Partial Facebook Posts Archive

Since 2016, Lew Powell has posted about Junior Chandler and the Little Rascals Day Care Case on a Facebook page. Below are the posts that offered material not already on this website. Each post included a link to a news item or other Internet material. By late 2021, some of the links included in the earliest Facebook posts were no longer operational, and have been omitted from this archive. As time goes by, more links will go bad; such is the Internet. In the archive items below, the original Internet links are under the word, “More,” at the end of the item. Not retrieved here are the posts that offered Facebook users links to material published over the years on this website. Some of those commentaries and links were accompanied by a graphic headlined “Throwback Thursday” that reprinted the website entry


June 24 Shameless! More.

May 30 How many centuries will it take for a representative of the State of North Carolina to utter words such as these?
“ , , ….” More.

May 25 Medical release for aging, sick prisoners More.

May 16 By now I should never be surprised by the cold-blooded willfulness of prosecutors: “The thread that connects the two men is the apparent unwillingness of their prosecutors, despite new evidence, to accept even the possibility that the men they convicted were innocent.” More.

April 15 Meanwhile in Spruce Pine, N.C., Junior Chandler begins his 37th year in prison for an imaginary crime. More.

March 25 Encouraging news, after of unspeakable injustice:
On Aug. 28-30, Junior Chandler’s lawyers with Duke’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic will present evidence of his innocence at a hearing in Boone before Superior Court Judge Gary Gavenus.
Earlier, Judge Gavenus denied, without an evidentiary hearing, five of Junior’s seven claims supporting his innocence, but he ordered the August hearing on the last two:
1) that, during Junior’s trial in 1987 [background in first comment], prosecutors violated Brady v. Maryland, a federal constitutional requirement that they turn over evidence favorable to the defendant and withheld significant evidence demonstrating that Junior did not commit the crimes he was charged with – and that, in fact, no crimes ever occurred; and
2) that prosecutors allowed their most important witnesses to testify falsely, which Junior’s lawyers could not prove without the Brady evidence being withheld.
These are powerful and well documented claims, deeply rooted in this country’s promise of fair treatment for all defendants – a promise that for Junior Chandler has remained broken since 1987.

March 17 Junior Chandler has been wrongfully imprisoned since 1987. More

Feb. 22 “Parker told the court that agency caseworkers and therapists questioned him until he provided the answers they sought.
“ ‘If I told them stories — the crazier, the darker the story, the more they liked it.’ More

Feb, 22 “A related charge is that DID is largely ‘iatrogenic’ — that is, a product of a small handful of self-proclaimed experts that have managed to ‘sell’ the disorder to psychotherapists and their patients, similar to how hysteria based on false memories of ritual Satanic abuse in children sprang up in the 1980s and later faded.” More.

Feb. 22 “[Over] the last few years, as claims of Satanic conspiracies within pop culture continue to earn renewed relevancy, many have noted the similarities to the infamous Satanic Panic of the 1980s. What many thought to be an antiquated witch hunt now dominated internet discussions, especially when it comes to LGBTQ artists.” More.

Jan. 30 “The public pressure to get a conviction combined with what some call ‘junk science’ led to the wrongful conviction of….”
The names and allegations may change, but the systemic injustice is all too familiar…. More.

Jan. 25 As soon as Edenton comes to terms with the Civil War it may be ready to reexamine the Little Rascals Day Care case…. More.

Jan. 1 “No crime had actually occurred”? Maybe like prosecutions for “satanic ritual abuse” in day cares? Like Junior Chandler’s case? More..



Dec. 25 The good news here is that public interest in “satanic ritual abuse” has declined dramatically. The bad news is that Junior Chandler, wrongfully prosecuted because of belief in that myth, remains in prison after 35 years. May this be Junior’s last Christmas behind bars…. More.

Dec. 18: Of all the wrongfully prosecuted victims of the “satanic ritual abuse” day-care panic the Amiraults may have suffered the most brutal and irrational treatment. Massachusetts politics (which I don’t understand) seems to have played an inordinate and peculiar part in this notorious miscarrying of justice…. More.

Dec. 16: “Finally they thought they were actually going to get some justice, some relief, and instead they just got the rug pulled out from under them one final time.”
Even compared with other notorious “satanic ritual abuse” cases, Massachusetts may be in a class of its own in its endlessly sadistic persecution of the Amiraults…. More.

Dec. 16: Well, now. Get out your to-do list, Edenton…. More.

Dec. 7: Lora Mae Norton shows Madison County where she stands — thanks, Lora Mae! More.

Nov. 19 “Yet another case of justice absurdly and tragically delayed. And once again — as in Little Rascals — the ritual-abuse theoretician Ann Wolbert Burgess was present at the creation.
Here’s how Debbie Nathan and Michael Snedeker described Burgess in 2001 in “Satan’s Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt”: “promoter of the use of children’s drawings to diagnose sexual abuse, developer of the idea of the sex ring, participant in developing the case that imprisoned the Amirault family and currently a researcher into the traumatic aftereffects of ritual abuse.” More.

Oct. 23 “The factors that led to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 are complex and endlessly debated — including the scapegoating of women.”
Wonder if the Little Rascals prosecutors ever asked themselves why five of the seven defendants were women, when child sex abusers are overwhelming men. More.

Oct. 20 Justice delayed at its saddest and most absurd…. More.

Oct. 6 “The central rhetoric of QAnon is eerily like the McMartin panic. In the case of McMartin, concerned parents took to the streets in protests against Satanism, putting signs around children’s bodies with messages like, ‘Help Me! Stop Child Molesters!’ In QAnon protests, one might see children holding up signs saying, ‘I’m Not For Sale.’ And ‘#Savethekids.’ ” More.

Oct. 5 “The usual retort to the skeptic’s charge of lack of evidence has always been ‘Well of course there’s no evidence. That’s how good the Satanists are!’ ” More.

Oct. 3 “People released after wrongful convictions, and their families, of course deserve to revel in their joy and relief. We shouldn’t deny them that. But it’s hard not to notice the absurd incongruity between their celebration and the years of freedom these miscarriages of justice have cost them.” More.

Oct. 3 “Weirdly, the lack of any evidence itself became evidence that we were surrounded by a satanic conspiracy.” More.

Sept. 29 “We are keeping many people in prison even though they are no danger to the public, a jaw-dropping new statistic shows. That serves as proof that it’s time to rethink our incarceration policies for those with a low risk of reoffending.” More.

Sept. 28 “How could the mental health profession have had such a catastrophic misadventure?” And to have been so eager to forget it? More.

Sept. 24 So familiar. More.

Sept. 15 ” A survey of 2,000 U.S. residents conducted in June… revealed fears over satanic rituals and child sexual abuse are pervasive.
“One-third of respondents agreed with the statement, ‘Members of Satanic cults secretly abuse thousands of children every year.’ One quarter agreed that ‘Satanic ritual sex abuse is widespread in this country,’ and 21% agreed that ‘Numerous preschools and public schools secretly engage in Satanic practices.’ ” More.

Aug. 22 Hoping Jim Coleman can add Junior Chandler’s exoneration to his extraordinary list of accomplishments. He and his Wrongful Convictions Clinic colleagues Theresa Newman and Jamie Lau have been seeking justice for Junior since 2014…. More.

Aug. 21 “Some might wonder how exonerating a woman who lived three centuries ago has anything to do with today. But I was taught that we study history to understand our past mistakes.” More.

Aug. 19 Junior Chandler hasn’t set foot in Madison County since 1987, but his friends and family haven’t forgotten him.
This recent statement of support [text in first comment], circulated by Junior’s son Andy and his longtime friend Rita Norton has drawn some 300 signatures.
Still available online is the digital petition [link in second comment] started by Dr. Ed Friedlander.

July 22 Buddy Hyatt, a 37-year-old elementary school teacher in Greenville, N.C., had deep roots in Edenton.
His grandfather, Pete Manning, was editor and publisher of the Chowan Herald, his father was associate pastor and minister of music at Edenton Baptist and his mother was a longtime educator.
In late 2020 Buddy wrote me that he wanted to talk about the Little Rascals Day Care case. “It ripped apart many families and almost destroyed the town,” he said. “In 1989, when the accusations started, I was in first grade. But earlier I had attended Little Rascals. My parents had me and my younger brother checked over by an unbiased child psychiatrist in Greenville. After several sessions he reported that we had no indications of physical or sexual abuse.”
Tragically Buddy died before we had a chance to connect.
I recently heard from Buddy’s mom, Nelle Hyatt. “What Buddy said about the Little Rascals case [see first comment below] is accurate,” she said. “The situation affected MANY people who worked in the day care, put their children in the day care, knew the owners of the day care and lived in Edenton. It was an extremely difficult and terrifying time, resulting in trauma for many and ruining others’ lives. It truly was a time of panic for everyone.
“As a mother, I was afraid that decisions I made would ruin my children. No child should have to testify in court. The justice system and courtroom are not a good place for any child. Buddy was in Kindergarten when the news broke. He had attended the day care from age 3, on a part time basis.
“The town was hurt, churches were affected, friendships were damaged. It was a time of searching for the correct info and what was best for your children. People were upset, understandably. Similar to today’s world, if one had a difference of opinion on the situation, there was absolutely no understanding with that person. How painful.”

July 8 “It seems, alas, that each generation must learn anew, if in a slightly different context, the importance of following due process and avoiding a rush to judgment, even when addressing highly emotional allegations of criminal wrongdoing. ” More.

July 8 “The exoneration of an innocent person is surely a positive outcome — but it is not the end of the story, as the impact of wrongful conviction persists well beyond the prison gates, and justice is not truly served until we have made every effort to right this unthinkable wrong.
“When we fail to adequately support these individuals, we prolong their undeserved suffering—and while no amount of money, services, or apologies can return lost years of an innocent person’s life, we must do better.” More.

July 4 The era-ending death of former publisher Frank Daniels Jr. nudged me to look back at the News & Observer’s tepid coverage of the Little Rascals Day Care case.
Claude Sitton, editor from 1968 to 1990, [photo below] would later admit remorse over the N&O’s passivity.
“When I look back,” Sitton recalled in a 2007 interview for the Southern Oral History Program, “I think my greatest mistake [was] my failure as editor of the News & Observer to make sure we had a top-notch investigative reporter on the Little Rascals case in Edenton.
“Our regional person was adequate as a regional correspondent, a full-time staffer, but he was not the person to see what was wrong with this case and to do the necessary digging to root it out.
“That prosecutor had gone wild, eaten up by ambition, I suppose, to hang these people, these people who operated the Little Rascals Day Care Center, no matter how.
“…All the kids talked about being borne through the air this way and that way and flying all over, and it was crazy stuff.
“As it turned out, [the Edenton Seven were eventually released], but it wrecked their lives forever. And I still feel sorry about that, still feel sorry about it.
“I think had we sent someone like Pat Stith down there, that would have been it.
“But see, at that time, Edenton already was a pretty far reach for the News & Observer…. [Our] pulling out of eastern North Carolina [to cut expenses] might have affected my thinking [about] whether we were really responsible for doing something about that miscarriage of justice.”
By 1992, Sitton had retired and Frank Daniels III was serving as executive editor. In response to a letter from Jane W. Duffield of the Committee to Support the Edenton Seven, Daniels III made clear the N&O’s lack of enthusiasm for revisiting Bob Kelly’s convictions on 99 counts of child sexual abuse:
“As for an ‘investigative’ piece about the Kelly case that would get to the ‘truth,’ we will have to see if we have any staff members who are sufficiently passionate to get at this story….”

July 3 “On May 23, on the steps of the Chowan Courthouse, Assistant District Attorney Nancy Lamb reluctantly announced the termination of the Little Rascals Day Care case. After eight emotional years, it was decided that it was in the best interest of the children and their families to close this door and open a new door without the shadow of Bob Kelly.
“We stand by the verdict of Bob Kelly’s conviction (12 consecutive life sentences), understanding that the North Carolina Court of Appeals overturned his conviction solely on parliamentary error and not the evidence.
“Twelve children bravely spoke to tell a true nightmare, and after nine months of proceedings and weeks of deliberation, the jury voted Mr. Kelly guilty of the crimes he was accused of by signing 99 verdict sheets.
“Our children are now well on their way toward recovery. Many remain in therapy and many are still haunted by nightmares. The welfare of our children remains paramount.
“Erase, if you can, the megamedia intrusion upon this case and walk around in our shoes. We have never been crazed ‘witch-hunters.’ We are simply loving parents who have been trying to right the injustices forced upon our children.”

