“And When Did You Last See Your Father?” by William Frederick Yeames, 1878

depicting English Puritan inquisitors grilling the child of a Royalist family

How hysterical parents, incompetent therapists and malicious prosecutors

destroyed the lives of seven innocent North Carolinians – and

have yet to admit they were wrong

The imaginations run amok weren’t the children’s

May 27, 2015

“Here’s an observation from the [“satanic ritual abuse” day-care] panic that I don’t think has been fully explored: These kids didn’t make up these stories.

“In this case [of Fran and Dan Keller] and dozens of others, the kids were telling tales with details about geography, history and current events about which kids of their age couldn’t have known. That’s likely what made their stories seem somewhat credible. But the fact that it all was fictitious reveals a particularly unsettling truth:

“These sick, lurid, unimaginable abuses could only have been a product of the imaginations of the therapists, social workers, cops and/or prosecutors who interviewed the children. If the memories were implanted, those are the only people who could have implanted them.

“That means that the same people entrusted to protect these kids, and in whom these communities trusted to police the streets, prosecute crimes and administer therapy, were ultimately the ones capable of dreaming up detailed sexual fantasies that put children in bizarre rituals involving violence, animals, corpses and so on.

“There’s a lot to be learned from these cases. For one, there are lessons about professional accountability:

“Not only were the vast majority of the prosecutors who put these innocent people in prison in these cases never sanctioned, but also most went on to great professional success, sometimes because of their role in these high-profile cases, and sometimes even after it was widely known that the people they prosecuted were innocent.

“There are other lessons here about how we screen ‘expert’ witnesses, and how bad science gets into the courtroom. There are lessons about the power of suggestion that could be applied to eyewitness testimony and how we conduct police lineups.

“But the drawing of lessons is something we typically do once a crisis is over. This one still isn’t. There are "still people in prison awaiting exoneration.”

– From “The ongoing legacy of the great satanic sex abuse panic” by Radley Balko in the Washington Post (May 26)

 

Is there something about “satanic ritual abuse” cases that knocks courts off their game? Although the Texas Court of Appeals manages to overturn (at last!) the child sexual abuse charges against day-care operators Fran and Dan Keller, it can’t bring itself to acknowledge their actual innocence. Thanks to Judge Cheryl Johnson for her clear-eyed concurring opinion noting that “This was a witch hunt from the beginning.”

  

 

Prosecution’s doctors ‘medicalized Satan’

May 25, 2015

“Investigative journalist Susan Goldsmith has spent years examining the medical and legal industry that has arisen to promote its belief that vicious baby-shaking by enraged adults has killed thousands of infants, the subject of the new documentary The Syndrome....

“We've been here before. The Syndrome rewinds to the 1980s when the panic on behalf of children was Satanic Ritual Abuse, a national frenzy in which prosecutors and juries sent daycare employees to jail for years for crimes as implausible as cutting off a gorilla's finger while at the zoo, then flying the children over Mexico to molest them.

“The media leapt on these accusations. So, too, did the doctors. ‘They medicalized Satan,’ says Goldsmith. ‘[Doctors would] go into court and say, “Yeah, she's got a Satanic Ritual Abuse notch in her hymen” ’....

“Satanic Ritual Abuse and Shaken Baby Syndrome are more similar than they sound. In both cases, the expert speaks for the victim. The discredited Satanic Ritual Abuse cases proved that adults were able to pressure children to swear to all sorts of falsehoods.... The alleged victims of Shaken Baby Syndrome are either dead or too young to explain what happened. Thus a doctor's educated opinion becomes crucial – even if that doctor is adhering to incorrect ‘proof’ of abuse.”

– From “Is Shaken Baby Syndrome the New Satanic Panic?” by Amy Nicholson in LA Weekly (April 9, 2015)

 

  

 

 

Investigation without end, injustice without end?

May 8, 2015

“A new investigation by the governor into ‘culpability’ has some concerned that he may be caving to the political pressure inherent in the pardon process – particularly given the exhaustive review and judicial imprimatur that the [Henry] McCollum and [Leon] Brown cases have already received.

“The original prosecutor, Joe Freeman Britt, has publicly opposed any pardon for the men. ‘There is no doubt in my mind that they’re not entitled to a pardon, and there in no doubt in my mind that they’re not entitled to compensation for the taxpayers,’ he said in the March [16] New York Times story.

“But attorneys involved in the case and other who work in this area say that the governor’s work has already been done for him.

