Judge Overrules Ban on McMartin TV Testimony
A judge, overruling a lower court decision in the McMartin Pre-School molestation case, said Friday that children who feel threatened in court should be allowed to testify via closed-circuit TV.
Superior Court Judge Paul Turner didn’t order such testimony, but he ruled that Municipal Judge Aviva Bobb should hold individual hearings to decide whether each of five child witnesses qualifies for the protection of a closed-circuit setting.
“The magistrate is . . . free to order closed-circuit questioning in connection with the five child witnesses or to deny the prosecution’s request as to one or more of the children,” Turner said.
Not Retroactive Violation
Turner said use of a new state law in the McMartin case doesn’t violate state and federal constitutional restrictions on retroactive application of laws.
Although the law became effective after the McMartin case’s preliminary hearing began a year ago, Turner said it was clear that legislators intended for it to apply to that case.
The measure, signed May 20, allows children 10 or younger to testify in sexual abuse cases from outside the courtroom through two-way television hookups. But it applies only in cases in which a judge rules that the child or a member of the child’s family has been threatened in an attempt to prevent testimony, or that the defendant’s presence greatly hinders the child in testifying.
Turner dismissed a defense contention that the procedure is unfair to defendants because they wouldn’t be able to confront their accusers.
‘Fair Play and Justice’
“It is absolutely incongruous . . . to contend that the interest of fair play and justice would be served by precluding them from identifying persons they believe molested them,” he said.
If all five children are allowed to take the stand via closed-circuit TV, their testimony would involve an additional 40 counts of molestation against the defendants.
Raymond Buckey and six other people, including 77-year-old Virginia McMartin, who founded the preschool, initially were charged with more than 300 molestation counts covering the period between 1978 and 1984 at the now-defunct Manhattan Beach school.
Bobb has thrown out 193 of those counts, but the 40 charges associated with the five children yet to testify weren’t included in the dismissal.
Turner said the dismissal of the 193 counts was proper.
Other defendants in the case are Peggy McMartin Buckey, 57, Raymond Buckey’s mother; Peggy Ann Buckey, 28, his sister; and teachers Babette Spitler, 36, Mary Ann Jackson, 57, and Betty Raidor, 65.
Turner, who issued a 43-page written opinion, stayed the effect of his ruling for five days to allow defense attorneys time to appeal to a higher court, which they said they would do.
However, one of the defense lawyers, Bradley Brunon, said he was pessimistic about any ruling favoring the defendants.
“The climate of the times does not favor these defendants,” said Brunon, who represents McMartin.
He predicted that permitting the five children to testify via closed-circuit TV could cause the preliminary hearing to last another five months.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Lael Rubin called the judge’s decision “a significant victory for parents and children.”
She said that unless the defense appeals, all parties will appear before Bobb on July 22 to begin the process of qualifying children to testify.
Turner specified that Bobb must determine by a legal test whether each child is too traumatized to testify if required to face the defendants in court.
Turner noted that the children had indicated they don’t want to testify in the courtroom because of alleged threats by Raymond Buckey.
He noted that many children already have testified that Buckey killed small animals in front of them and said the same thing would happen to them if they reported it to their parents.
“Now Buckey attempts to gain the advantage of those threats,” the judge said. “In this country, that is neither just nor fair.”