– From a letter to the editor of the Virginian-Pilot by Lisa H. Baker (June 10, 1997)

Were there a hall of fame for euphemisms, it surely ought to enshrine Ms, Baker’s “parliamentary error.” In reality, the Court of Appeals smacked down the prosecution on multiple flagrant violatioins and could easily have sited more.

June 24 Will Edenton ever make amends for *its* accusations of witchcraft? More.

June 19 Given Edenton’s decades-long insistence on forgetting the Little Rascals Day Care case ever happened, it gives me inordinate gratification to honor the defendants, however modestly, with a brick installed in the sidewalk at the Edenton Historical Commission.
Perhaps this gesture will nudge townspeople toward the future proposed in this visionary 1993 letter to the Elizabeth City Daily Advance:

“Dear Editor:
“The year is 2022. The town of Edenton, last stop on the witch-hunt trail beginning in Salem, Mass., with an intermediate stop at Joe McCarthy’s office in Washington, D.C., has finally decided to build a historic marker. (It will be) directly across the street from the town’s $4 million tour center, where people gather from across the nation (indeed, from around the world) to see and feel and learn about the Edenton witch hunts of 1990-1993….
“It is here where the walking tours start, where the T-shirts are sold and where the buses disgorge their curious cargo….”
Letter writer David W. Tucker of San Francisco – who in all likelihood had recently watched “Innocence Lost: The Verdict” – expressed confidence that the marker would eventually be approved, even if not by 2022:
“The only question is whether the marker will speak of the community’s collective shame or, instead, of the individuals and groups of good will and courage who brought lasting honor to Edenton by rescuing Bob Kelly, Dawn Wilson, the Twiddy family and the others from the nightmare that fear, hate and ignorance visited upon them….”
Amazing, isn’t it, how much clearer Mr. Tucker’s view was from 3,000 miles away….

June 17 Delay justice for Junior Chandler not one day longer!

June 16 Encouraging news on Junior Chandler’s motion for appropriate relief! (Hope I’m not going overboard with the exclamation point — Junior has encountered many brutally inexplicable disappointments over the decades.)
After the North Carolina attorney general’s office reported it had been unable to find the child-witness interview recordings that undergirded Junior’s 1987 conviction, senior resident Superior Court judge Gary Gavenus recently granted a request from the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic to depose several state trial witnesses and the assistant AG who prosecuted Junior.
That means testimony under oath could be forthcoming from then-assistant AG Ellen Scouten; pediatricians Andrea Gravatt and Nancy Rice, who interviewed the children; social worker Linda King, who investigated for the Department of Social Services and participated in the child interviews; and an unnamed employee of the AG’s office who transcribed the recordings.
An earlier motion by the Duke Clinic had sought the crucial recordings. Duke attorney Theresa Newman explains, “The summaries of the interviews social worker King prepared to be used by the state witnesses at trial were vastly different from the transcripts of the recordings we found in the AG file – and, based on other evidence in the file, we suspect the transcripts are different from the actual recordings. So we want the recordings as the best evidence of what the children actually said.”
Is it possible Josh Stein [below] will throw up his hands and abandon this indefensible case? Attorney Newman: “I’ll never say there is chance, but it’s unlikely. That said, brick by brick. We hope that eventually there will be too few bricks to hold this injustice upright. I think we’re there already, but the state always takes more convincing.”

June 16 “They were nice people, normal people.”

June 15 The award-winning 2021 college textbook “Case Studies in Social Psychology” cites the Little Rascals case as a costly abandonment of rationality. “Like rising floodwaters,” authors Thomas Heinzen and Wind Goodfriend write, “powerful attitudes about child sex abuse swept away critical thinking, lifelong friendships and even established legal standards.”
Heinzen, a professor at William Paterson University in New Jersey, actually visited the scene of the sham crimes.
“Many in Edenton [had] made up their minds right away — and refused to change even after the moral panic subsided,” he reported. “They had come to believe that their own friends and neighbors…. must be guilty of gross acts of child sexual abuse.
“You may be tempted to think of the people in Edenton as evil or corrupt. But I chatted with several residents, including some of the people involved. They were nice people, normal people. Most were courteous, interested, friendly to a stranger from ‘up North’ — and still confused about what had happened in their little town a quarter of a century earlier….” More.

June 11 This sad, sad story from New Zealand bears numerous parallels to Little Rascals — the seminal role of outside “experts,” the repeated and unrelenting interviews of children, the literally incredible allegations they produced — but now there’s one big difference: a former child witness courageous enough to come forth with the truth. More.

June 11 Teal Swan’s therapist is among those “satanic ritual abuse” theoreticians whose work remains unretracted by professional journals. For the story of how I tried and failed to make this happen in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, see first comment below…. More.

Journal editor declines to make amends….

May 29 “In 1994, the first comprehensive study on Satanic ritual abuse was released. While there were a few isolated cases of ‘lone perpetrators or couples who say they are involved with Satan or use the claim to intimidate victims,’ over 12,000 cases showed no evidence of large-scale or well-organized Satanic abuse.” More.

May 28 How long will the Edenton Seven have to wait? More.

May 26 A welcome note from “Spanky and the Chain Gang”….

May 19 “Lawyers for Robert F. Kelly Jr. say they are not worried by death threats and threats of sexual abuse against the accused sexual offender now on trial in Farmville.
” ‘I’m satisfied that if there was any reason to be concerned police would let us know,’ said defense attorney Michael Spivey.
“The Pitt County Sheriff’s Department investigated a report last week that money has been offered to have Kelly shot…Kelly has also received a letter his attorneys said came from inmates at the Harnett County Correctional Center threatening to sexually abuse him if he gets sent to prison.
” ‘Those of us already in the system are waiting to greet you with open arms — among other things,’ the letter said. ‘Throughout the state we are well informed of what it is you have done and we are looking forward to working with you to help you fully understand the nature of your charges. We are very anxious to help you overcome such tendencies.’
“The letter was signed ‘Spanky and the Chain Gang.’ ”

– From the Chowan Herald, Sept. 19, 1991

Kelly was indeed sent to Central Prison, but the threats didn’t materialiize. In fact, he recall, his fellow inmates had little trouble recognizing the case again’t hom had been a sham.

May 26 “It was the latest of [Itiel] Dror’s many experiments suggesting forensic scientists are subconsciously influenced by cognitive biases — biases that can put innocent people in jail.” More.

May 21 “As far as anyone can tell, no Satanic cults have ever ritually raped children, much less starting a preschool in order to do so.” More.

May 18 This 1995 letter to the editor of the Virginian-Pilot reprsents a last gasp of hysteria from 17 Little Rascals parents. The North Carolina Court of Appeals had just slapped down the convictions of Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson, but the parents – well, take a look:

“Fear recaptured the 9-year-old, much as it had six years ago when last he left Bob Kelly’s day care. Lingering fears gripped many of Kelly’s victims when the appellate court overturned his 99 guilty verdicts…. A week later, the little boy is still too frightened to ride his bike around the block….
“We forget the victims – unless we live with them. Our wounds from media distortions heal. Our memories of Kelly’s manipulation of ‘the system’ fade. But the genuine fears of our sons and daughters persist.
“What would you do if you knew your little ones had been sexually abused? Would you seek justice? Would… you be able to endure the years of trauma and persecution? We implore our fellow North Carolinians to ponder those questions…. Join us in requesting that the North Carolina Supreme Court uphold these verdicts.
“If the court denies the opinions of two separate juries that found both (Kelly and Dawn Wilson) guilty, the innocent victims will be under attack again. Do helpless child victims forget the brutality of rape, sodomy and crimes against nature? A more significant question is: Do we in North Carolina want to pry those agonizing details from them once more?
“True, many are old enough to realize that Bob Kelly can’t work his threatened evil to kill their families. But others still draw pictures of their visions of safety: pictures of heaven and guardian angels because they say, ‘I know Mr. Bob won’t be in Heaven.’
“We must take a stand against re-victimization of the innocent. Don’t interrupt the healing that is emerging in these courageous young ones. Refuse to allow the media to create a ‘circus’ in our noble state. Child sexual abuse can no longer be allowed or excused in North Carolina.”

Buried in the Edenton parents’ heartfelt plea to the N.C. Supreme Court (which would agree with the Court of Appeals’ overturning the convictions of Kelly and Wilson) is this profoundly revealing question: “Do we in North Carolina want to pry those agonizing detals from them once more?”

If only those details had not been pried from the children in the first place….

I was inordinately pleased to just now notiice that the Virginian-Pilot editorial page that day had included a more clesr-eyed view of the case.From a letter to the Virginian-Pilot from Wilbur A. Culpepper of Elizabeth City:

“The unanimous decision of the North Carolina Appeals Court on May 2 vindicated those of us who believe the Edenton Seven were railroaded….
“It is difficult to fight off psychoneurosis that becomes epidemic. One person with a vendetta can destroy all sense of reason in a community of normal people — [especially when] it involves children and sex.
“What would have happened had the Committee to Support the Edenton Seven and others interested in justice not protested this whole charade?”

May 12 That was Dennis T. Ray’s story, and he was sticking to it….

May 8 Just as a thought exercise, what would a humane prosecutor now say to a defendant she had so nastily and falsely maligned?

May 8: Lots of sweet Mother’s Day remembrances on Facebook. Here’s one that’s not. Little Rascals prosecutor Nancy Lamb, sarcastically smearing defendant Dawn Wilson:
“Oh, poor Dawn. Oh, poor, falsely accused Dawn. This defendant has tried to portray herself to you as a sweet, innocent young mother of a little girl that she loves very much who could not possibly do these things these four children have said she could do.
“She made a concerted effort to make sure that you saw her interacting with that daughter in front of you as you would file into the courtroom after a recess. And she would be at the table, not out in the courtroom, back up at her table, hugging her daughter. Do you think she did that because she loves her daughter? She did it to build her facade.”
Jurors bought Lamb’s line, as they had in the trial of Bob Kelly. But prosecutors weren’t through brutalizing Dawn Wilson.
On Aug. 11, 1993, Wilson, serving a life sentence for child sexual abuse, went back to court to seek release under house arrest. In six days she would give birth to her second child.
Prosecutors Lamb and Bill Hart could’ve responded with any number of temperate legal arguments against her release. Instead….
“She made a quite irresponsible decision in 1992 to become pregnant early in her trial,” Lamb said. “She was thinking only of herself….”
“Dawn Wilson… simply has no character…,” added Hart. “Is she the kind of mother figure who ought to be bonding with a second out-of-wedlock child?”
Judge Marsh McLelland granted Wilson’s request, but delays in paperwork and payment of a $250,000 bond kept mother and son in women’s prison another month.
In 1995 the N.C. Court of Appeals resoundingly overturned her conviction — and gave prosecutors a good scolding for their vile tactics.
Happy Mother’s Day, Dawn Wilson.

May 8: “They are dealing with a workplace lapse, friendship and family lapse, 20- to 40-year technology lapse, from getting a job to a new license at the DMV. Everything has changed.” More.

May 6: “The Kremlin owned news organization RIA Novosti is claiming that its journalists discovered signs of black magic in the headquarters of a Ukrainian military unit.
“The RIA journalists feeling the need to clutch pearls over graffiti and debris left behind in a war zone calls to mind the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and ‘90s….” More.

May 6: Australian filmmaker Pia Borg: “…The panic was in part fueled by a media-driven backlash against working women and liberalized abortion laws in the 1980s. Many of the Satanic rituals were said to involve the sacrifice of fetuses, and the most common site for accusations was the daycare center, revealing social anxieties about working mothers trusting their children to institutional care.” More.

