Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The McMartin Daycare Case

Shoring Up the Case

During 1984, Judy Johnson disintegrated. When her husband left, she accused him of sodomizing Matthew and called the police. She also claimed she was being followed. She barricaded herself into her home, threatening those who came to help. Finally, she was forcibly removed and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. She was eventually released, but Matthew was sent to live with relatives, while Judy lost herself in drunken binges.

Ray Buckey in court
Ray Buckey in court

But the preliminary hearing was already underway, with numerous children testifying against the McMartin staff. Sometimes they were inconsistent, and their stories were often quite incredible. One boy talked about how Ray had taken him to a house in which he let loose lions, using them to threaten the children into obedience. Another, when asked to point to the person in a series of photos who had molested him, picked out the actor Chuck Norris, a city attorney, and four nuns in a faded photograph taken 40 years earlier. Those who tried to recant were said to be suffering from the symptoms of child abuse — fear or a repressed memory.

Defending Ray Buckey was Daniel Davis, while public defender Dean Gits represented Peggy Buckey. Both lawyers were at their wits' end with the sort of "evidence" allowed at the hearing. But the judge brushed aside their objections.

The so-called solid medical evidence — hundreds of photographs of the anuses and vaginas of the children — were brought into evidence, 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.

At the end of the long preliminary hearing, in January 1986, the judge charged Ray Buckey with 81 felony counts, Peggy with 27, and the others with a sundry of charges. Then the DA's 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 eventually asked to be removed.

Peggy McMartin Buckey in court
Peggy McMartin Buckey in

Some two and a half years into the case, DA Ira Reiner, Philobosian's successor in 1984, was forced to drop charges against five of the defendants for lack of evidence. Assistant DA Lael Rubin was vehemently opposed, but Reiner felt he had no choice. There was no evidence against these defendants that would hold up in court. Reiner let the charges stand against Ray Buckey, and many observers believed it was to spare himself the embarrassment of admitting how much had been spent on an unwarranted case.

So Ray Buckey remained in jail, although Peggy, now in her 60s, was finally released on bail. But jail had changed her. She suffered from agoraphobia — a fear of venturing from one's home.

Eventually, defense lawyers learned that certain letters that were written by Judy Johnson had been withheld. A hearing was held on prosecutorial misconduct. While the hearing unfolded, Judy Johnson was found dead in her home from complications of alcoholism.

Glenn Stevens testified in the six-week hearing about what he knew about Lael Rubin's intentional hiding of evidence. He said that Rubin had lied about the defendants at the preliminary hearing so they would not get bail. In the end, Judge William Pounders permitted the trial to go forward. There was sufficient evidence to try Ray and Peggy.

Davis and Gits commissioned an opinion survey to support their motion for a change of venue. An astounding 97.5% of people in the area believed the defendants were guilty, one of the highest figures of prejudice ever recorded in a poll. But their motion was denied.

Searchers removed tiles to look for tunnels
Searchers removed tiles to
look for tunnels

By the time this case reached trial, the investigation had employed three DAs fulltime, 14 investigators from the DA's office, 22 task force officers, two fulltime social workers, 20 part-time social workers, a fulltime detective and four part-time detectives. They had searched 21 residences, seven businesses, three churches, two airports, 37 cars, and a farm, but had come up empty-handed. They had interviewed 450 children and 150 adults and conducted lab tests on clothing and blankets, all to no avail. They had excavated the schoolyard looking for tunnels that the children had described, but found only some boxes that Ray had used on the playground for the children to crawl through.

Inexorably, the trial lurched onward. Of the 360 alleged cases of child abuse committed at the McMartin Preschool, only 11 children were presented at trial — those who had not embarrassed the prosecution during the preliminary hearing. Meanwhile, the defense was denied the opportunity to view all of the videotapes of all of the interviews. The judge ignored their claims of lack of due process.

Jury selection began in April 1987, almost four years after the first complaint by a woman now dead.


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