers Betty Raidor, 65, and Babette Spitler, 37.
Children from the Manhattan Beach pre-school have testified that they were raped, sodomized, fondled, and threatened by their teachers, and forced to participate in frightening rituals and animal mutilations.