May 4: I’m only now noticing this 2021 obituary [link in first comment below] of therapist Judith Steltzer Abbott, age 77, one of the most zealous drivers of the Little Rascals Day Care wrongful prosecution.
Abbott, in fact, facilitated the event that may have started it all.
This is from “Jeopardy in the Courtroom: A Scientific Analysis of Children’s Testimony” by Stephen J. Ceci and Maggie Bruck (1995):
“The seeds of this case may have been sown in the spring of 1988, months before the first allegations of child sexual abuse…. At a 3-day conference in the Outer Banks town of Kill Devil Hills, law enforcement and social services workers convened to learn about the dangers of child molesters operating day-care facilities.
“The seminar was co-sponsored by a counseling group and assisted by Judy Abbott, a social worker who would become one of the most active therapists for the child victims in this case. The featured speaker was Ann Burgess, editor of the book ‘Child Pornography and Sex Rings’ (1984).
“Also attending were H. P. Williams, who would co-prosecute the case, and Brenda Toppin, the Edenton police officer who was first to interview most of the children in the case and to advise parents of their abuse.”
Hand in glove with prosecutors, Abbott went on to misdiagnose 17 Little Rascals children as having been abused by Bob Kelly. (Not a single child seen by independent out-of-town therapists was so diagnosed.)
In Elle magazine Lisa Scheer and Edward Cone gave this example [link in second comment] of her approach: “Abbott showed a five-year-old girl drawings of satanic symbols (a horned mask, inverted crosses and a peace symbol described on the drawing as the ‘Cross of Nero’) in an effort to uncover instances of devil worship. ‘Mr. Bob’ was wearing one of those, the child said, according to a note Abbott wrote on the drawing of the mask.
“The same child had begun her therapy complaining that Mr. Bob gave hard spankings; after biweekly sessions for six months she was ‘remembering,’ according to Abbott’s typed therapy notes, ‘oral penetration by a penis, vaginal penetration by a brown felt-tipped pen and witnessing the murder of human babies.’
“Abbott explains the delay in eliciting this material by saying that the children had been terrified into silence. ‘When you break down the child, you own their spirit.’ she says. ‘It’s like Helter Skelter, Charles Manson.’ ”
When skeptics looked askance at Abbott’s belief in the “satanic ritual abuse” accounts she had wrested out of her young clients, she countered forcefully. “The backlash spewed from the guilty verdicts in the Little Rascals Day Care case have (sic) been painful and difficult to hear and live with,” she wrote in the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse in 1994. “Those of us who advocate for the rights of children often feel that the gains made on their behalf over the past few years are eroding under falsehoods propagated by individuals who’s (sic) motives are undetermined.”
Of course, even to acknowledge the concerns of her critics (the ones with “motives undetermined”) might have put at risk her taking home the Distinguished Women of North Carolina Award.
From her citation: “Judith Steltzner Abbott of Camden has become a moving force for the well-being of sexually abused children and their families across the state. Her presentations on child sexual abuse have become a part of nursing programs and hospital emergency room staff training and have been presented to law enforcement agencies, social services systems and members of the judiciary.
“When litigation developed from allegations of child sexual abuse at a day care center in a nearby area, Abbott worked seven days a week to provide counseling, guidance and support for children and parents….”
Not only did the prosecution’s lead therapist avoid penalty for misdiagnosing 17 Little Rascals children, but also she became “a moving force…. across the state” in spreading her toxic mythology – and was honored for it!
Responsibility for the tragic injustice suffered by the Edenton Seven falls on many shoulders. Parents were gullible, news media were passive, prosecutors were cruel and unprofessional. But what if Judith Steltzner Abbott had not so readily descended into the rabbit hole of “satanic ritual abuse”? Might she have been able to bring Edenton to its senses?
We can only wonder. But oh the damage done….

April 25 Rita Norton, Junior Chandler’s longtime friend, is circulating this paper petition in Madison County. Junior has been wrongfully imprisoned for the past 35 years. To sign a digital petition created by Dr. Ed Friedlander, see petition here.

April 22 “Though entirely false, ‘Michelle Remembers’ directly influenced the wrongful imprisonment of dozens of people throughout the ’80s and ’90s and continues to provide a template for current conspiracy theories about child abduction, ritual abuse, and secret sex cults….” More.

April 8 “Conjuring up the vilest of villains — child rapists and molesters — allows politicians organizing around democracy’s destruction to dupe otherwise decent people into voting for them.
“The strategy has roots in Pizzagate and QAnon, but it broadens the bad guy beyond those conspiracy theories’ cabals of Democratic and Hollywood elites who were said to be engaging in Satanic child sex trafficking and blood guzzling. The predators are now down the street and in schools. It’s a revival of the Satanic panic of the 1980s and 1990s, when Americans saw this type of demonic evil everywhere in ordinary people….” More.

April 5 “The ‘satanic panic’ of the 1980s, a frenzy of accusations of ritual child abuse that resulted in the conviction of dozens of innocent people, was driven in part by deep anxiety over working women and day care. Four decades later, the country is once again in a moral panic about monstrous things being done to children, with teachers and entertainers accused of ‘grooming’ them for abuse. And once again, it’s driven in large part by unease over rapidly changing gender roles and norms….” More.

April 5 “Over time, public opinion soured on sweeping claims related to satanic child abuse and they were quietly abandoned. Some convictions were overturned, although some people accused of satanic ritual abuse [such as Junior Chandler] remain in prison to this day….” More.

April 1 Amazing still, how the Edenton Seven and (the still imprisoned) Junior Chandler never succumbed to the enormous pressure to falsely confess…. More.

Feb. 25 In the Little Rascals Day Care case, the manipulation of children came not from police but from the prosecution’s team of ill-equipped but eager-to-please therapists…. More.

Feb. 11 ” ‘Reviewing the past harms of former prosecutors is incredibly important. The more resources given to address past damage done by prior district attorneys, the better.’ ” More.

Feb. 1 “These claims have not stood up to rigorous investigation in the years since, either being debunked or recanted by the claimants. Yet, individuals [such as Junior Chandler — see link below] remain in prison serving sentences from these various ‘satanic abuse’ cases of the ’80s.” More.

Jan. 28 What’s familiar about this child sexual abuse case: wildly inconsistent claims, withheld exculpatory evidence, multiple life sentences… What’s rare: a prosecutor willing to admit the defendants were “factually innocent of all charges.” More.

Jan. 19 Innocence work. More.

Jan. 10 After I posted about the National Association of Attorneys General’s powerful if long-overdue disavowal of “satanic ritual abuse” prosecutions [link below], I cited the report in a letter to Edenton’s newspaper, the Chowan Herald. It has yet to appear, but here’s an excerpt:
“The Little Rascals Day Care case — Edenton’s most historically significant event of the 20th century — was no less contaminated than the day-care cases the AGs referred to in Manhattan Beach, Calif., and Maplewood, N.J. The wrongfully prosecuted defendants, the Edenton Seven, were victims of what psychologists call a ‘moral panic,’ similar to the QAnon phenomenon of today.
“Bob Kelly served six years in prison and Dawn Wilson three before their convictions were resoundingly overturned by the N.C. Court of Appeals. Prosecutors would never admit the tragic injustice they had inflicted on the defendants, on the child witnesses and on the community, but today no reputable social scientist or legal scholar would deny their innocence.
“What now, Edenton? Isn’t it long past time to address this hideous stain on the town’s reputation? For starters, how about a civic apology for willfully crushing the lives of Bob Kelly, Betsy Kelly, Dawn Wilson, Scott Privott, Robin Byrum, Darlene Harris and Shelley Stone?
“Cities such as Philadelphia have apologized for wrongful murder convictions. Greensboro has apologized for the police-enabled massacre at the 1979 ‘Death to the Klan’ protest. Even more relevant, Massachusetts has apologized for the Salem witch trials — a forerunner of Little Rascals and the other ‘satanic ritual abuse’ prosecutions of the late 20th century.
“Can Edenton too now summon the courage to do the right thing?” More.

Jan. 7 “It is the role of the prosecutor to convict the guilty while staying within the boundaries of the law, and, to protect and exonerate the innocent. Their mandate is not… to simply win convictions, by any means….” More.

Jan. 7 Deliberations were contaminated in Bob Kelly’s trial by a juror who brought in a Cosmopolitan magazine article about how to identify sex abusers, by a juror who conducted his own field trips and by a juror who emotionally revealed — after hiding it during jury selection — that he had been sexually abused as a child. More.


Dec. 31

This quote in a year-end obituary roundup popped out at me: “Why hadn’t any of the suspects copped a plea, why no mea culpas, no suicides? No one got drunk and bared his soul. If everything the kids said happened, it looked like the perfect crime. Even the Mafia has snitches.” It’s from Harry Kuhlmeyer, chief of the Manhattan Beach Police Department, who refused to arrest Raymond Buckey despite enormous pressure from parents at McMartin Preschool. If only the prosecutors in the Little Rascals case — H.P. Williams Jr., Bill Hart, Nancy Lamb — had been able to summon up a smidgen of such skepticism….

Dec. 23

“He also said his mother turned her allegations into a game and told one child that if she got the answers right, the family would get to go to Walt Disney World.” More.

Dec. 23

“Outside of baseball, cheap beer, and Botox, paranoia is America’s favorite pastime. From Salem to Pizzagate, the American psyche has so routinely blazed with paranoia that conspiracy has become accepted as a part of our jangled quilt. Yet few moments in U.S. history can eclipse the turbulent events of the late 1980s and early 1990s now known as the Satanic Panic. Marked by a rash of court cases alleging widespread satanic ritual abuse, including sexual abuse and human sacrifice, what made the Satanic Panic so shocking was an almost complete lack of concrete evidence. As fringe as it may sound today, it was a fear that gripped mainstream American consciousness for the better part of a decade. – From “Searching for Satan in 2021” by Emma Louise Rodgers Romero in Skeptical Inquirer (Jan/Feb 2022). Sorry about the paywall, but this sharply perceptive papere by a graduate student in Elizabeth Loftus’s seminar on “Memory and the Law” at University of California, Irvine, deserves a nod…. More.

Dec. 15

It’s about justice, prosecutors, it’s about justice…. More.

Dec. 10

“[The McMartin Preschool] case marked the beginning of a widespread moral panic that lasted well over a decade, permeating pop culture and upending personal lives. Why does this matter nearly 40 years later? Well, history may be repeating itself.” More.

Dec. 8

“We know that the causes of wrongful convictions are plentiful and significant, and that taking measures to prevent them not only benefits innocent people but bolsters the integrity of our criminal legal system as a whole.” More.

Dec. 8

The North Carolina Department of Correction has its own Sexual Offender Accountability and Responsibility program. “Through psycho-educational modules, behavior techniques and empathy training,” its website says, “S.O.A.R. participants learn that sexually abusive behavior is both controllable and manageable.” Junior Chandler recalls having been invited to participate, but …. “They said I had to admit I was guilty. I told them I couldn’t do that, because I hadn’t done anything…. What would you do?” More.

Dec. 8

“A study found 58 per cent of Brits think ‘satanic ritual abuse’ of children probably happens and 15 per cent think it happens often.” More.

Dec. 8

A single fingerprint? More.

Dec. 5

Consequences for wrongful prosecution of Bob Kelly:
H.P. Williams Jr., district attorney: Kept job, lost reelection. Represents deputies in shooting death of Andrew Brown Jr.
– Nancy Lamb, assistant DA: Kept job, toured nationally in defense of Little Rascals prosecution. Lost election for DA.
– Bill Hart, special deputy attorney general: Kept job, married mother of child witness.
– Mike Easley, attorney general: Kept job, elected governor. More.

Nov. 27

“Kevin Strickland was exonerated in a 1978 triple murder, but under Missouri law, he is not eligible for any compensation from the state for the 43 years he spent behind bars…. That hasn’t stopped his supporters from stepping in instead, raising more than $1 million through a GoFundMe campaign to help him start a new life….”

The indifference of the state – looking at you, North Carolina – to its wrongful convictions never ceases to appall…. More.

Nov. 26

“I have up-close and personal knowledge of the justice system in the United States and how it functions. Like most systems, its main goal is to self-perpetuate. And those people who work within that system are often committed to the status quo….” More.

Nov. 26

Take heed, prosecutors. This is how it’s done: “I’m not going to sully this proceeding by saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ That doesn’t cut it,” [District Attorney William] Fitzpatrick said Monday in court. “This should never have happened.” More.

Nov. 24

The director of the State Crime Lab has a very long day defending junk science…. More.

