McMartin--Did One D.A. Aide Want to Drop Charges Against 5 of 7?
Defense attorneys in the McMartin Pre-School molestation case said Friday that they intend to file motions to force the release of any material on a meeting at which a prosecutor reportedly recommended dropping charges against five of the seven McMartin defendants.
Municipal Judge Aviva K. Bobb said she will hear motions to order the prosecution to release material on the March 16 meeting with Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner. Defense attorneys decided to move for release of the material after the Daily Breeze newspaper in Torrance reported Friday that the prosecutor recommended the dismissals because of a belief that there was a lack of evidence against those defendants.
Assistant Dist. Atty. Gilbert Garcetti said, however, that the meeting--attended by himself, Reiner, Assistant Dist. Atty. Curt Livesay, the McMartin Task Force and others--was one of a series of meetings on the McMartin case.
He declined to discuss the newspaper report that during the meeting a prosecution team member advocated dropping charges against five defendants or expressed fears that the child witnesses might have been influenced by therapists.
‘Difference of Opinion’
“Any time there are two or more attorneys together you are going to have a difference of opinion,” Garcetti said. “Some of the people present were playing devil’s advocate. There were a lot of ideas discussed.”
The Daily Breeze did not report which of the prosecutors made the dismissal recommendation, but quoted unnamed sources as saying Deputy Dist. Attys. Glenn Stevens and Christine Johnston disagreed with lead prosecutor Lael Rubin over the legitimacy of the case against the five defendants.
Stevens and Johnston declined to discuss the story with reporters. Rubin could not be reached for comment.
The five defendants are preschool founder Virginia McMartin, 78; her granddaughter Peggy Ann Buckey, 29, and three former teachers, Mary Ann Jackson, 57, Betty Raidor, 65, and Babette Spitler, 36, the newspaper said.
The prosecutor who recommended the dismissals did not suggest dropping charges against chief McMartin defendant Ray Buckey, 27, and his mother, Peggy, 58, the Daily Breeze said.
Three Prosecutors Split
At the meeting, one prosecutor recommended dismissal, one suggested re-evaluating the case at the end of the preliminary hearing, and a third insisted the evidence was solid for a trial, the newspaper said.
Prosecutors and investigators also discussed claims made by defense attorneys that children suspected of being abused at the Manhattan Beach preschool were “suggestible” and the methods used to interview them were questionable, the newspaper reported.
“I think it’s shocking to find out that six months later the prosecution had doubts about the case,” defense attorney Walter Urban said.
Defense attorney Daniel Davis said Reiner has a “courageous decision to make.” Davis added that Reiner could be courageous or “make a debacle of this in Superior Court.”
Garcetti said, however, that at the time of the meeting only three of the alleged child victims had testified, and the consensus of the meeting was to go ahead with the preliminary hearing and determine the future course of action after all testimony was heard.
“I’m downplaying the significance of singling out that meeting,” he said. “We’ve had, in every big case . . . several meetings with a lot of discussions with various individuals and various recommendations as to what to do . . . things are changing on a daily basis.”
Asked whether the release of documents, tape recordings and other material from that meeting would damage the case, Garcetti insisted the materials would not be released. He said the materials were prosecution work notes.
“They’ll have to drag me to jail before I approve that,” he said.
Reiner declined comment on the meeting when asked about it at a news conference on the Night Stalker case.
The defendants had originally been charged with molesting 41 of their students, but Bobb dismissed 193 of 321 charges for lack of evidence, and they are now charged with sexually assaulting 14 youngsters.
At issue in the hearing is whether child witnesses should be allowed to testify by closed-circuit TV, as provided for in a new state law, rather than in front of the defendants.