Fifteen months into the McMartin Pre-School molestation trial and nearly five years since charges were filed, it is finally the defense’s turn.
The prosecution’s 61st--and last--witness has finished testifying, and the jury has been excused until next week when lawyers for defendants Raymond Buckey and his mother, Peggy McMartin Buckey, will begin presenting their case.
“We believe we’ve established what we set out to prove,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Lael R. Rubin said last week. The prosecution built its case on the testimony of nine alleged child victims and medical evidence that it contends indicates that the majority had been sexually abused, and bolstered it with testimony from their parents and others.
Defense attorney Daniel Davis said last week that he will begin with “a very important witness,” and speculation abounds that his client, the 30-year-old Buckey, will be first to take the stand.
‘Victims on Both Sides’
Davis promised during opening statements in July, 1987, that Buckey “will reveal all he knows about this case,” and asked the jury to keep in mind that “there are victims on both sides.” He added that “He (Buckey) is prepared to deal with the truth, even though it (testifying) may be difficult because he has been in jail so long.” Buckey has been behind bars since his second arrest in March, 1984, and is being held in lieu of $3-million bail.
His 61-year-old mother, who is free on $395,000 bail, is also expected to take the stand, as are other teachers from the once-prestigious Manhattan Beach school against whom charges were dropped.
The case has cost county taxpayers more than $10.5 million and is expected to last through next spring, with a verdict unlikely before mid-summer.
The jury has been excused this week while lawyers haggle over the admissibility of certain exhibits--which now total 700--and the judge considers separate defense motions to dismiss all charges, to take the jury to view the seaside nursery school, and to compel the then 2 1/2-year-old boy who triggered the case to testify.
“Credibility is the issue in this case, in my view,” said Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William R. Pounders, outside the presence of the jury, “not whether the elements (of the crimes charged) have been established.” For that reason, he said, a defense motion to dismiss charges for insufficient evidence “won’t take a lot of time.”
Pounders plans to visit the school grounds this week, accompanied by court staff and attorneys for both sides.
Prosecutor Rubin said that after jurors view additional exhibits next Monday, she or co-counsel Deputy Dist. Atty. Roger J. Gunson will utter the long-awaited words: “The people rest.”
The proceedings already fill more than 40,000 pages of transcripts, and some jurors frequently appear bored. The judge has had to admonish them to stay awake, take notes and has cut off lengthy cross-examination several times, noting that it seemed to be headed nowhere.
The defense is scheduled to begin presenting its case next Monday afternoon. The Buckeys are charged with 100 counts of molestation and conspiracy, although 27 counts are likely to be dismissed by Pounders because three children who testified at the marathon preliminary hearing have refused to testify again.
Three counts involving a fourth child who refused to testify may be retained because of her parents’ testimony and medical evidence.
And one count involving the first youngster to report having been molested--who has never been among those expected to testify--may remain because of testimony by a jail house informant and two physicians who examined the child.
During the prosecution’s presentation, nine alleged child victims took the witness stand to describe acts of sexual abuse by the defendants. The jury also heard testimony from their parents, five physicians, a jail house informant, investigators and teachers who worked with Raymond Buckey at a San Diego preschool.
Unusual exhibits accompanying their testimony ranged from men’s bikini briefs festooned with suggestive pictures and sayings seized in a search of the defendants’ house, the remains of turtles dug up near the nursery school, the diaries of family matriarch and school founder Virginia McMartin, and videotapes of controversial interviews with the alleged victims by therapists at Children’s Institute International.
The jury watched 14 hours of videotapes in which some of the children first said they had been molested. The defense has said it will argue that biased and inept interviewers “programmed” the children against two defendants.
Asked to assess the prosecution’s case, Rubin said, “What comes out loud and clear . . . is that we have established what we set out to prove, namely that this is a case about trust and betrayal of trust, and that children were molested by Ray and Peggy Buckey at McMartin and elsewhere.
“Nine children have come into this courtroom and withstood days of cross-examination and told the jury about sordid events that happened to them, accounts the defense was unable to shake.
“Substantial medical evidence was presented not only by Dr. Astrid Heger, the physician who examined all the children who testified, but by five other doctors, two of whom examined a child who did not testify and three who supported Heger’s medical evidence generally and specifically. The defense failed in their attempts to attack the medical evidence.
‘Unable to Impeach Her’
“And in 17 days of testimony by (Children’s Institute International social worker Kee) MacFarlane (Elias), the defense was unable to impeach her, despite the fact that for years she has been the focus of their attacks.”
Defense attorney Davis declined to speak with The Times about his view of the evidence presented by the district attorney or his strategy. Attorney Dean R. Gits, who represents Peggy McMartin Buckey, did not return calls. Both lawyers have accused The Times of bias.
Among the key elements of the prosecution’s case:
* Children testified that they were forced by the Buckeys to submit to intercourse, sodomy, oral copulation, penetration by fingers and masturbation, then silenced by threats that their parents would be killed. They said Raymond Buckey underscored the threats by mutilating and killing animals.
* Youngsters told the jury they were forced to play a game called “naked movie star” in which they were photographed as they paraded unclothed, as well as other sexual games. They told of being taken to locations away from the school and said that “strangers” sometimes participated.
* A 13-year-old boy said he was forced to drink the blood from a rabbit sacrificed on the altar of a Hermosa Beach church where black-robed figures encircled the children, moaning and chanting in what the prosecution called a satanic ritual.
* Heger, the physician who examined all 13 children originally scheduled to testify and who directs County-USC Medical Center’s child sexual abuse program, testified that in 10 she found scars, tears, enlarged body openings or other physical evidence indicating “blunt-force penetrating trauma” consistent with the repeated sodomy and rape they described.
* MacFarlane, the social worker who headed the team that interviewed about 400 children from the McMartin school, said her interview techniques were “focused and specific,” rather than “leading and suggestive,” as the defense contends.
* George Freeman, a jail house informant who has been convicted of at least nine felonies and is an admitted perjurer insisted he was telling the truth “this time,” when he testified that Raymond Buckey talked freely about sodomizing the 2 1/2-year-old boy whose allegations launched the investigations, described having sex with several other children at McMartin and at a San Diego preschool, and talked of a long, incestuous relationship with his sister. Freeman testified that Buckey said he shipped pornographic films to Denmark through a contact in Venice, Calif., and buried a suitcase of sexually explicit photographs of himself and youngsters during a trip to South Dakota shortly before his arrest.
The prosecution’s case was interrupted by five days of testimony from a defense witness and former defendant, Virginia McMartin, 81, which was videotaped as a safeguard against the possibility that she might become too ill to appear. The feisty McMartin vehemently denied that she had ever molested a child or seen her daughter or grandson do anything that might even be misconstrued as molestation.
The McMartin case originally involved seven defendants, 41 child witnesses and several hundred counts. Although only 14 children testified at the 18-month preliminary hearing, a Municipal Court judge in January, 1986, found the evidence sufficient to order all seven to stand trial. A week later, however, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner decided against further prosecution of all but the two Buckeys currently on trial, saying the evidence against the others was “incredibly weak.”