Nov. 17

If there’s a final nail to be driven in the coffin of the “satanic ritual abuse” day-care prosecutions, maybe this is the hammer: The National Association Of Attorneys General has released a report acknowledging that the children in the decades-ago McMartin Preschool and Kelly Michaels cases “were interviewed multiple times by parents and different investigators using unreliable and often coercive techniques. In both cases, the testimony of the children at the day cares was often bizarre and was eventually discredited.” [Emphasis added.]

The prosecutions of the Edenton Seven and of Junior Chandler obviously belong in the same category.
The report continues: “Since children are more suggestible than adults when being questioned, they were strongly influenced by their interviewers, and coerced into providing unreliable information.” One example from the Little Rascals Day Care case: Every child examined by the prosecution’s therapists was found to have been abused; no child examined by outside therapists was found to be abused. The Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic’s analysis of tapes in Junior Chandler’s case revealed a ludicrous imbalance between number of words spoken by interviewers and those spoken by children (2.9 percent, 7.3 percent, 11 percent, etc.).

The report goes on at length about how to properly interview children. The standards listed aren’t new, but it’s encouraging to see them earnestly supported by the nation’s top-level prosecutors. And, yes, among members of the National Association Of Attorneys General is North Carolina’s Josh Stein, who could even now honor the report by choosing to exonerate Junior Chandler.

Nov. 13

“Then, on Friday, Theresa A. Newman, one of Sharpe’s attorneys, greeted her client with the news he’d been waiting to hear since his exoneration.

‘ ‘Theresa called me and said, “Hey, Mr. Pardon Man.” I was like, “What do you mean, ‘Mr. Pardon Man?’ ”’’ Sharpe told The Washington Post. ‘She said, “The governor just pardoned you.” That just left me smiling on my couch and kind of awestruck.’ ” More.

Oct. 31

“On this day at least, it seemed as if delving into the history of the Salem witch trials was not the main attraction. Instead, most visitors were packed into a few blocks of Essex Street, the city’s commercial hub. There, tourists lined up at the Witch Mansion, billed as Salem’s ‘premier haunted house.’ Nearby, throngs of visitors clogged storefronts, perusing window displays and sale racks….”

Might Edenton – an impecunious town that has lost more than 10 percent of its population since 2000 – ever consider monetizing its own witch-hunting history? Not yet, for sure….

But I’m reminded of this visionary 1993 letter to the editor of the Elizabeth City Daily Advance from a San Francisco man who had just watched “Innocence Lost” on PBS:

“The year is 2022. The town of Edenton, last stop on the witch-hunt trail beginning in Salem, Mass., with an intermediate stop at Joe McCarthy’s office in Washington, D.C., has finally decided to build a historic marker. (It will be) directly across the street from the town’s $4 million tour center, where people gather from across the nation (indeed, from around the world) to see and feel and learn about the Edenton witch hunts of 1990-1993.

“It is here where the walking tours start, where the T-shirts are sold and where the buses disgorge their curious cargo.“The only question is whether the marker will speak of the community’s collective shame or, instead, of the individuals and groups of good will and courage who brought lasting honor to Edenton by rescuing Bob Kelly, Dawn Wilson, the Twiddy family and the others from the nightmare that fear, hate and ignorance visited upon them….” More.

Oct. 31

Wishing this headline were as surprising as it is disgusting….  More.

Oct. 27

Re: “The sniff test: Courtroom testimony about dogs detecting dead bodies keeps sending people to prison – even without physical evidence. Critics say the science is lacking”
“Dog-sniff evidence has led to wrongful convictions, and studies show human biases skew animal behavior…. Defendants and their lawyers can’t cross-examine a dog, which means the accused cannot scrutinize the evi ence or readily confront their accusers, a right enshrined in the U.S. Constitution….” More.

Oct. 27

Re: “When a Witness Recants: At fourteen, Ron Bishop helped convict three innocent boys of murder. They’ve all lived with the consequences”
Unlike the witnesses in this New York murder case, the child-witnesses who helped send Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson to prison were far too young and impressionable to bear responsibility. But wouldn’t it be glorious if now as thirty-somethings they chose to step forward and set the record straight? More.

Oct. 26

Re: “Reforming Forensics: Why Academics Are Challenging the Science Behind U.S. Criminal Justice”
“The Innocence Project, a non-profit legal organization, found dubious forensics contributed to about half the wrongful convictions the group has overturned with DNA testing in the U.S. since 1992, including 14 death row sentences….” More.

Oct. 24

“Nationally, shaken baby convictions have come under scrutiny as new evidence challenges the diagnosis, with multiple exonerations…. The scientific research underlying shaken baby syndrome has changed significantly in recent years….” More.

Oct. 22

As noted yesterday, Junior Chandler is once again hoping a judge will acknowledge the wrongfulness of his 1987 “satanic ritual abuse” conviction and set him freee from Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution. Some excerpts from a decade of posts about Junior’s tortuous path toward exoneration….

October 2011: Mark Montgomery describes the case against Junior: “The prosecutor [the same one who would prosecute Bob Kelly] alleged that Junior would drive off his route to a park by a river, strip the children of their clothes, troop them down to the river, put them in a rowboat, commit various sexual acts, put them back on the bus and take them home.” More.

January 2012: When I met Junior, he told me visits from his family had become less frequent over the years, and eventually his wife filed for divorce. “Two life sentences. She couldn’t wait, you know.” More.

January 2012: In the years since Junior’s conviction, higher courts have cracked down on overreaching testimony by physicians and psychologists. “Expert vouching” is now inadmissible in the absence of physical evidence “diagnostic of” – not just “consistent with” – sexual abuse. Just how important was expert vouching in imposing Junior’s two consecutive life sentences? On all charges supported by expert vouching the jury found him guilty. On all charges not supported by expert vouching it found him not guilty. More.

February 2012: An update from Mark Montgomery on Junior’s appeal: “There are two prongs to the appeal. First, I am asking the N.C. Supreme Court to simply do the right thing by Junior. The Court said in 2010 that expert testimony like that in Junior’s case is (and was) inadmissible. That being the case, it is fundamentally unfair for Junior to be facing the rest of his life in prison, when many defendants have been freed because this sort of testimony was used against them at trial. “Second, Junior’s lawyer objected to the testimony but did not raise the issue on appeal. I argued in a motion in Superior Court that the lawyer was ineffective for abandoning the issue. The Superior Court judge denied the motion without a hearing. If the Supreme Court will not itself set aside Junior’s convictions, it should at least require a hearing on trial counsel’s conduct.” More.

October 2012: “Is this good news or bad?” I emailed Mark Montgomery after wrestling with the N.C. Supreme Court’s ruling. “The worst,” he replied. “We’re out of court.” [Fortunately, as it turns out, not quite out….] More.

November 2013: After striking out with the N.C. Supreme Court, Mark Montgomery tried the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence, which “reviewed Junior’s case but could not find anything that would help him. The ‘kids’ were too young at the time to have anything helpful to say now. Of the two retarded adults who rode Junior’s bus (and testified against him), one is dead and the other incompetent.” On a somewhat more encouraging note, Gov. Beverly Perdue’s office has notified him that Junior’s clemency application is being considered. More.

January 2013: Discouraging words from North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services. More.

February 2013: A letter from Junior Chandler after he learns the governor has left office without responding to his clemency application:
“All of the high profile and high publicity cases in the last 20 years – nearly every one of those people are home…. Except for me and I am still in prison…. April 15, 2013, will be 26 years. I know it’s extremely hard to get help to prove my innocence when there isn’t a crime committed to begin with. More.

April 2014: A comparison of Junior’s sentence with those served for other offenses. More.

June 2014: Dr. Allen Frances, professor emeritus of psychiatry at Duke Medical School, makes a powerful case for Junior in a column in the Raleigh News & Observer: “Andrew Junior Chandler has been unjustly incarcerated in a North Carolina prison for 27 years, charged with a crime that almost surely never happened…. Let’s hope that Gov. Pat McCrory will review the mistaken judgment of his misnamed ‘clemency office’ and correct this stain on the reputation of North Carolina justice.” More.

August 2014: Exciting news about a Saluda case painfully similar to Junior’s…. “Convicted of sexually abusing his three children in a 1994 trial charged with allegations of Satanism, [Michael Alan] Parker was freed after Superior Court Judge Marvin Pope ruled Monday that the medical evidence would no longer be interpreted as proof of sexual abuse. Pope vacated Parker’s sentence and dismissed the charges against him…. ” More.

September 2014: “Duke law clinic to review 1987 conviction,” reports the Asheville Citizen-Times. Publication in the Asheville paper is especially welcome for Junior’s friends, family and other supporters in nearby Madison County, who likely haven’t seen the case mentioned in print since his conviction in 1987. More.

March 2015: Quite a day. First a good news / bad news seminar at Duke Law School: If you’re being wrongfully prosecuted in 2015, the standards for child sexual abuse have become dramatically more specific and sophisticated. If, however, you — like Junior Chandler — were wrongfully prosecuted in 1987, then the fruits of that scientific progress remain maddeningly out of reach. Waiting for me when I returned home from Durham Friday was a letter from Junior: “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….” More.

April 2015: Actually visiting and walking around the supposed crime scenes in Madison County, which are completely open to neighbors and passersby, only reinforces my impression: The allegations against Junior are simply inconceivable. More.

November 2015: The North Carolina Department of Correction has its own Sexual Offender Accountability and Responsibility program. “Through psycho-educational modules, behavior techniques and empathy training,” its website says, “S.O.A.R. participants learn that sexually abusive behavior is both controllable and manageable.” Junior Chandler recalls having been invited to participate and perhaps receive some benefits, but …. “They said I had to admit I was guilty. I told them I couldn’t do that, because I hadn’t done anything…. What would you do?” More.

April 2021: The Everyday Injustice podcast explores Junior’s case with Theresa Newman, Jim Coleman and their Duke law students. More.

Oct. 21

It was 10 years ago this month that I first wrote about Junior Chandler. Mark Montgomery, Bob Kelly’s appellate lawyer in the Little Rascals Day Care case, had recently mentioned to me the stark and undeniable parallels between the “satanic ritual abuse” allegations against Bob and those against Junior, a day-care bus driver in Madison County who had been imprisoned since 1987 — yes, even before the Little Rascals case reared its monstrous head.

Today Junior remains in Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution in Spruce Pine, 64 years old and well into his 35th year of two consecutive life sentences.

Here’s where Junior Chandler’s case stands today:

In 2019 Junior, represented by the Wrongful Convictions Clinic at Duke Law School, filed a motion seeking an evidentiary hearing on seven claims. Key among them:

  • The purported medical evidence on which his prosecution was based has since been rejected by the medical community
  • Though constitutionally required, prosecutors failed to disclose evidence essential to Junior’s defense.

In March, Gary M. Gavenus, senior resident Superior Court judge, rejected Junior’s first five claims but ordered an evidentiary hearing on the undisclosed evidence claim and a related claim that some of the prosecutors’ expert witnesses testified falsely.

At this point, Gavenus is limiting the hearing to whether Junior could have or should have raised the claims earlier. Under the law, no matter how meritorious your claims, they can sometimes be “procedurally barred” for being raised too late – a roadblock that courts seemed all too eager to invoke during Junior’s original run of appeals.

If the judge rules the claims are not procedurally barred, he will order a full evidentiary hearing, at which Junior will present evidence to show the charges against him were unfounded and his trial was unfair.

Tomorrow: a chronology of Junior’s many postconviction disappointments. More.

Oct. 17

“Once I got into researching ‘The Innocent Man,’ I just realized how many innocent people are actually in prison, and there are thousands of them, tens of thousands of them….” More.

Oct. 13

DNA to the rescue? We can hope…. More.

Oct. 9

Because Little Rascals Day Care case prosecutor Nancy Lamb hasn’t made much news since finally throwing in the towel in her relentless harassment of defendant Bob Kelly, I was surprised to see her name resurface this week in the New Bern Sun Journal. This is from my letter to the editor in response to “Child neglect in Craven: Nancy’s House providing effective change (Oct. 7).

The role of prosecutor Nancy Lamb in the indeed “infamous” Little Rascals Day Care case needs further explanation. For Lamb’s name to be attached to a child advocacy center is bizarre and appalling.

According to Chris Jernigan, executive director of Southmountain Children and Family Services, “Nancy has since done a lot of training on all the mistakes they made and how to improve things.”

