McMartin Preschool

Los Angeles County, California
Date of Alleged Crime: 1983

In 1983, a mentally unbalanced woman named Judy Johnson enrolled her two-year-old son, Matthew, in the McMartin Preschool.  She became obsessed with Matthew's rectal problems and began thinking they were a result of sexual abuse.  Soon Judy was making accusations against Ray Buckey, 28, the only male who worked at the school and who was the grandson of Virginia McMartin, 79, the school's founder.  Matthew denied abuse at first, but soon Judy was making more accusations against Ray based on what Matthew allegedly said.

The police obtained a list of all children who ever attended the school and began questioning parents.  They asked them to question their children.  The police later encouraged parents to bring their children to abuse counselors who encouraged children using anatomically correct dolls to change from their alleged natural state of denial to giving details of abuse.

Reports of abuse snowballed and soon the entire staff of the preschool was indicted and arrested, including Ray Buckey, his mother Peggy, his sister Peggy Ann, his grandmother Virginia, and 3 female teachers.  They were charged with 208 counts of child abuse and except for Virginia McMartin, all were denied bail.  The original accuser soon disintegrated.  Her husband left her, she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and she died of alcoholism.

At a preliminary hearing lasting 19 months, the prosecution claimed to have solid evidence of abuse—hundreds of photographs of the anuses and vaginas of the children, but no one could quite see what the expert medical interpreter did.  Even the three medical doctors for the prosecution could not agree on what they saw.  Many children told wild tales that could not possibly be true.  The prosecutors even began to break ranks.  Prosecutor Glenn Stevens resigned, claiming that they were putting seven innocent people through an ordeal and he wanted no further part in it.  Another member of the original team, Christine Johnson, also asked to be removed.  At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, charges were dropped against all defendants for lack of evidence except for Ray and his mother, Peggy Buckey.

To get a change of venue, the defense attorneys commissioned an opinion survey.  An astounding 97.5 percent of the people in the area believed the defendants were guilty, one of the highest figures of prejudice ever recorded in a poll.  Nevertheless, the change of venue motion was denied.

Jury selection for the trial began in April 1987, almost 4 years after the initial accusation.  In testifying about abuse, using photographs, a so-called medical expert pointed out suspect “white tissue,” which turned out to be reflections of light on the photographs.  A child abuse investigator could name no credentials or training she had but was only a grant writer.  The trial lasted 28 months even though the judge began striking defense witnesses at the end because only one alternate juror remained, raising the possibility of a mistrial.

In Jan 1990, the jury hung on 13 counts (all against Ray) but acquitted both Ray and Peggy of the remaining charges.  Five months later, another trial began against Ray, but the jury in it became deadlocked as well and charges were dismissed.  After 7 years the McMartin case was the longest and most expensive legal proceeding in American history.  It had cost the community almost $16 million, and resulted in no convictions.  [6/05]

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Reference:  Crime Library

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Suburban Los Angeles Cases, Child Abuse Cases, Favorite Case Stories