How hysterical parents, incompetent therapists and malicious prosecutors destroyed the lives of seven innocent
North Carolinians – and have yet to admit they were wrong
April 29, 2017
Robin Byrum, not long out of high school and pregnant with her first child, went to work at Little Rascals Day Care Center in September 1988. A year later she was in prison under $500,000 bond, charged with 23 counts of child sex abuse. Prosecutors had no credible evidence against her, but they were betting the youngest defendant would implicate Bob Kelly and the others accused.
“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she recalls today in her first interview since charges finally were dropped against her in 1996. “They thought I would tell on the others. That was the only reason I was swept up.”
Now 15 years into her second marriage, she lives in Eastern North Carolina. For her privacy I’m not mentioning her town or married name. “I’ve gone on with my life. It’s turned out well, in spite of all that….”
After months of sporadic questioning she was arrested in January 1990. “Three men from the SBI came to my mother’s house. It was so frightening. They intimidated me. One of them put his foot up on the table and I could see the gun in his ankle holster. He said, ‘I’d hate to see you taken away from that child.’
“Then we went to the police station in Edenton. [SBI agent] Kevin McGinnis said he would give me one more chance to talk. I could hear my baby crying in the next room. When I told him again I didn’t know anything, he was so angry he kicked the desk across the room.”
Along with Betsy Kelly and Dawn Wilson, she was put in a cell in women’s prison in Raleigh. “I was three hours from my only family in North Carolina. Strip-searched before and after every visit.
“They put another prisoner in there with us, a snitch, thinking she could get us to talk. But we had nothing to tell….. One day they even tossed our cell, looking for ‘satanic’ passages marked in our Bibles.”
As the months passed, prosecutors offered Byrum ever more tempting plea deals. In a particularly poignant moment in “Innocence Lost: The Plea” (1997) she explains to Ofra Bikel why she had even turned down a deal offering no active time, but an admission of guilt: “‘That would mean knowing I would not ever have to be separated from my child again. But then I’d have to live with the rest of my life that I [said I] did something when I didn’t do it.’”
Today Byrum, 46, works in health information management. “My office manager knew about the case, but the doctors hadn’t put two and two together until they went to your site. One of them shook his head and said, ‘How did seven people go to prison on something completely unfounded?’ Well, I’m still baffled too….
“How could anyone believe all these things happened? We were a block from downtown, in a building with huge windows and no curtains. Parents walked their 2- and 3-year-olds there, and they dropped by all the time….
“Didn’t a light bulb ever once come on that made somebody use their common sense?”
April 28, 2017
“There is this idea that people of the 1980s were just not very bright or really superstitious or something like that. Back then, the people who questioned it were treated with suspicion. People would say, ‘Of course this is happening, what’s wrong with you?’ And it’s not like this is an anomaly in American history. In the ’50s, Commies were crawling out of the basement. This stuff goes back to Salem witch trials…
“The ritual abuse thing also became part of psychological culture. This idea that children don’t lie about these things became really entrenched for a while….
“It was a way to talk about actual abuse, I think. At the time, the idea that childhood abuse was mostly perpetrated by family members was too outrageous, too awful. People would rather believe that it was evil, Satan-worshipping strangers.”
Early on, Chaon’s interest in writing a novel centered on “satanic ritual abuse” was piqued by the West Memphis Three.
April 18, 2017
“C’est un reportage accablant sur le système judiciaire américain…. Ce pourrait être simplement l’histoire d’une erreur judiciaire dont aucun système pénal au monde n’est exempt, hélas. C’est bien pire, et correctement annoncé par le titre français : ‘ Un acharnement judiciaire.’ “
– From “Persécution judiciaire” by Guy Baret in Le Figaro (March 25, 1999)
“[Innocence Lost] is a damning report about the U.S. judicial system…. This could just be the story of a miscarriage of justice of which no criminal justice system in the world is free, unfortunately. It’s much worse, and properly announced by the French title: ‘A judicial harassment’….”
Apparently critic Baret wasn’t the only one in France to look skeptically at “satanic ritual abuse” claims. I haven’t found a single example of a French day-care prosecution during the moral panic.
April 14, 2017
“In wrongful convictions, the jury at some point was misled, either by false testimony or bad evidence. It’s the unspoken piece that the jurors – the public – are the ones who are ultimately used to convict someone unjustly because they were misled.
“When you’re selected, you’re officially deputized to be part of the system, and the jury can’t take the nonchalant position of ‘The professionals know what they’re doing, we’re just here.’ No, you’re a key part of this. You have to think about it, and if you don’t ask, if you don’t speak up if there’s a doubt, someone’s life could be ruined.”
– Francisco Carrillo Jr., quoted in “Wrongful-convictions database moves to UC Irvine” in the Los Angeles Times (April 14)
Carrillo spent 20 years in prison for a fatal drive-by shooting in Los Angeles County, Calif. His conviction was overturned in 2011.
Gullibility was only one of the problems corrupting the decision-making of Bob Kelly’s jurors.
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