“ ‘A district attorney would not have consented to their innocence, and a judge would not have put innocence in their order, if there was any level of culpability,’ said Chris Mumma, executive director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence....”

– From “Begging for a pardon: Why some of the wrongfully convicted could go penniless” by Sharon McCloskey at NC Policy Watch (May 6)

 

Now that Gov. McCrory has returned from the Global Gourmet Games, perhaps he is at last bringing his ‘culpability’ investigation to an end. But the question remains: Why did he open it in the first place? Why was it appropriate to add eight months to North Carolina’s brutal mistreatment of McCollum and Brown? Surely, it wasn’t an effort to satisfy the notorious Joe Freeman Britt! 

  

 

How could anyone doubt ‘shoes made of baby skin’?

May 5, 2015

“Its members are, it’s claimed, drawn mainly from a school and church in Hampstead [a North London suburb]. They are said to wear shoes made of baby skin, to dance with the skulls of dead babies and to sexually abuse young children. But the [satanic ritual] cult doesn’t exist. The claims are, according to a High Court Judge, ‘baseless’ and those who have sought to perpetrate them are ‘evil’....

“Why, after a police inquiry and a family court judgment which unequivocally rubbished the notion of satanic abuse in Hampstead, are the allegations still proliferating on the Internet and being spread all over the world? We hear from the supposed cult members who have had their personal details and photographs published online and received death threats. And we ask about the welfare of the two children at the centre of it all who were coerced into fabricating the fantastical story....”

– From “The Satanic Cult That Wasn't” by Melanie Abbott on BBC Radio (April 23)

 

This half hour of BBC coverage skillfully demolishes every iota of the Hampstead claims, but of course facts aren’t what engage the eagerly gullible. Since video of the 8- and 9-year-old siblings telling their concocted horror stories was uploaded onto YouTube, it has been watched more than 4 million times.

  

 

‘So, Paula, do YOU think I should pardon them?’

April 29, 2015

“Wednesday marks the 230th day that Governor Pat McCrory has refused to grant a pardon of innocence to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, the two Robeson County men who both spent 31 years in prison for a rape and murder they did not commit.

“The two men, both mentally disabled and struggling to pay their bills, need the pardon from McCrory to be eligible for financial compensation from the state for the years they were wrongly incarcerated. McCrory received the petition September 11 of last year.

“McCrory has been busy of course, most recently taking an unannounced trip to Los Angeles where he appeared on a panel at conference [and hobnobbed] with Paula Abdul and other celebrities at an event called the Global Gourmet Games....

“Meanwhile Henry McCollum and Leon Brown are still waiting for justice from McCrory and still struggling to pay their water bill....”

– From “Day 230 of Gov. McCrory denying justice to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown”
by Chris Fitzsimon at the Progressive Pulse (April 19)

 

It’s not just Junior Chandler and the Edenton Seven who suffer from the indifference of elected officials who hold the power to at last do right by them.

To withhold compensation from the hapless McCollum and Brown seems especially heartless. If McCrory has an explanation for his nearly eight months of foot-dragging, he’s not revealing it – unless maybe he spilled to his tablemates at the Global Gourmet Games....

 

Kids say the darndest things... eventually

April 24, 2015

“As was made clear repeatedly upon testimony by experts, the very first reports of the children were the ones that would be most critical in determining whether sexual abuse had indeed occurred. Yet in the first interviews, the children said almost nothing of any interest with regard to sexual abuse, and the police officer who conducted these hearings destroyed all of her notes and all of her tapes of what happened before the case went to court. She was approached by several of the mothers initially because she had taken a short course in investigating cases of child abuse.

“Officer [Brenda] Toppin was crucial to the whole process because she was the one who escalated the case from a minor complaint by one parent into a case of massive sexual abuse of dozens of children by scores of day-care workers.”

– From “Understanding The Crucible: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents” by Claudia Durst Johnson and Vernon Johnson (1998)

 

 

 

  


 

Lack of DNA evidence opens way for injustice

April 18, 2015

“DNA testing has been used 329 times now to prove the innocence of people wrongly convicted of a crime. But what happens when there is no DNA evidence to prove someone’s innocence? What happens when there is only his word, and the mounded doubts of the team that prosecuted and convicted him? And what happens when – despite growing certainty that it has imprisoned the wrong man for more than 20 years – the Commonwealth of Virginia stands poised to keep him locked up, possibly forever?

