MANHATTAN BEACH (CBSLA.com) — It’s been 30 years since allegations of child molestation at a Manhattan Beach preschool shocked the country.
CBS2’s Paul Magers spoke with key figures in the McMartin abuse case about what’s happened in the years since.
“There’s just a lot of damage done,” said publisher Kevin Cody, whose newspaper The Easy Reader featured extensive coverage of the case. “You know, that can’t be undone.”
It was September 1983 when a letter from the Manhattan Beach Police Department to parents of the McMartin preschool sent shockwaves through the community.
After an allegation of child molestation and the arrest of a preschool teacher, the letter asked parents to investigate if their children had been victims. It mentioned sex, fondling and said photos may have been taken of children without clothing, and all possibly under the pretense of taking the child’s temperature.
“Perhaps, it started as a misreading of an innocent act …” said Danny Davis, who represented Ray Buckey, who was tried with his mother, Peggy. They would eventually be charged with 65 counts of child molestation of the preschool students.
The trial would become what many claim to be the longest, most-expensive criminal trial in U.S. history.
“Once the parents began to believe that there had been crimes committed, then the case got very heated,” Cody said. “There is really no upside of this one.”
“The strongest evidence, the physical evidence, the medical evidence, I think was very significant,” said Lael Rubin, the lead prosecutor in the case.
That evidence from the prosecution, photographs taken at the Children’s Institute International, showed what they believed was trauma to the genital area.
Key McFarlane, the director of CII at the time, examined and videotaped approximately 400 children using anatomically correct dolls.
“I’ve been working with sexually abused children for 13 years, and I have never seen children as frightened as these children.”
The thing was that, apart from the CII doctors, none of the 124 witnesses called during the trial, or 800 exhibits in court, offered an corroborating evidence to support the prosecutor’s allegations.
“I never did anything. My son didn’t do anything, nor my mother, my daughter, or any of the teachers,” Peggy Buckey said. “I just can’t imagine ever molesting a child.”
The trial dragged on for nearly three years.
The CII investigation methods, such as its suggestive and leading questions to children and its use of dolls, would eventually be discredited.
In the end, Ray Buckey and Peggy Buckey were acquitted.
“What did you say to the families of the children? Did you speak to them when it was over?” Magers asked Rubin.
“Oh, course I did. They were pretty distraught,” Rubin replied.
Magers asked Rubin if he thought the defendants were guilty or innocent.
“I’m not comfortable commenting on any of them at this point in time,” Rubin said.
But Davis did say about his client Ray Buckey: “He was singly the most heroic client I’ve ever defended, not only because he was innocent, but he endured it with a quiet wisdom.”
Rubin reflected on the many changes that came about as a result of the McMartin trial, which affected criminal cases across the country.
“The criminal justice system, interviewers and police, law enforcement are much more concerned about eliciting information from children, as opposed to giving them clues,” Rubin said.
In the years since the case, there is a positive update on the children involved in the trial, who are now adults in their mid-30s.
“The children are doing great,” Cody said. “They are very happy, well-adjusted people.”
But even now, the questions still linger.
Cody said: “I said, ‘Do you have an independent recollection of being abused?’ ‘No.’ ‘You think you’re abused?’ ‘Yes.’ I’ve asked several times ‘Are you interested in talking about this?’ They say ‘No’ and I say ‘OK, let’s not talk about it.’ ”
Since the McMartin trial, new protocols have been developed.
CII is still in business, providing children’s treatment services in the Los Angeles community. But they no longer provide children interview services, medical exams or make any determinations of abuse.
CBS2 attempted to reach Ray Buckey for comment but was unable to locate him.