April 5, 2013
“In the Little Rascals Day Care case testimony was given about children being attacked by sharks kept in a pool by the accused. No prosecutor believed this story, and had such tales been told by adults, their credibility would have been laughed at…. However, (two Edenton defendants) were convicted, because under a new precedent, obviously false stories by children were set aside in the minds of prosecutors and juries, because of the belief that testimony from children needed to be treated differently….
“In (the Salem Witch Trials of) 1692, as in the modern day-care cases, the heart of the episode was the claims of the accusers versus the denials of the accused. Jurors were forced to choose between two sets of competing claims with no independent verification for any of them. Although not all the accusers were children, many were, and the idea of protecting the children played a heavy role in the prosecutions.
“Accusers claimed that the specters of the accused hurt them…. This kind of uncorroborated evidence became known as ‘spectral evidence,’ and on the basis of that evidence convictions routinely occurred. Contrary to popular, modern representations, all this took place in an orderly manner in a special court set up to investigate the outbreak. Within the rules of the day, the accused people had fair trials, just as the (day-care defendants) had a fair trial.
“What brought the trials to an end was the growing belief by the elites in Massachusetts Bay Colony, especially the clergy, that spectral evidence could not be trusted…. The trials continued, but under a new court where spectral evidence was not admissible, (and) the convictions largely stopped….”
– From “No Finality in Fells Acres” by Bernard Rosenthal, author of “Salem Story: Reading the Witch Trials of 1692”
“In spectral evidence, the admission of victims’ conjectures is governed only by the limits of their fears and imaginations, whether or not objectively proven facts are forthcoming to justify them. (State v. Dustin, 122 N.H. 544, 551 (N.H. 1982)).”
“Governed only by the limits of their fears and imaginations” – doesn’t that nail it!