The 7-year-old boy whose accounts of sexual abuse triggered the McMartin Pre-School molestation investigation five years ago would be traumatized by being brought to court for questioning, a psychologist testified Tuesday.
The boy’s father has refused to allow his son to testify in the trial and also has refused to allow the judge to question the boy in chambers to determine whether the decision not to testify is his or his father’s.
Edith Wolf, a psychologist at the South Bay Center for Counseling, told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William R. Pounders: “It is my opinion that further questioning would only further exacerbate (the boy’s) already stressful situation.”
Wolf, who conducted a 90-minute evaluation Monday, added that the boy’s testimony would be unreliable and inconsistent.
She said that forcing him to come to court could interfere with his ability to concentrate in school and to relate to people, and may produce regressive behavior such as nightmares and bed wetting.
The boy’s mother and brother have died since the case began, and his father cited those losses as well as the alleged molestation as reasons he does not want his son to testify.
But because the boy once named his father as the person who molested him and allegedly accused others after McMartin defendant Raymond Buckey was in jail, Pounders had ordered the father to bring his son to court for an interview or to provide a psychiatric report.
Wolf said she talked and played with the boy, asked him to draw pictures of himself and his family and questioned him about whether he wanted to testify.
Those pictures, she said, reveal a child with “poor self-esteem, a fragile sense of self and immature” for his age. He drew himself as a small stick figure separate from other family members, and “made comments about how stupid he was and how his brain didn’t work.”
“I asked him (several times) how he felt about testifying,” Wolf told Pounders. “Fifty per cent of the time he told me he wanted to and 50% of the time that he didn’t want to.” Asked why, he sometimes said it would be “fun (because), well, I would get attention,” she said, while at other times he said he would be “scared.”
Wolf said the boy gave conflicting answers to the same questions, as though he was trying to find “the right answer” to please her.
But Pounders was not convinced. “I don’t think it (his anxiety) should preclude the court from direct contact,” and proposed going Friday to the counseling center with a court reporter, and talking to the boy briefly in the presence of a support person, such as his stepmother. Attorneys would be able to listen and suggest questions from another room, or waive their right to be present.
Pounders said he will make a final decision Thursday. “We’re dealing with the defense’s right to call any witness that might exonerate (the defendants),” he said.
Prosecution attorneys do not believe that the boy’s testimony to one count of molestation is critical to the case because, they believe, the charge has already been supported by testimony from a physician and a jail informant.
Later Tuesday, a former substitute teacher at the McMartin school completed her testimony. She said she had noticed nothing suspicious during two months there but added, under cross-examination, that she was too busy taking care of her class to pay attention to what might have been happening elsewhere on the school grounds.
A mother whose child attended McMartin at the same time as some of the older alleged child victims took the witness stand late Tuesday, and her daughter is expected to follow.
However, Pounders warned the defense against trying to parade witnesses through court to testify that they were not molested.
“Whether or not (the next child witness) was molested does not prove that others weren’t molested. . . . Here the issue is whether these children were molested, not whether others weren’t,” the judge said.
The defendants, Raymond Buckey, 30, and his mother, Peggy McMartin Buckey, 60, are charged with 65 counts of molestation and conspiracy involving 11 children who attended the family-run school between 1978 and 1983.