The North Carolina Court of Appeals pointed out numerous crucial mistakes made in the prosecution of Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson — including the withholding of exculpatory evidence — but Lamb has yet to acknowledge any of them. In fact, she continued for years to insist on Kelly’s guilt and even traveled the country sharing “The Ingredients of Two Successful Prosecutions.”

Jernigan’s concerns about interviewing children about alleged abuse contrast starkly with best practices developed during the “satanic ritual abuse” day-care panic of the 1980s and early ’90s. “What we know from the old way of doing things,” he says, “is kids would have to tell their story so many times that sometimes they would get to the point where they would say ‘It never happened’ or ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ and just shut down completely.’ ” He has it backwards: In reality, researchers have found that kids tend to tell the truth *at first*, before eventually succumbing to the confirmation bias of prosecutors’ ill-trained therapists.

If Nancy Lamb has truly learned from her mistakes, she should be lobbying the State of North Carolina to issue the Edenton Seven a statement of innocence similar to the one given the defendants in the Duke lacrosse case. Unsurprisingly, however, neither Lamb nor her namesake house seems interested in finding facts, only in putting defendants in jail. More.

Oct. 9

Another reminder that we have no monopoly on insanity on this side of the pond…. More.

Oct. 9

“The percentage of people exonerated for crimes they did not commit in 2019 barely exceeds one percent of the lowest estimated number of people wrongfully convicted….” More.

Oct. 8

“In the years since, the prosecution’s case has been broadly discredited. Not only was there no robust physical evidence to support many of the allegations, but there were also claims that the children were asked leading questions and prompted to speculate during their hours-long interviews.” More.

Oct. 8

Yet again, no rush to correct injustices…. More.

Oct. 6

An especially tragic wrongful conviction in New Zealand…. More.

Oct. 5

One more number: 12,590…. That’s the number of days day-care bus driver Andrew Junior Chandler has served for a crime – “satanic ritual abuse” – neither he nor anyone else committed. But the Wrongful Convictions Clinic is on the case! More.

Oct. 5

A question I have asked myself countless times. The answer is profoundly unbecoming not only to prosecutors but also to those of us in the passive public… More.

Sept. 23

From a response I sent to The Assembly about Jim Morrill’s terrific profile of former AG and Gov. Mike Easley,….

One more troubling aspect of Easley’s time in Raleigh deserves mention: his unstinting defense of wrongful convictions.

Most flagrantly, as attorney general, Easley railed against the N.C. Court of Appeals for ordering new trials for Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson, defendants in the nationally notorious Little Rascals Day Care “satanic ritual abuse” case (1989-1997): “The decision casts no doubt on the credibility of the children or the integrity of the investigation…. In both cases, the facts supporting the convictions were clear and overwhelming. [The N.C. Court of Appeals] disregarded these facts and misapplied the law.”

The Wilson Daily News noted that “Easley’s vow to appeal the overturning is futile, and he knows it. … Easley tried to play tough prosecutor… implying the convictions were thrown out because of technical indiscretions. But he well knows that the errors in the trials were substantial and egregious (and) made a mockery of justice.”

Four months later, throwing in the towel after the N.C. Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeals, Easley managed to find fault not with his team of prosecutors but with their therapist-coached child witnesses. “All prosecutors know that cases involving children weaken with age,” he said. “A retrial in this matter will be extremely difficult.”

After moving up to the governor’s chair Easley expressed his disdain for the wrongfully convicted in a less verbal way. Like his predecessor, Jim Hunt, he served eight years. Hunt issued more than 200 pardons. Easley… five. More.

Sept. 18

On Aug. 11, 1993, Dawn Wilson, serving a life sentence for child sexual abuse, went back to court to seek release under house arrest. In six days she would give birth to her second child.

Prosecutors Nancy Lamb and Bill Hart could’ve responded with any number of temperate legal arguments against her release. Instead….

“She made a quite irresponsible decision in 1992 to become pregnant early in her trial,” Lamb said. “She was thinking only of herself….”

“Dawn Wilson… simply has no character…,” added Hart. “Is she the kind of mother figure who ought to be bonding with a second out-of-wedlock child?”
Judge Marsh McLelland granted Wilson’s request, but delays in paperwork and payment of a $250,000 bond kept mother and son in women’s prison another month.

In 1995 the N.C. Court of Appeals forcefully overturned her conviction. But no court could make adequate amends for the prosecutors’ unspeakable meanness. More.

Sept. 18

Just a reminder of Oprah’s contribution to the “satanic ritual abuse” panic…. More.

Aug. 24

Jeffrey Miller, representing Bob Kellym cross-examines a seven and a half year-old girl (about five when allegedly abused:

Q: Now, you told me that you didn’t see anything with Mr. Bob and Ms. Dawn, or Mr. Bob and Ms. Betsy, or Mr. Bob And Ms. Robin; do you remember that?

A: (Nods head).

Q: Okay. Was that the truth?

A: Yes.

Q: Okay. Is it the truth that you told when you told Ms. Nancy [prosecutor Nancy Lamb] that you did see them?

A: Yes.

Q: So they are both the truth?

A: Yes.

Q: Okay. Well, can you explain that to me?

A: No.

This is the quality of child-witness that led to an innocent man being given 12 consecutive life sentences.

Aug. 23

Yet another expert witness who offers himself as a tool of the prosecution…. More.

Aug. 15

If Philadelphia’s Conviction Integrity Unit has exonerated 21 wrongly convicted men since 2018, do you wonder how many might be found in North Carolina? Such as Junior Chandler? More.

July 25

“The bill gives prosecutors the power to bring old cases back to court. That means, if prosecutors think a mistake was made in a case, they now have the power to fix it….” More.

July 22

Law professor Keith Findley isn’t citing the prosecutions of the Edenton Seven and Junior Chandler — but he sure could be:

“One of the things that innocence advocates have noticed over the years is that not always, but sometimes, prosecutors, when confronted with very powerful evidence of innocence, go to great lengths to try to preserve the convictions. Including making plea offers that are essentially so good that it’s hard to turn them down, even for an innocent individual.” More.

July 21

One of the heroes of the Little Rascals Day Care case died Monday. Lou Lukins Boles, mother of defendant Robin Byrum, was 88. This exchange with Ofra Bikel in her Frontline documentary “Innocence Lost” poignantly conveys the hell inflicted on the wrongfully accused and their families:

ROBIN BYRUM: Mom’s spent over $100,000 supporting me through all this. To get me out on bond, my mother put up $30,000 cash and we won’t never see that again. I mean who wants to spend your life’s savings, you know, to defend something you didn’t do?

LOU BOLES: How do I feel? That I wonder if telling the truth is worth anything. It doesn’t seem to work, so far. So it kind of takes away everything you ever believed in — you know, if you tell the truth, things will come out. And see — and people will tell the truth and they get convicted.

ROBIN BYRUM: There’s no way out. You’re on a roller coaster. You can’t get off of it unless you lie. If you lie and get a plea, then you’re off. I thought about if they said, “No active time, but you still did something, would you consider?” 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 did something like that when I didn’t do it.

Robin resisted the prosecutors’ plea offers, and after seven years – seven years! – they dropped all charges.

RIP, Lou Boles, her loving and unwavering advocate. More.

July 21

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Ethicist columnist for the New York Times, gets it exactly right:

” ‘Recovered memories’ aren’t memories that, even when you put them out of mind, were always available to you…. Rather, in the course of intensive therapy, such memories emerge like gravestone rubbings. Unfortunately a substantial body of research suggests that therapeutically facilitated memories of trauma do not necessarily correspond to actual trauma. The stone may, in fact, be blank; the grave may be empty.

“There was a time, appallingly, when patients who had always known they’d been sexually abused were encouraged by therapists of a certain school to think that they were merely imagining it. Recovered memory, as a clinical practice, veered far in the opposite direction: Patients who never knew they’d experienced such abuse were coached into having memories of it. This practice seems to have peaked in the early 1990s…” More.

July 17

From Ed Friedllander: North Carolina has the opportunity to correct a grave miscarriage of justice that took place 34 years ago. I am an MD pathologist with experience in forensics and a special interest in innocent people accused of crimes on bad medical testimony.

The case of “Junior” (Andrew) Chandler is now up for review. He was a bus driver accused in 1986 of bizarre sex crimes against his very young passengers. The stories are obviously fantasy. They were obtained by intensive, misguided interrogations following a mistaken diagnosis of sex abuse by an inexperienced pediatrician. The case was tried in a circus atmosphere. The pediatrician lied to the jury about her qualifications. Sadly, the second trial resulted in a conviction.

I was consulted about the medical findings in the late 1990’s. I gave a courtesy report. The pediatrician’s key finding was that the girls supposedly didn’t have hymens. But a young girl’s hymen will appear to be absent if the examiner doesn’t position her properly. The alleged abuse of the girls wouldn’t have produced such an absence anyway. I think most third-year medical students could have explained the same basic facts. A second “test” was also cited that never had any scientific foundation and was founded on an ignorance about how tissue actually responds to injury. I never heard back and learned later that the appeal was denied on a legal technicality.

At the time, there were several trials in the United States for fantastic crimes based on obviously-false testimony elicited by asking leading questions of young children. Some of these errors were compounded by bad medical testimony. Almost all of these defendants have now been exonerated. Other commentators have claimed that Mr. Chandler may be the last person still in prison as a result of the era’s “satanic panic”.

Real child abuse is common, under-recognized, and deplorable. It’s human nature to want to protect children, and to believe evil things about people we don’t know well. People also want to trust physicians. This isn’t the place to provide further details. Because of a young physician’s strong, untruthful testimony, an entire community was horribly misled. Mr. Chandler has languished in prison for 34 years. Before his conviction, he was by all appearances a perfectly decent citizen. No one who knew him mentioned any bizarre or depraved conduct. He has been a model inmate, well-liked, and active in church. And he could perhaps obtain leniency with a false confession. He has refused to do so, because that would be wrong.

The people who can make the decision have the evidence, which I have reviewed and seems one-sided in favor of the man’s actual innocence. The accounts of what supposedly happened are preposterous and obviously untrue. Even the current local sex-abuse pediatrician, who almost always works for prosecutors, wrote in a detailed report that there was no physical evidence of abuse. We pathologists have a saying, “The stupider the doctor, the bigger the ego.” The attorney representing Mr. Chandler told me that the physician who did the bad sex-abuse exams – and led the push for prosecution — said that during her career, she has never made a mistake. Believe me – all doctors make mistakes. When I have goofed, I’ve done what I could to correct things. It’s physicians who won’t own up to their past errors who are the real monsters among us.

I spent a year in “the Tar Heel State”, doing my fellowship in clinical pathology at Bowman-Gray in Winston-Salem. I cherish the memories of the gracious and kindly people who were my friends and neighbors. Today, history remembers the false convictions of a bygone era as a terrible error. North Carolina could be the only state that has not yet done the right thing. Sadly, historians will record this fact too. The people of North Carolina had good intentions in convicting Junior Chandler, but they were deceived by false “experts”. It’s past time that the mistake be acknowledged and corrected.

Please share this if you can. Thanks.

July 14

“Under the [U.S. Justice Department’s] regulations, the Office of the Pardon Attorney must give ‘considerable weight’ to the opinions of local prosecutors — the very people who sought the sentence in the first place….
“Their data point is the conviction itself, so their analysis of the case is frozen in time….” More.

June 28

A giant in challenging wrongful convictions…. Thank you, Theresa Newman. From Duke Law School: We’re sad to announce that Theresa Newman ’88, clinical professor and Wrongful Convictions Clinic co-director, will retire on June 30, but we’re so happy for her many years at Duke Law. “Theresa Newman is simply treasured by faculty, alumni, students, and clients alike, as a colleague, teacher, mentor and advocate,” said Dean Kerry Abrams. More.

June 14

This doesn’t refer to Little Rascals, but the fit is perfect…. “One of the things that innocence advocates have noticed over the years is that not always, but sometimes, prosecutors, when confronted with very powerful evidence of innocence, go to great lengths to try to preserve the convictions, including making plea offers that are essentially so good that it’s hard to turn them down, even for an innocent individual.” More.

June 11

What’s the hurry? governor shrugs…. More.