“Of all the maddening stories of wrongful convictions, Michael McAlister’s may be one of the worst. For starters, he has been in prison for 29 years for an attempted rape he almost certainly did not commit....”

 – From “This Man Deserves a Pardon” by Dahlia Lithwick at Slate (April 13)

 

Michael McAlister’s story surely qualifies as “one of the worst,” but forgive me if I think Junior Chandler – coincidentally now serving his 29th year of imprisonment – has suffered every bit as much injustice.  And in McAlister’s case at least a crime was actually committed, just not by him.
 


 

Death noted: Little Rascals judge Marsh McLelland

April 13, 2015

D. Marsh McLelland, judge in the trials of Little Rascals defendants Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson, died last month in Burlington. He was 94.

This laudatory obituary in the Greensboro News & Record barely mentions the most consequential case in McLelland’s career – “He was brought out of retirement by the state’s chief justice to hear the Little Rascals Day Care child sex abuse case....” – and this one in the Burlington Times-News mentions it not at all.

Had McLelland stayed retired, the prosecution of the Edenton Seven might well have been derailed early on.

The judge originally assigned to the case, L. Bradford Tillery, stepped down under pressure from Deputy Attorney General Bill Hart. Mark Montgomery, Bob Kelly’s appellate attorney, explains why:

“Hart did not like the way Tillery was handling the case.  The final straw was when Tillery ordered Hart to turn over the State’s interviews of those kids who were not the subject of indictments.  He did not order them given to the defense, as he should have done, but Tillery was going to look through them himself.  If he had, he would have seen that most of the kids at the day care, including Hart’s adoptive daughter, had said nothing happened and the jury would have heard about that.

“To prevent that, Hart filed motions accusing Tillery of being biased against the State. Rather than punishing Hart, Tillery took himself out of the case to avoid any appearance of partiality.  Enter McLelland. 

“Because Tillery had already ordered the interviews turned over to the court, that was a done deal.  But McLelland never looked at them.  I stumbled across them in the exhibit room of the courthouse and informed the Court of Appeals in my brief.  The failure of the State to turn over to the defense the interviews of kids who said nothing happened was one of the grounds for a new trial for Bob.”

Tillery clearly was stung by Hart’s ploy: “I have served as a judge of Superior Court for over 20 years, and I never found it necessary to take such a step.... Neither have I ever been made to feel before that one side or the other considered me to be not only an adversary but also fair game .... for reckless assertions.”

If only Tillery had responded not by resigning but by sanctioning Hart for withholding evidence.


 

Prosecutors claimed WHAT happened here?

April 6, 2015

A team from the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic recently traveled to Buncombe and Madison counties to collect documents from court clerks’ offices, to interview witnesses and to inspect locations where Junior Chandler allegedly abused children who rode his day-care bus.

Billy Chandler, Junior’s brother, and Clayton Rice, his lifelong friend, guided the Duke investigators (and me) along Junior’s daily route. The narrow, twisting backroads led us to the sites along the French Broad River where prosecutors claimed Junior had repeatedly committed the most bizarre sexual crimes imaginable.

The photo at the right shows a typical vantage. It has always seemed incredible to me that Junior – as described in Mark Montgomery’s amended petition for writ of certiorari – “would drive off his route to a parking area next to the French Broad River, strip the clothes off the toddlers, troop the naked children down to the river, put them on a rowboat, proceed to insert various objects into their anuses and vaginas, bring them back to the bus, put their clothes back on and deliver them home.”

Actually visiting and walking around the supposed crime scenes, which are completely open to neighbors and passersby, only reinforces my impression: The allegations against Junior are simply inconceivable.  

So where do things stand as Junior Chandler approaches his 29th year in prison? Clinic co-director Theresa Newman provided this cautious update: “The Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic has spent the past few months studying the file passed to them by previous post-conviction counsel, researching the developments in the relevant medical and psychological science since the mid-1980s, and otherwise trying to master this complicated and complex case. We are now moving into the next phase of our typical investigation....”

The title of Newman’s illuminating TEDx talk at Elon University couldn’t be more apt: “Waiting is a Beast.”


 

System that wronged Betsy Kelly rewarded Nancy Lamb 

April 5, 2015

William L. Anderson, professor of economics at Frostburg (Md.) State University, writes widely in opposition to big government. He has a particular aversion to overreaching prosecutors such as Mike Nifong and Nancy Lamb.

