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Never Molested Anyone, Ray Buckey Tells Jurors

Times Staff Writer

Nearly six years after his arrest on child molestation charges, McMartin Pre-School teacher Ray Buckey took the stand for the first time on Wednesday and denied that he ever molested, threatened or otherwise harmed children.

Buckey’s testimony, delivered softly but without hesitation under the questioning of defense lawyer Danny Davis, directly contradicted the testimony of nine of the alleged victims in the case.

The 31-year-old Buckey, tanned and wearing a pale yellow shirt, navy blazer and khaki slacks, said that his accusers are lying and that he had never even seen some of the children before they pointed to him at his preliminary hearing. He added that law enforcement has never questioned him about the allegations against him.

In 4 1/2 hours on the stand, Buckey answered “no” and “never” to most questions posed by Davis about his alleged misconduct:

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"(Before becoming a McMartin teacher), did you come over to the preschool and perhaps spend some time molesting children . . . or playing naked games?” Davis asked.

“No,” replied Buckey.

“Have you ever been a member of any type of what might be called a network of child molesters” or involved in the production or sale of “kiddie porn?” Davis asked.

“No,” Buckey said.

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“Have you ever touched a child in any manner whatsoever with your own specific intent to arouse or obtain sexual gratification?” Davis asked.

“Never,” Buckey said emphatically. He said his only contact with a child’s genitals was with a washcloth or toilet paper when he helped them clean up after bathroom accidents.

Although the alleged molestations dated from 1978, Buckey said he did not begin working at his family’s nursery school until 1981, and avoided even stopping by there before that because he was “dropping in and out” of various colleges and didn’t want his parents to know he was not attending classes.

Nine of 11 alleged victims named in the case have testified in the 27-month-long trial that Buckey raped, sodomized, or forced them into oral copulation; that he took pornographic photographs of them, transported them off the school grounds for orgies and satanic-like rituals in which animals were killed, and then silenced them by threatening to kill their parents. A physician who examined the youngsters testified that she found physical evidence of sexual abuse in most.

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Buckey’s co-defendant, his mother, Peggy McMartin Buckey, 62, testified in her defense for 11 days in May and also denied molesting or mistreating any children or having any knowledge of molestations at the school.

Davis, who has estimated that Buckey will spend about a month on the witness stand, began by focusing on Buckey’s relationship to the 2 1/2-year-old boy whose allegations against “Mr. Ray” triggered the case, now the longest and costliest criminal trial in history.

Buckey said he had seen the child two or three times, in the school’s afternoon day care program, but that he had never held, touched, molested or sodomized the boy.

“Have you ever sodomized anybody? " he was asked.

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“No,” he answered.

Davis said his strategy is to try to tie Buckey’s claim of innocence to the “impossibility” that the alleged acts could have occurred, starting with his general denials and then focusing on the specific counts involving each child. For example, he noted Wednesday, Buckey was not even teaching at the school when one of the allegedly molested children was there.

That child, a 12-year-old girl who in August, 1987, became the first alleged victim to testify, described being sexually abused and threatened by Buckey.

Her father testified that she attended McMartin from 1977 through mid-1980.

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But Buckey testified Wednesday that he he did not even begin work at the school until January, 1981, and that his previous visits were as an observer two days a week during the last two or three months of 1980.

“The preliminary hearing was the first time I ever saw (the girl) in my life,” said Buckey.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Lael Rubin, co-prosecutor in the case, speaking to a reporter outside the courtroom afterward, characterized Buckey’s responses as “mechanical, very rote, and calculated, the result of 5 1/2 years of practicing for this moment. There is very little of what he has testified to so far that is truthful, and much of it is contradicted by a number of witnesses, even defense witnesses.” She declined to cite examples, saying, “I’m saving them for cross-examination.”

Buckey and Peggy McMartin Buckey are charged with 65 counts of molestation and conspiracy involving 11 children who attended their family-run Manhattan Beach nursery school. Both have maintained their innocence from the beginning of the case, which mushroomed into a massive investigation that led to charges against them and five other teachers, as well as the closure of nine beach-area nursery schools. Although all seven McMartin teachers--including 82-year-old school founder Virginia McMartin--were ordered to stand trial after an 18-month preliminary hearing, Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner decided to drop charges against all but Buckey and his mother, citing weak evidence.

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Before beginning his testimony, Buckey, who is free on a $3-million property bond, told reporters he was somewhat nervous about beginning his testimony, but relieved at finally getting a chance to rebut the charges. He did not testify at his preliminary hearing.

“But it’s fine now that I’m finally up there,” he said afterward. “I just answer the questions . . . and I have the truth behind me.”

Asked by a reporter why he thinks he is charged with 53 counts of molestation and conspiracy if, as he maintains, “none of it ever happened,” Buckey told reporters he believes that children caught up in the complex case were influenced by adults and interviewing methods and now “can’t turn back.”

The $15-million case, now in its third year of trial, has heard from more than 100 witnesses, resulting in more than 52,000 pages of transcripts.

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Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Pounders has characterized the trial as a race against time, balancing the defense’s desire to present numerous additional witnesses against what he fears is “a probability that this case will end in a mistrial” because of the dwindling number of jurors.

Five of the original 18 panelists (12 regular jurors and six alternates) have been released for health and career problems, and the loss of at least one more is looming, he said.

“The super-compulsion I have is to get this to a jury,” the judge said last week, just before emergency gallbladder surgery forced him to release a fifth juror, who is expected to be incapacitated for at least a month.


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