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.