Anderson recently spoke to a North Carolina State University audience on “The Economic Calculation of Prosecutorial Abuse,” and afterward he shared these thoughts on how justice
goes bad:

“The real problem is that people in the courts and law enforcement don't have ‘fences’ that limit their behavior and also increase their liability. If the chances that they will face any meaningful sanctions for lying and lawbreaking are almost nil, then we can expect two things:
1) People in those lines of work are going to cut corners, to lie (even if they really do believe the person is guilty) and to manufacture 'evidence,' and 2) The kind of people who are most
likely to cut corners are going to self-select into these lines of work.....

“Take Nancy Lamb, for example. While she narrowly lost the DA election last year, nonetheless she has ridden the Edenton fame for years and has done well in her career. It helped her gain money and what the late Murray Rothbard described as ‘psychic profit.’ She suffered no consequences that I know despite the horrendous train-wreck damage she caused not only the defendants, but also the taxpayers of North Carolina.... Lamb is protected by prosecutorial immunity and also by a media and legal culture that bows down to prosecutors and judges....

“A society that accepts and honors this kind of dishonest and destructive behavior is doomed. There is no other way to put it. The people from Edenton could never get back their lives; Betsy Kelly pleaded nolo contendere because she knew the North Carolina ‘justice’ system was utterly and hopelessly corrupt...."

 

Also seemingly immune to appropriate consequences: Chris Bean, who went on to a long career on the bench despite
having provided flagrantly prejudicial testimony against former client Bob Kelly.

 

Not everyone was moved by HBO’s McMartin drama 

March 31, 2015

“...The watershed event marking the shift in public opinion on these [“satanic ritual abuse” day care] cases was the HBO airing of ‘Indictment: The McMartin Trial’ [watchable here on YouTube] in May 1995, wherein Ray Buckey, the child-molesting villain of the McMartin trial, was recast as the victim of a hysterical conspiracy theory.

“Five years earlier, no major television network would have dared question the infallibility of the testimony of ravished, innocent babes. A network like HBO is closely attuned to shifts in the public mood.

“Such TV dramas and feature films are generally more likely to respond to existing trends in public opinion on controversial issues than to break new ground, and so this docudrama marked a sort of closure on the issue in the public imagination, though the judicial system cannot shift direction so quickly.”

– From “The Metanarrative of Suspicion in Late Twentieth-Century America” by Sandra Baringer (2004)

 

Eighteen days before HBO broadcast “Indictment,” the North Carolina Court of Appeals had overturned the convictions of Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson, but Kelly’s torture at the hands of the state was far from over: A year later he would be charged with raping a young girl outside the day care in 1987. Was prosecutor Nancy Lamb unable to “shift direction so quickly” – or simply unwilling?


 

 

It’s a long way from Duke to Avery-Mitchell Correctional 

March 21, 2015

I spent several hours Friday at Duke University Law School listening to experts detail “Evolving Trends in Forensic Science.”

Fascinating. Topics ranged from the effects of sleep deprivation on jurors’ decision-making to the use of cell tower evidence to determine suspect location. But I was wedged into an auditorium otherwise full of lawyers to hear pediatrician Cynthia Brown and defense attorneys Mark Montgomery and Lisa Miles outline the latest standards for medical exams in cases of suspected child abuse. The good news – if you’re being wrongfully prosecuted in 2015 – is that those standards have become dramatically more specific and sophisticated.

If, however, you were wrongfully prosecuted in 1987, then the fruits of that scientific progress remain maddeningly out of reach.  Waiting for me when I returned home Friday was a letter from Junior Chandler:

“April 15 will be 28 yrs – nearly half my life, all because of lies when I did no crime. It’s a shame & disgrace to the whole N.C. justice system, not only to do this but never to be willing to say they were wrong....”


 

It wasn’t only defendants who suffered wrongfully 

March 17, 2015

“Warren Twiddy, 68, father of defendant Betsy Kelly, said he’s been ‘shunned, blocked out’ by some residents and nearly run out of his church.”

– From “Trial rips fabric of community” by Mark Mayfield
in USA Today (March 20, 1992)

 

“Twiddy sold his insurance business and exhausted his retirement savings to pay his daughter’s legal fees. Old friends, he says, won’t even say hello on the street. Clients canceled policies after his daughter was indicted.”

– From  “Town’s pain is revived by TV film” by Andrea Stone
in USA Today (July 22, 1993)

 

“Twiddy admits... some bitterness toward his neighbors, who ignored him at church and at the country club.

