March 28, 2012

Had North Carolina prosecutors been interested in anything other than racking up convictions, they would’ve given earnest consideration to analyses such as this one in the Los Angeles Times in 1990, barely a week after a jury returned not guilty verdicts in the McMartin Pre-School case:

“Experts across the country say the interview techniques intended to extract the truth from youngsters who attended the Manhattan Beach nursery school were so misguided as to make the children seem coerced, rehearsed and ultimately unbelievable to the jury….

“According to both child development and criminal defense experts who have closely monitored the case for the last six years, some of the adults — the parents, the prosecutors, the therapists — who tried hardest to find out what happened in the first place may have done the most to confuse the case in the end…. Most of the children were never given the chance to simply tell what, if anything, happened to them.

“‘They were never given the opportunity to tell their stories as they knew them, in their own words, until long after their minds had been contaminated with the thoughts and fears of the adults around them,’ said David Raskin, a psychologist at the University of Utah who has been studying child abuse cases for the last 15 years. By then, he said, it was too late.”

Contamination proved every bit as rampant among child-witnesses in the Little Rascals case, but prosecutors had learned from McMartin to conceal it by denying access to verbatim records of therapists’ interviews.