After nearly a month of testimony, a key defense expert in the McMartin Pre-School molestation trial stepped down from the witness stand last week, largely thwarted in his attempt to demonstrate that early interviews with alleged child victims tainted their later trial testimony.
Clinical psychologist Michael Maloney’s testimony focused on a critique of nine interviews of McMartin students videotaped at Children’s Institute International in late 1983 and early 1984. The interviews, conducted at the request of investigators, weighed heavily in the prosecution’s decision on charges in the case.
Maloney lambasted the techniques used by the Los Angeles institute, a child abuse diagnostic and treatment center. He said the Children’s Institute International methods were improper, because they used suggestive and leading questions and could have contaminated or clouded the youngsters’ later accounts of what occurred at the Manhattan Beach nursery school.
But, when pressed, he said the children’s court accounts might still be truthful.
Source of Report
The difficulty, he explained, is that “when they do make a report later, it’s difficult to determine what the source of that report was. Was it some influence outside the interview, was it the interviewer’s question itself, or was it the child’s own experience?”
The jury has viewed the videotapes in their entirety.
Peggy McMartin Buckey, 62, and her son, Raymond, 30, are charged with 65 counts of molestation and conspiracy involving 11 children who attended their family-run preschool. Both are free on bail as the trial enters its second year.
Maloney testified that he has interviewed hundreds of children about sexual abuse, but under cross-examination by Deputy Dist. Atty. Roger Gunson, the Pasadena psychologist admitted that his interviews have been only rarely with children who were disclosing for the very first time that they had been molested.
Commenting outside the courtroom, Gunson said that to compare initial interviews with later interviews conducted after a child has already opened up to another person is akin to comparing “apples and elephants.”
Deputy Dist. Atty. Lael Rubin termed Maloney’s testimony “worthless.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Pounders, who had earlier commented outside the jury’s hearing that Maloney’s testimony was so bad he was considering striking it altogether, said the difference between Maloney’s experience and the McMartin situation answers some of the concerns he has had about his testimony.
“If he is dealing primarily with people that have already through themselves or others had an indication that they were molested, that would explain why he criticizes the techniques here that are used basically to dynamite the logjam and create a flow of information,” he said last week, again outside the jury’s presence. “He criticizes many of the things that would appear to me at least to be absolutely necessary to get these children to start talking if they did not talk before.”
His comments came during arguments by attorneys over the admissibility of an academic study on child sexual abuse.
Maloney acknowledged that he had not conducted any relevant studies of his own and appeared unfamiliar with much of the recent literature on the subject as well as with the psychological terminology used in journal articles. Pounders ruled that he did not qualify as an expert on either child memory or on the prospective effect of certain interview techniques on later memory.
However, the defense said Maloney’s testimony shows the invalidity of the Children’s Institute International videotapes and the children’s resulting testimony.
“The essential thing Dr. Maloney has established,” said attorney Dean Gits, who represents Peggy McMartin Buckey, “is that these children came out of CII different from what they went in,” and that the interviews served more as “a teaching, training mechanism” than as an unbiased attempt to gather information about what each child had actually experienced.”
The defense called Sandra Krebs, one of three interviewers who questioned alleged child victims at Children’s Institute International, as its next witness late Tuesday after Pounders ruled that a complex analysis of child-therapist interactions made by an associate of Maloney’s was inadmissible on grounds that it was confusing, misleading, subjective and time-consuming.
An increasingly exasperated Pounders last week also chastised one defense attorney for dragging out the proceedings and threatened to hold him in contempt for constantly interrupting.
“We have got to conclude this trial. We are going to do that even if it’s over your dead body,” the judge told Danny Davis, who represents Raymond Buckey.
“Excuse me,” Davis said. “I don’t think you meant over my dead body.”
“I mean exactly that,” the judge shouted. “If you and I have to confront each other, that’s exactly what it’s going to be.” Pounders told Davis he believes that “both sides are being denied a fair trial by the length of the case, and the major impact is in your corner.”