“ ‘Before, the bulletin board was full with places we were supposed to be up ’til Christmas,’ he said. ‘After this, nothing, buddy.’ ”

– From “Talk of new trial makes Edenton shudder” by Carol D. Leonnig
in the Charlotte Observer (Sept. 10, 1995)

 

“Our need to matter and our need to belong are as fundamental as our need to eat and breathe. Therefore ostracism – rejection, silence, exclusion – is one of the most powerful punishments that one person can inflict on another.

“Brain scans have shown that this rejection is actually experienced as physical pain, and that this pain is experienced whether those that reject us are close friends or family or total strangers, and whether the act is overt exclusion or merely looking away....”

– From a delanceyplace.com summary of “The Pain of Exclusion”
by Kipling D. Williams in Scientific American (January/February 2011)

 

The misery caused by wrongful prosecution of the Little Rascals case extended far beyond courtrooms and jail cells. Defendants’ family members such as Betsy Kelly’s father endured many years in a hell of ostracism.

Warren Twiddy died in 2012. He was 89.

 

 

‘Ritual abuse’ therapists to scientists: Drop dead 

March 13, 2015

“In this this arena of Recovered Memory Therapy and treatment of DID, therapists will simply imitate what sounds exciting or innovative without assessing the scientific value of the procedure. At times there appears to be little awareness of or concern with the professional literature.

“At a [1995] conference sponsored by a group dealing with ritual and cult abuse, there was an aversion to and a quick dismissal of major studies, including [those by David] Ceci....

“It is troubling that an entire panel had never heard of his well-known research.”

– From “The Death of Psychotherapy: From Freud to Alien Abductions”
by Donald A. Eisner (2000)

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to make ‘facts and science ultimately irrelevant’ 

March 8, 2015

“As public debate rages about issues like immunization, Obamacare, and same-sex marriage, many people try to use science to bolster their arguments. And since it’s becoming easier to test and establish facts – whether in physics, psychology, or policy – many have wondered why bias and polarization have not been defeated. When people are confronted with facts, such as the well-established safety of immunization, why do these facts seem to have so little effect?

“Our new research, recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, examined a slippery way by which people get away from facts that contradict their beliefs.... [They] reframe an issue in untestable ways. This makes potential important facts and science ultimately irrelevant to the issue....

“These experiments show that when people’s beliefs are threatened, they often take flight to a land where facts do not matter. In scientific terms, their beliefs become less ‘falsifiable’ because they can no longer be tested scientifically for verification or refutation....”

– From “Why People ‘Fly from Facts’ ” by Troy Campbell and
Justin Friesen in Scientific American (March 3)

 

And what allegations could be more “untestable” than pure fantasy? As Junior Chandler knows too well, “....It’s extremely hard to get help to prove my innocence when there isn’t a crime committed to begin with.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


 
 


The Little Rascals case in brief

In the beginning, in 1989, more than 90 children at the Little Rascals Day Care Center in Edenton, North Carolina, accused a total of 20 adults with 429 instances of sexual abuse over a three-year period. It may have all begun with one parent's complaint about punishment given her child.

Among the alleged perpetrators: the sheriff and mayor. But prosecutors would charge only Robin Byrum, Darlene Harris, Elizabeth "Betsy" Kelly, Robert "Bob" Kelly, Willard Scott Privott, Shelley Stone and Dawn Wilson – the Edenton 7.

Along with sodomy and beatings, allegations included a baby killed with a handgun, a child being hung upside down from a tree and being set on fire and countless other fantastic incidents involving spaceships, hot air balloons, pirate ships and trained sharks.

By the time prosecutors dropped the last charges in 1997, Little Rascals had become North Carolina's longest and most costly criminal trial. Prosecutors kept defendants jailed in hopes at least one would turn against their supposed co-conspirators. Remarkably, none did.

Another shameful record: Five defendants had to wait longer to face their accusers in court than anyone else in North Carolina history.

Between 1991 and 1997, Ofra Bikel produced three extraordinary episodes on the Little Rascals case for the PBS series "Frontline." Although "Innocence Lost" did not deter prosecutors, it exposed their tactics and fostered nationwide skepticism and dismay.

With each passing year, the absurdity of the Little Rascals charges has become more obvious. But no admission of error has ever come from prosecutors, police, interviewers or parents.

This site is devoted to the issues raised by this case.