June 5

“In the 1980s, [Americans] believed rings of Satanists were molesting children, and they even put innocent people on trial for these completely imagined crimes.

“Flash forward to 2021 and millions of Americans are now gripped with hysteria that their children are the target of an evil, insidious thing creeping into their schools and homes.

“It’s called ‘critical race theory’ …. More.

June 1

Will $75 million be enough to get prosecutors’ attention? I wouldn’t bet on it…. An incisive analysis from Gerda Stein…. More.

May 30

Prosecutors: always eager to convict, seldom to exonerate. “Henry Sireci, 72, had sought the testing for almost two decades…” More.

May 30

Number of Conviction Integrity Units in United States: 79
Number in North Carolina: 0 More.

May 26

“It was widely believed — and I swear I’m not making this up — that there was a string of clandestine occult sex rings in day care centers in which children were being sodomized and forced to drink blood as part of a secret satanic ritual. I know, there’s a lot going on there….” More.

May 20

“The familiar tidal ebb and flow of the Satanic Panic has been washing up on our shores for a long time….” More.

May 19

“The first time sociologist Mary de Young heard about QAnon, she thought: “Here we go again.”

“De Young spent her career studying moral panics — specifically, what became known as the ‘Satanic Panic’ of the 1980s, when false accusations of the abuse of children in satanic rituals spread across the United States.

“Decades later, echoes of that same fear had emerged in QAnon.” More.

May 16

One last chance to smear exonerated defendants? Sure, we’ll take it!…. “Scott MacLatchie, the lead defense attorney for the SBI agents, attempted during his closing argument to cast doubt on the brothers’ innocence… despite the fact that they had received full pardons of innocence.” More.

May 16

“Now, after two decades of legal wrangling, Jackson has been disbarred from practicing law in Texas, in a rare example of severe punishment for misconduct in a wrongful conviction case.” More.

May 13

“Between 1994 and 1995, Wenatchee Valley [Wash.] authorities arrested and prosecuted 42 Wenatchee Valley residents, on thousands of counts of child sexual abuse and exploitation. Investigators said the crimes were committed by an organized child-abuse ring, operating in local homes and churches.

“In each case, the charges were found to be based on flawed or false evidence.” More.

May 10

Shameful, dammit, just shameful…. More.

May 10

“During the McMartin Satanic Panic, a Catholic priest approached [Donald] Frew, a consultant on the paranormal. The priest was counseling families with children in the McMartin Preschool.

“The priest had concerns about what he was hearing. The children had reported a chant that they had ‘heard’ during rituals. It went something like, ‘Circle, circle, circle seven, circle, circle, circle, one circle, always circle, circle forever more.’ Frew was unfamiliar with that chant from Wiccan or Pagan circles. It did, however, sound like something out of ‘Michelle Remembers.’

“That resemblance caused Frew to ask the priest about ‘Michelle Remembers.’ The priest reported that McMartin parents were sharing that book among themselves.” More.

May 8

“In 2005, [McMartin Preschool] accuser Kyle Zipolo confessed that he had fabricated everything he’d said while under pressure from parents and investigators.

“ ‘I said a lot of things that didn’t happen. I lied,’ he wrote. ‘Anytime I would give them an answer that they didn’t like, they would ask again and encourage me to give them the answer they were looking for. … I felt uncomfortable and a little ashamed that I was being dishonest. But at the same time, being the type of person I was, whatever my parents wanted me to do, I would do.’ ” More.

May 6 from Davis Vanguard

Everyday Injustice Podcast Episode 101: Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic – Case of Junior Chandler | Davis Vanguard. More.

May 3

Consequences for prosecutorial misconduct! More.

April 22

One reader’s response….

“We had a case in Edenton, North Carolina, where a vindictive woman created a case against a couple who ran a day-care center. There were trials. Many innocent people went to jail. Later, it was realized the children had been ‘trained’ to give ‘witness’ by counselors, and the vindictive woman was exposed. But it was too late to undo the harm done….

“A human tragedy? Yes, an old story recurring time and again, all the way back to the beginning when human sins of unkindness first bore evil fruit. In Edenton it took the cooperation of the townspeople to crucify the innocent in that terrible time.” More.

April 21

Can anyone explain the New York Times’s veneration of long-discredited psychiatrist Richard Kluft? This 2013 article in Psychiatric Times [link in second comment] tells you everything you need to know about Kluft’s central role in the “satanic ritual abuse” moral panic of the 1980s and early ’90s…. More.

April 13

If I had harbored even an iota of doubt about Junior Chandler’s innocence, it would’ve been vaporized by this podcast. Most dramatically, the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic’s meticulously assembled “Impossibility Exhibit” demonstrates that Junior was nowhere near the scene of his imaginary crimes…. But is the court paying attention? More.

April 1

Maybe the Satanic Panic will have ended when the state of North Carolina frees Junior Chandler and acknowledges the innocence of the Edenton Seven…. More.

March 31

“[In 1994] researchers with the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect found that investigators could not substantiate any of roughly 12,000 accusations of group cult sexual abuse based on satanic ritual…..”

That’s not a typo. “Satanic ritual abuse” claims went zero for 12,000.… More.

March 20

When I began researching the Edenton Seven and Junior Chandler prosecutions, I was naive both about how easy it is to be wrongfully convicted and about how hard it is win exoneration. Particularly challenging in such imaginary-crime cases is the absence of DNA evidence – so often the key to the kingdom…. More.

March 15

An excess of confidence similarly demonstrated in the Little Rascals Day Care case:

“The social workers dealing with these cases are experienced and skilled in work with children. I have every confidence in their ability to deal with these sensitive matters.” More.

March 1

This recent case in Kentucky – “Woman Settles Lawsuit That Claimed Jailers Abandoned Her to Give Birth By Herself in Cell” [link below] – took me back to the torture inflicted on Little Rascals defendant Dawn Wilson, not by her jailers but by prosecutors.

On Aug. 11, 1993, Wilson, serving a life sentence for child sexual abuse, went back to court to seek release under house arrest. In six days she would give birth to her second child.

Nancy Lamb and Bill Hart could’ve responded with any number of temperate legal arguments against her release. Instead….

“She made a quite irresponsible decision in 1992 to become pregnant early in her trial,” Lamb said. “She was thinking only of herself….”

“Dawn Wilson… simply has no character…,” added Hart. “Is she the kind of mother figure who ought to be bonding with a second out-of-wedlock child?”

Judge Marsh McLelland granted Wilson’s request, but delays in paperwork and payment of a $250,000 bond kept mother and son in women’s prison another month.

In 1995 the N.C. Court of Appeals overturned her conviction. More.

Feb. 23

“Satanic Ritual Abuse: An alleged unconscious mental trauma which may be ‘uncovered’ by Recovered Memory Therapy, a pseudotherapy.” – Segen’s Medical Dictionary (2012)


Feb. 19

Justice delayed…. and delayed….. and delayed…. More.

Feb. 19

“The Satanic Panic gave a face to the suspicions about schools, day-care facilities and pop culture…. Accusations were leveled against care workers, teachers, musicians, authors and filmmakers…. Concepts such as ‘recovered memories’ and ‘baby breeders’ entered the cultural lexicon. It was all nonsense. A lot of innocent people had their lives ruined, careers destroyed, or went to jail. Many of the victims were working-class people who suffered for the insecurities of the emerging professional class. It was an abomination of justice….” More.

Feb. 12

“Vast numbers of clinicians, including people with PhDs, believed a network of Satan worshipers around the country were secretly sexually abusing children….

“So, when I would do interviews, I carried out field research on how crisis centers were accepting the ‘satanic ritual abuse’ conspiracy theory. It was like questioning the Holocaust, being a Holocaust denier. A lot of feminist clinicians said, ‘How can you question this? You do not question women speaking to this.’

“I would say, ‘As feminists, we have enough to fear in the world. We don’t have to make up new ones….’ ” More.

Feb. 6

“Psychiatrist Richard Kluft, who knew both Tsitos and Sizemore at the time of his treatment of her, described the doctor to The New York Times as ‘a very savvy clinician who could see that more was going on than the typical picture of different personalities….’ ” More.

Feb. 5

“We wisely do not give our law enforcement officers, or even the President, carte blanche to do as they please; bad prosecutors should similarly be accountable….” More.

Jan. 5

“Even though the Satanic Panic has been thoroughly discredited, the rise of QAnon shows how quickly people lacking critical thinking skills are to embrace a similar conspiracy theory…” More.



Dec. 30
“For every public defender on the federal bench, there are four former prosecutors ….” More.

Dec. 25
“QAnon, a conspiracy theory born from the website 4chan, spreads misinformation about sex trafficking by claiming wealthy, well-connected individuals engage in satanic sex rituals involving abducted children….”
URL blocked

Dec. 18
Pardons, pardons, always so bittersweet…. More.

Dec. 17
“[Roy] Cooper hasn’t signed a single pardon or clemency request in his first term, the first NC governor in at least 40 years to let those powers sit idle….
“Before becoming governor, he was the state’s elected attorney general for 16 years, where his office faced off in courtrooms against [Ronnie] Long and other inmates seeking to overturn their convictions or asking for early releases from prison….
“There’s likely more who have formally asked Cooper for pardons, but the exact number is not publicly known. His office has declined to provide that information, claiming it is not public information.” More.

Dec. 17
Good news, a mighty long time coming…. More.

Dec. 17
Score one for science: “The International Society for the Study of Trauma & Dissociation — which often gives presentations regarding fringe concepts like ‘Satanic Ritual Abuse’ — is now faced with losing Continuing Education accreditation for seminars on the topic of ‘mind control.’ ” More.

Dec. 5
5G, Covid-19, climate change, vaccination, election corruption and “Satanic ritual abuse” — conspiracy theorists make lots of strange bedfellows! More.

Dec. 5
Five years of exoneration after 37 years of wrongful imprisonment…. Doesn’t seem quite fair, does it? More.

Nov. 25
“A global hysteria ensues” — and its victims include the wrongfully prosecuted Edenton Seven. Looking forward to this film from Pia Borg… More.

Nov. 22
Looking to be outraged? How about “Cooper has yet to pardon a single person in his first term, unlike every other NC governor in at least the last 40 years where records have been kept on clemency and pardons.” More.

Nov. 16
“In 26 years as a physician, I’ve only seen one compelling case of [Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)]. By contrast, I’ve had a handful of run-ins with quack therapists who manipulate vulnerable patients into embracing their alters and false memories of Satanic ritual abuse.” More.

Nov. 14
Thought exercise: Is this a more extreme punishment than Bob Kelly’s 12 consecutive life sentences? Of course, Bob was innocent — and there was no crime in the first place…. More.

Nov. 12
If you’ve ever wondered why wrongful prosecutions flourish…. More.

Oct. 25
“Mr. Davis’s communications with defendant and his trial strategy were protected by attorney-client privilege…. The trial court thus erred in allowing Mr. Davis to testify against defendant….”
— From the North Carolina Court of Appeals’ recent reversal of a felony death by vehicle conviction in Rowan County (State v. Farook)
Not a case of great consequence, but I couldn’t help be reminded of the same court’s astringent overturning of Bob Kelly’s conviction 25 years ago – in part because of the misleading testimony of his original attorney, Chris Bean. More.

Oct. 23
RIP, Amazing Randi. Skepticism has never been a harder sell than in our QAnon-infected world…. More.

Oct. 21
“For those who remember the ‘satanic panic’ of the 1980s, these Anon narratives will sound hauntingly familiar…. QAnon is poised to cause similar disruptions in the lives of innocent people….” More.

Oct. 19
A dream so very long deferred….. More.

Oct. 16
Thanks to Nick Ochsner of WBTV for reporting on Roy Cooper’s shameful performance. “ ‘He’ll be the first governor in more than 40 years to go through a term without granting clemency to a single person,’ [Jamie] Lau said of Cooper, if he doesn’t take any action by the end of December.” More.

Oct. 12
Big day for Junior Chandler – he’s able to mow the grass again. That’s his favorite job on the maintenance crew at Avery-Mitchell Correctional near Spruce Pine, but a harsh case of Covid-19 sidelined him for weeks.

Included in that time was a transfer from his hot-spot cell block to Foothills Correctional near Morganton and then – after four sleepless, cough-ridden nights — on to the former Grace Hospital. “I lost 20 pounds, down to 208,” Junior told me by phone. He credits steroids and an antibody cocktail for his recovery.

