Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The McMartin Daycare Case

Expert Witnesses

Dr. William Gordon
Dr. William Gordon

The prosecution's cases rested on the results of the interviews at CII and on medical evidence. They had also used a snitch planted in Ray's cell who ended up admitting he was not really credible. One doctor, William E. Gordon, testified that the photographs did show evidence of abuse. He was an "expert." Gordon had testified in some 300 trials on the same issue. But he admitted he was not a certified pediatrician, but a professor, and had no formal education in diagnosis. It then turned out that he had been banned in another country from examining children and that some organizations had complaints registered against him. He had even discarded a videotape in one case in which a child had denied being molested. Apparently, as reporters wrote, he was a prosecutorial zealot.

Gordon's testimony was interrupted, but was completed later in the summer. His expert insight consisted of pointing out to jury members, who could not see what he was talking about, photographs of alleged vaginal and anal penetration. He claimed there was scarring, but he was also caught in several inconsistencies from earlier testimony. He pointed out suspect "white tissue." The tissue, it was revealed, was reflections of light on the photographs. Observers were not impressed.

Another witness, a police investigator, committed suicide the evening before he was to testify. His death was as mysterious to many as Judy Johnson's death had been. There were rumors that he had been blackmailed.

Lack of empiricism did not only extend to the witnesses. At one point, some jury member sent a note to the judge asking for the locations of the emergency exits. They needed to know because this was the day that Nostrodamus had predicted a terrible earthquake.

The prosecution's most important witness was Kee MacFarlane from CII. She took the stand in August 1988. Outside the courtroom, Davis pointed out to reporters that she had no credentials. She was a grant writer who had no actual training in child abuse assessment. Inside, he showed portions of her videotaped interviews with the children and she defended her techniques.

In their book, the Eberles observed that the videotapes gave evidence of Pavlovian conditioning, hypnotic trance induction, and brainwashing through exhaustion. The children always appeared to be suffering from fatigue.

On cross-examination, MacFarlane was evasive about why she said certain suggestive things to the children or why she often represented the teachers with black dolls. She denied using scare tactics and insisted that something had happened at the McMartin School. She said that she had been trained in her technique but she could offer no names for validation.

To discredit her, the defense brought in a psychiatrist. Unlike MacFarlane, he had genuine credentials, training and experience.

Dr. Michael Maloney was a physician, clinical psychologist, and professor of psychiatry at University of Southern California School of Medicine. The Eberles provide a full account of his testimony in The Abuse of Innocence, summarized here.

Dr. Maloney had evaluated hundreds of children alleged to have been abused and felt that the interviews with the children at CII were "invalid." He had seen around 50 of the videotapes (although his testimony was limited to the videotapes involving the children who had come into court) and he felt that the process of interviewing them had so contaminated their memories of the experience, if they'd even had any, that no conclusions could be drawn. The true source of their "memories" was difficult to pinpoint with any accuracy. He had prepared a bar graph that indicated that the adults doing the interviews had done most of the talking. He was not allowed to show it to the jury, however.

Clearly the children had things to say, he observed, but were prevented from doing so. Instead, they were led into saying only what the questioners wanted them to say. Maloney called it "stage setting." The goal should have been to get information from the child, not form the child's memory. The interviewer's job is to listen, but that's not what was done in these interviews. The child was not allowed to organize his or her own history.

"The more you use an interviewer to effect that," he said, "or provide them with information that could contaminate them, the less you can rely on anything you get out of them... In these interviews the kids were all machined through the exact same process."

He noted the coercive questioning, and the way each child became passive and resorted to pointing or asking questions to see if they were right or wrong. The interviewers had used a set script, which hindered spontaneous revelation. It meant that there was no tailoring for the individual cognitive development of  each child, and thus, one could not conclude much from what the child said.

"They are all considered as a homogenous mass," he pointed out, "that you must treat the same way."

He also noted that each tape began as the interview was already in process, so that no one knew what might have gone on before it started. It was also clear that the children were led into talk about sex and that they were made to believe that the games they played were considered "yucky" and that Ray was a bad man. The interviewer controlled the process completely and communicated to the child in a number of ways that this was the setup.

Maloney also felt that for some children it may have been inappropriate to start explicitly naming sexual body parts. They may not have been prepared. Such a strategy also meant that the interviewer did not learn what the child actually knew.

Even worse was the use of the sexually correct dolls, known as SAC dolls. They were introduced in silly terms, making the children laugh. "In many cases, the way it was presented was in a derogatory way, a negative way." The dolls were also pushed on the children already unclothed, which was the improper way of introducing them. The children were to become familiar with the dolls while the dolls were clothed. The children were then to "experiment" with them. The issue of sex was forced on the children, rather than volunteered by them or even gently guided. In addition, the dolls could be used as a "rehearsal strategy," a way to get the children to indulge in fantasy and make things up. They were being taught and prepared rather than interviewed. What they were told could then set in their memory as a true memory, when it wasn't.

The entire context presented to the children was that something was wrong and they needed to tell the adults about it. Among the problems was that when photographs of the teachers from the school were shown to some of the children, they did not recall who those people were.

Maloney then went on to discuss that the dolls were named after teachers at the school. They were personified as people. Peggy was the fattest doll, and they made fun of her, calling her "Miss Piggy." Sometimes, according to the film based on court records, Ray was represented as a black doll, and the black doll was then used in a derogatory manner.

Finally, there was some discussion with the children about "stuff" coming out of Ray Buckey's penis. None of the children said that Ray had ejaculated. The social workers had suggested it. The children were even asked to say what it tasted like, as if they had been forced into oral copulation.

Maloney also discussed how the children's stories shifted with repeated interviews.  One boy who did not even know Ray Buckey — he was not at the school at the time — nonetheless made several allegations against him. When the boy could not produce the answer Macfarlane wanted, she told him he was dumb.

The interviews, Maloney said, exerted a strong negative influence and were inappropriate. He knew of no experts who would support CII's approach. He was an impressive witness.

Even so, Judge Pounders told the defense that he had done some research himself to determine the admissibility of Maloney's testimony. Apparently, he had not liked what he'd heard. Yet many people wondered why Pounders did not feel the same about MacFarlane, an unlicensed social worker with no real training. At least the doctor had genuine credentials. Pounders also excluded another defense psychologist, on the grounds that the testimony would be time-consuming. The defense considered this a crucial setback.

However, Davis and Gits did manage to call Sandra Krebs, one of the social workers MacFarlane taught to interview the children. She admitted that her only background was some courses in college and some conferences. She said that she had interpreted long pauses from the children as signs of fear, and that most of her evaluations were speculative and highly subjective. Although she had admitted during the preliminary hearing that she had told parents their child or children had been molested, she now denied doing so. She, too, had used a naked black doll to represent one of the teachers — notably, Peggy.

It's interesting to note that all of the children interviewed at CII initially denied any experience or knowledge of abuse. All of them, except for one who told such outlandish and strange stories that no one wanted to deal with her, let alone bring her to court. Those nine who testified (two had backed out or were held back) were considered the "strongest" witnesses for the prosecution, and even they had problems keeping their stories straight.

More striking was the fact, as reported by the Eberles, that since the McMartin case had begun, CII had received millions of dollars in grant money from government agencies and private donors. Kee MacFarlane, assisting the investigation, was the agency grant writer.