Andrew Junior Chandler may be the last still-incarcerated victim of the “satanic ritual abuse” day care panic [details below]. His Motion for Appropriate Release is pending in Madison County. “Thirty-three years it’s been, half my life,” he says. “And the prosecutors know I’m innocent – that’s the bad part.”

Oct. 11
As if governors since the Willie Horton furlough calamity weren’t already wary enough of granting pardons…. More.

Oct. 5
Edenton, can you take a hint? More.

Oct. 3
“Satanic Panic has been around forever…. Today, we see it in the form of the Illuminati, Pizzagate, Qanon, and sex trafficking panic — all with their own sometimes overlapping conspiracies about secretive, underground societies or satanic rituals….” More.

Oct. 2
As detailed in the letter below, even as late as 1997 pockets of belief in “satanic ritual abuse” still held the power to squelch dissent. It was that same year, in fact, before prosecutors finally dropped Little Rascals Day Care charges against Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson…. More.

Sept. 30
“The day care panic was driven by a transpartisan spectrum of individuals: overzealous prosecutors seeking to advance their careers by appearing tough on crime against children; feminists and victims’ rights advocates who seemed, finally, to have reached a moment in which child abuse was taken seriously; and the Christian right, eager to see Satan’s work in public child care that enabled women to work outside the home….” More.

Sept. 28
“Though thoroughly debunked in subsequent years, allegations of ‘Satanic ritual abuse’ ruined lives, tore families apart, resulted in the imprisonment of innocent people and established a legacy that is still being fought in the mental health field…. Grey Faction is launching ‘A Rumor of Devils’ [to] document stories of the Satanic Panic and the impact it has had on people’s lives.” More.

Sept. 28
While North Carolina hasn’t enacted its own “clean hands” requirement, the state still puts plenty of barriers to compensation for exonerees. More.

Sept. 28
“Cornelius Jones, a well-known sea captain, served as the foreman of the grand jury [in Currituck, N.C.] Captain Jones had been well informed of the atrocities in Salem, Mass., [and] used his powers of persuasion to convince the jurors to dismiss the charges of witchcraft. His political motive was to avert the… witch hunt hysteria that had occurred in Salem.” More.

Sept. 22
A burst of sunshine in these grim times – a note this morning from Little Rascals Day Care case exoneree Bob Kelly: “Today, 25 years ago, because of Mark Montgomery’s wonderfully written and argued brief, I walked into FREEDOM…. Thanks to him and people like you who have believed in us!”

Sept. 18
Not a good look, prosecutors – but do you care? More.

Sept. 16
Junior Chandler, diabetic and 60 years old, has been transferred from Avery-Mitchell Correctional near Spruce Pine to Foothills Correctional near Morganton, according to Theresa Newman of the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic. Junior may be the last still-incarcerated victim of the “satanic ritual abuse” day-care panic. His Motion for Appropriate Release is pending in Madison County. More.

Sept. 16
“Flawed scientific conclusions helped lead to the 46 percent of cases with wrongful convictions that weren’t the result of official misconduct….” More.

Sept. 5
About as close to a mea culpa as prosecutors dare: “It is in the interest of justice that the State will not seek an unprecedented seventh trial of Mr. Flowers.” More.

Sept. 3
So encouraging to see the courts showing appropriate skepticism about eyewitness testimony! More.  And More.

Aug. 31
“Sexual predators were more often family members than strangers. Think Uncle Bill fondling his niece in the basement after Thanksgiving dinner than Miss Laura or Mr. Phil engaging in lurid sado-masochistic rituals during nap time at Merry Moppets Day Care….” More.

Aug. 30
“On another undercover assignment, this time into the UK anti-abortion movement, I listened to… a far-right conspiracy theory that abortion is ‘Satanic ritual abuse.’ Allegations about Satanic abuse are currently a centrepiece to the far-right Save The Children protests taking place in the US….” More.

Aug. 28
Nine exonerations – over 13 years! At once a magnificent accomplishment and a testament to the shamefully grudging response of the judicial system…. More.

Aug. 25
How to have a Satanic Pedophile Cannibal Caba with no complaining victims? More.

Aug. 24
“Even if the platforms [Facebook and Twitter] manage to suppress QAnon, which seems unlikely, the memetic frame behind it – the same frame that drove the earlier PizzaGate, Seth Rich, and ‘Satanic ritual abuse’ conspiracies – will eventually manifest in some new form….” More.

Aug. 22
“What… is missing is that [Greg] Kelley’s case is part of a pattern. ‘Outcry’ never goes far enough or deep enough, and dodges a critique of the U.S. criminal justice system writ large….” More.

Aug. 16
Acclaimed newspaperman turned acclaimed screenwriter Kurt Luedtke died last week at age 80. For a too-brief moment there was a chance he might’ve turned his Oscar-winning talents to the Little Rascals Day Care case…. More.

Aug. 11
“… We’ve seen what happens to children when people who are invested in proving Satanic Ritual Abuse is real get involved in things.” More.

Aug. 8
“I have long been skeptical about reports of satanic ritual abuse, but I used to believe that recovered memories of other sorts of incestuous abuse were always authentic…. I saw the FMS [False Memory Syndrome] Foundation as part of the backlash against the incest revolution.

“But my thinking changed radically when I read lengthy personal accounts by retractors who had retrieved ‘memories’ of incestuous abuse and/or satanic ritual abuse in therapy only to denounce them as false later in their lives….”

– From “The Secret Trauma: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women” (2nd edition) by Diana E. H. Russell
Dr. Russell died this week at age 81. Her obituary in the New York Times is here.

Aug. 6
“A full one-third of all known exonerations stem from no-crime convictions.”

In “satanic ritual abuse” day-care cases that would be… 100 percent. More.

July 24
“A large chunk of QAnon mythology comes from the ‘recovered memories’ of a severely disturbed woman who claims to have been Tom Hanks’s brainwashed sex slave…. A lot of it comes from the old-timey Satanic Panic stuff and includes many of the same characters and themes….” More.

July 24
How to prevent the next wrongful conviction. More.

July 23
“Death penalty defendants automatically receive additional procedural remedies that other defendants do not…. The late Justice Antonin Scalia argued that potentially innocent defendants facing the death penalty had 130 times better chance for achieving exoneration than their counterparts [such as Junior Chandler] who faced life without the possibility of parole….” More.

July 11
Junior Chandler tells me the pandemic has yet to hit Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution, but all inmates are obviously at high risk. Most poignantly, he hasn’t been able to see family members since visitation was suspended in March. Junior may be the last still-imprisoned victim of the “satanic ritual abuse” day care panic. More.

July 9
Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic advances cause of Ronnie Long…. More.

July 7
“Everything you need to know about the infamous McMartin Preschool sex abuse case…. More.

July 2
A YouTube: “The Little Rascals Case Unfolded.” More.

June 20
“This five-part docuseries [“Outcry” on Showtime] looks at the perplexing case of Greg Kelley, a popular senior football player at a suburban high school north of Austin, who was convicted in 2014 of sexually assaulting a child at an in-home day-care center….
“[One aspect:] how children can be coaxed into making false claims. (McMartin preschool, anyone?)…”

May 28
” QAnon reworked elements of the Satanic Ritual Abuse panic that originated in the U.S. in the ’80s…” More.

May 16
“If you were playing poker, would you be playing with your full hand showing?”
– Bill Hart, special deputy attorney general, defending his unwillingness to share evidence with the Little Rascals defense. More.

May 16
Hats off to these dedicated researchers for uncovering the link between Satanism and the pandemic shutdown…. More.

April 7
“Since the very beginnings of the Satanic Panic in the 1980s, believers in Satanic Ritual Abuse have been obsessed with tunnels. One of the most memorable features of the investigation into McMartin Preschool were reports of underground tunnels where the McMartins brought children to sexually assault them…. And now, thirty-plus years later, we’re back to the damn tunnels….” More.

April 1
“Wendell Berry’s title character in Jayber Crow says from time to time ‘the war returned.’ He was talking about the wars in his lifetime. They were no different from each other. I believe the same thing could be said about the panic…. This time it involves the supply of dry goods (paper products), some foodstuffs, and weapons. Last time it involved psychiatrists and courts….” More.

March 31
Among those at highest risk: Junior Chandler — 62 years old, diabetic, wrongfully convicted of “satanic ritual abuse” and imprisoned at Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution since 1987. More.

March 15
“Scroll through the summaries of the thousands of exonerations and you can’t help but waking up to the realization that it’s much easier to convict someone than it is to find them innocent….” More.

March 4
“New look at old convictions is better late than never.” More.

March 4
How trial procedure flips innocent until proven guilty into guilty until proven innocent. More.

March 4
Partisanship aside, Stein vs. Mumma would’ve presented a golden opportunity to frame the role of the attorney general in addressing wrongful prosecutions…. More.

Feb. 24
“The wonderful world of satanic panic propaganda.” More.

Feb. 21
Oh, do prosecutors love their plea deals! More.

Feb. 17
“Two efforts launched to improve scientific validity of psychological test evidence in court.” More.

Feb. 16
“CBC Radio Season 6: Satanic Panic.” More.

Feb. 6
“[Elizabeth] Loftus said that while there are many forms of effective therapy, mental health professionals may sometimes pressure their clients to produce more detailed accounts, which could lead to unintended fabrication or distortion of memories.
“Loftus cited her most well-known study, ‘Lost in the Shopping Mall,’ which showed that, through a series of interviews, people could be induced to remember that they had once gotten lost in a shopping mall as children and were rescued by a stranger, even though the event never happened….” More.

Feb. 6
“The false ‘survivor advocates’ whose incompetence helped Weinstein’s defense. More.

Feb. 5
“I am not sure what ‘The Crucible’ is telling people now, but I know that its paranoid center is still pumping out the same darkly attractive warning that it did in the fifties.
“For some, the play seems to be about the dilemma of relying on the testimony of small children accusing adults of sexual abuse, something I’d not have dreamed of forty years ago.
“For others, it may simply be a fascination with the outbreak of paranoia that suffuses the play — the blind panic that, in our age, often seems to sit at the dim edges of consciousness….”
– From “Why I Wrote ‘The Crucible’ ” by Arthur Miller in the New Yorker (Oct. 14, 1996)

Jan. 22
A rare conjoining of wrongful conviction and apology:
“It is time for Mr. Wilson to be allowed to go home — that he go home a free man, and that he go home with an apology,’ [Conviction Integrity Unit chief] Patricia Cummings said in court, her voice trembling. ‘No words can express what we put these people through. What we put Mr. Wilson through. What we put his family through.’ ” More.

Jan. 15
The state’s four experts from UNC Chapel Hill played a pivotal role in the wrongful conviction of Bob Kelly. They have yet to apologize. More. A comment here.

Jan. 3
Junior Chandler would have to talk his way out of not one life sentence but two – consecutive. And to prove that he has “truly changed”? Changed from what – being imprisoned 33 years for an imaginary crime? More. More on Chandler here.




Dec. 24
“On behalf of the Houston Police Department, I want to extend an apology to Mr. Grant and his family as they have waited for justice all these years.” Simple, indisputable words – why do police and prosecutors choose instead to remain mum? More.

Dec. 4
Facebook wasn’t needed in 1989 — just months before the arrests of the Edenton Seven — to spread rumors of a plan by unidentified Satan worshipers to kidnap and sacrifice North Carolina children. More.

Nov. 27
“‘You just have to wonder about how many cases there are in places where prosecutors aren’t willing to take a serious look at claims of innocence.’”

Nov. 27
“Let’s say you happen to find yourself in the midst of a witch hunt. I mean a real witch hunt, where people testify to crimes invisible to others and bordering on the preposterous, before a court that prefers imaginary deeds to actual evidence and that aggressively executes innocents….” More.

Nov. 24
Sure, it’s exhilarating to see innocence project lawyers walking their latest exonoree out the courthouse door to take in a long-denied breath of freedom. Their years of grim, frustrating labor have paid off big time. Who among us has ever achieved such a meaningful victory?
But that’s only one side of the coin.
Theresa Newman of Duke Law School’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic knows both sides. Watch her TEDx talk to see – and feel – the burden of cases that hit a dead end, leaving the client still behind bars and bereft of hope. More.

Nov. 18
Because prosecutors. More.

Nov. 12
“The timing was perfect for the national media to descend on the case. The country was in the midst of a moral panic over satanic rituals, stoked by books like the discredited bestseller Michelle Remembers, media-circus trials like the McMartin Preschool case, and completely unfounded worries that heavy bands pledged allegiance to the devil….” More.

Nov. 10
“The fact that Daniel Rizzo is still trying to argue that an innocent man is guilty says much about him and the ‘prosecute at all costs’ mentality that has led to thousands of wrongful convictions in our country.” More.

Nov. 5
“The heyday of this was the 1980s and 1990s, sure. But it never really totally went away, and there hasn’t been much of a reckoning in the mental health field….” More.

Nov. 4
Bob Kelly, surrounded by Charlotte supporters (clockwise) Lew Powell, John Gresham, Bob Henderson, Jon Buchan and Dannye Romine Powell after Bob’s well-received talk to the Life class at Myers Park Baptist Church. Photo (right) by fellow supporter Kristen Henderson.

Nov. 4
“After a series of judicial debacles [such as the Little Rascals Day Care case], the panic had subsided in the U.S. by the 1990s. But for many European countries, Italy included, the ‘Satanic panic’ wave arrived much later….” More.

Nov. 3
Just thinking of seven people who would deserve to be first in line for a Spirit of Edenton award…. More.

Oct. 24
“ ‘My sense is that you cannot prove this never happened,’ says [University of Delaware sociologist Joel] Best, but in decades of reviewing news reports of deadly Halloween candy from a menacing stranger, he has yet to find one that turned out to be true.”
Halloween hysteria was rampant in eastern North Carolina as the Edenton Seven were arrested. See comments. More.

Oct. 19
“Pastor Terrence Devezin of the United Kingdom Church said he plans to apologize publicly to the exonerees and wants others to do the same, including public officials….
“Devezin says the exonerees are ‘heroes that need to be recognized.’ He plans a rally and service dedicated to 11 former convicts who were recently exonerated….” More.

Oct. 17
“Shows what happens when a community of otherwise sane and sensible adults – who have never experienced the slightest worry about their children’s physical or medical health – descends into paranoia and mass hysteria and accepts what should be patently obvious, that they are being peddled a load of exaggerated and nonsense stories…” More.

Oct. 19
“[Malcolm Gladwell says,] ‘The idea that traumatic memories are repressed and can be retrieved only under the direction of therapy is — to say the least — controversial.’ This is inexcusably lazy thinking. That idea is not controversial among memory scientists: It is flat-out wrong.” More.

Oct. 9
“A new review of the research published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science found that 76 percent of clinical psychologists believe traumatic memories can be blocked for many years and then recalled later on, a rate that has grown since the so-called ‘Memory Wars’ of the 1990s. They also found high rates of belief among law enforcement personnel, judges and jurors. In fact, laypeople were actually less likely to believe in this concept than psychologists and other clinicians. The group least likely to believe it? Scientists working in the field of memory.” More.

Oct. 8
“Sadly, during the 1990s and the Satanic Ritual Abuse panic and the Recovered Memory Therapy disgrace, we learned just how wrong therapists were. During that era, therapists promoted a nationwide quest to root out evidence of children being sexually abused by hidden Satanic cults….” More.

Oct. 5
Might prosecutors’ time and creativity be better spent avoiding wrongful convictions in the first place? More.

Oct. 4
“Prosecutors are virtually immune from criminal prosecution. They can’t be sued and are rarely disbarred.
“McGowan’s mistakes and misdeeds raise the question: Are there any consequences for a prosecutor’s indefensible actions?” More.

Sept. 25
“Imaginary Solutions to Real Problems.” More.

Sept. 24
Wrongful prosecution stories don’t get much sadder than this…. More.

Sept. 21
“As researchers, social workers and prosecutors learned more about how malleable children’s memories are under questioning, many cases eventually unraveled. Since 2016 a half-dozen Texans have been declared innocent after serving nearly a century in prison for committing acts that, in retrospect, seem obviously fantastical: logistically impossible gang rapes, burying children alive….” More.

Sept. 18
Sound familiar, Edenton? More.

Sept. 17
Robin Byrum recalls occupying a cell in women’s prison in Raleigh along with fellow defendants Betsy Kelly and Dawn Wilson: “They put another prisoner in there with us, a snitch, thinking she could get us to talk. But we had nothing to tell….” More.

Sept. 4
“The kind of prosecutor who is willing to do these things that are illegal and unconstitutional in order to have a win is the kind of prosecutor who’s going to say to you, ‘I still believe they’re guilty,’ because they’re covering their own tracks.” More.

Aug. 30
You want your new center to “put young victims of molestation and abuse at ease”? Well, sure – who better to advise than Nancy Lamb, failed but unrepentant prosecutor in the Little Rascals Day Care case? More.

Aug. 27
This time the prosecutors got it right! But the judge got it profoundly wrong…. More.

Aug. 20
“Although details of the fabled ‘Westminster sex ring’ had an unreal nature about them from the start, the Metropolitan Police in London persisted in an expensive, long investigation that made the life of the wrongly accused very difficult. Why? An inquiry by a retired judge found police acted improperly through an ideological commitment to believing the allegations, notwithstanding their incredibility.” More.

Aug. 20
“Once police decide they have the right suspect, [Kim] Rossmo and [Joycelyn] Pollock report in the Northeastern University Law Review, they tend to develop ‘tunnel vision’ that obscures other possibilities. They become focused on building a case against the person they’ve decided is guilty, ignore or minimize countervailing evidence, and interpret ambiguous evidence in a way that supports their initial conclusions.” More.

Aug. 18
“The unanimous decision of the North Carolina Court of Appeals [overturning the convictions of Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson] vindicated those of us who believed the Edenton Seven were railroaded…. It is difficult to fight off psychoneurosis that becomes epidemic. One person with a vendetta – especially one involving children and sex – can destroy all reason in a community of normal people. Attorney General Mike Easley and his team of prosecutors exploited the protections courtrooms give only to children and took full advantage of a judge who allowed them to vilify the defendants. Two jury trials proved this strategy worked. But it was not fair! What would have happened had the Committee to Support the Edenton Seven and others interested in justice not protested this whole charade?”
– From a letter to the Virginian-Pilot (May 14, 1995) by Wilbur A. Culpepper of Elizabeth City
Appearing the same day was this antipodal letter from the Little Rascals parents.

Aug. 16
How about it, “Mindhunter”? Story line for next season? More.

Aug. 4 Videotape gave McMartin jurors an eye-opening view of child-witness interviews. NC prosecutors made sure Little Rascals jurors didn’t have that advantage…. More.

July 29
“The reigning orthodoxy of the time was clear: Charges of child sex abuse were to be believed. Even to suggest that the accused might be innocent was considered an outrage….” More.

July 25
Pain + time = humor…. More.

July 21
“[Now in their mid-30s] the children are doing great. They are very happy, well-adjusted people…. “I said, ‘Do you have an independent recollection of being abused?’ ‘No.’ ‘You think you’re abused?’ ‘Yes.’ I’ve asked several times ‘Are you interested in talking about this?’ They say ‘No’ and I say ‘OK, let’s not talk about it.’ ”
— Journalist Kevin Cody, updating his coverage of the child-witnesses in the McMartin Preschool case. More.

July 3
“[Jim] Coleman sat in his office at Duke Law School recently and took a moment to comment on the powerful image of [Charles Ray] Finch being wheeled out of prison — an 81-year-old man who spent more than half his life behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. “The prosecutors and judges involved in Finch’s case most likely felt indifference at the sight, Coleman said. “In his mind, that image of Finch should serve as a stark reminder of the inequities in our state’s criminal justice system. “ ‘What they should say — the question everyone ought to ask is, “Why did it take so long?” ’ Coleman said.” More. (As Professor Coleman suggests, the answer to “Why did it take so long?” is that the justice system typically feels no urgency to correct its mistakes….)

July 2
Thanks to AP’s Martha Waggoner for airing the latest display of SMH chutzpah from the North Carolina Prosecutors Club ….

June 30
The McMartin Preschool case certainly deserves revisiting – but so does Little Rascals….. More.

June 26
“[C]ognitive scientists like Elizabeth Loftus have shown that suggestions and post-event information can modify memories. Factoring in trauma, as well as the suggestive tactics investigators are sometimes incentivized to employ to close their cases, memory contamination becomes very plausible….” More. ln (This online response from a New York Times reader in Medford, Ore., speaks directly if unintentionally to the suffering endured by the Edenton Seven: “An innocent person falsely convicted is a much greater injustice than that suffered by a crime victim. A crime victim has had injustice perpetrated upon them by only one or a few persons. Whereas falsely convicted innocent persons have had injustice inflicted upon them by the entire government, all the citizens who support that government, and especially by those citizens and government officials who participated in the trial. Furthermore, even if not convicted, an innocent accused person suffers injustice at the hands of the government, its supporters among the public, and especially at the hands of the prosecutor and the judge. That is because our system is designed and operated to impose much punishment just for being formally accused. They are imprisoned upon arrest and remain so until trial or until the government gets around to setting bail (if it allows bail at all). Even after bail is set, the accused may not be able to afford the bail. Even if he can afford the bail, he suffers the permanent loss of the sizeable fee for the bail bond (usually about 10% of the bail amount). And most of all is the psychological stress and of being falsely accused and the terror from the likelihood of being convicted despite his innocence.”)

June 15
“The [original 1988 version of the serial-killer movie ‘Child’s Play’] played on that all-too-real phenomenon of ‘Satanic Panic.’ This one is about the fear of technology. Whether by accident or design, Child’s Play is a horror franchise that perfectly encapsulates American moral anxiety….” More.

June 11
“The Suburban Uncanny” More.

June 8
“The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain and simple. And for that, I apologize.”
– Police Commissioner James O’Neill, 50 years after the Stonewall raid.
Will the Edenton Seven live to see the State of North Carolina issue a similar apology? More.

June 7
“Despite the evidence… prosecutor Locke Bell remained defiant.”
Bell’s mulishness comes as no surprise. As legal commentator Lara Bazelon explained in 2016: “Prosecutors tasked with defending a conviction against compelling evidence that it was wrongfully secured typically have two choices. They can accept the responsibility for participating — directly or indirectly — in an injustice, or they can insist that nothing went awry or that whatever mistakes may have been made were ‘immaterial’– that is, the jury would have convicted anyway. The justice system strongly pushes them in the latter direction….” More.

May 29
“If the information quarantine is designed to protect an image of infallible cops, prosecutors, defenders, and courts, then the effort is futile. That picture no longer exists, even on TV. By 2016, the rate of exonerations had already doubled over the previous five years to an average three a week, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. The aura of perfection is gone, and it isn’t coming back.” More.

May 29
“I was a prosecutor [in] a case in which a gentleman was convicted of murder who was later found to be factually innocent,” [Nevada Judge] Herndon testified, choking back tears between words. “And if you think that doesn’t weigh heavily on somebody, you’d be mistaken”…. Do the wrongful convictions of Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson weigh heavily on H.P. Williams Jr., Bill Hart and Nancy Lamb? [Crickets.] More.

More 2019 posts to come


Dec . 27
“Although retractions are considered the nuclear option in scholarly publishing, they’re really a sign that science is operating as advertised. At its heart, science is the ultimate self-correction machine. Advance a hypothesis, take a stab at finding proof, then try to replicate the results if successful – or, if not, try again.” More.

Dec. 19
“In a news conference Monday night, officials avoided terms like ‘wrongful conviction’…. Yet again, a seven-figure settlement check is easier to come by than an apology…

In 2016 NC Assistant Attorney General Jess Mekeel unsuccessfully opposed Johnny Small’s motion to reopen his case. “Innocence is in vogue now,” he complained to the judge.
(Link to “Innocence advocate: Johnny Small’s case not uncommon” inoperative).

Dec. 6
“Just prior to their exoneration, the San Antonio 4 were featured in a 2016 documentary film called ‘Southwest of Salem,’ which tracked their trial in the context of the ‘satanic ritual abuse panic’ of the late 1980s and early 1990s.” More.

Nov. 21
Not a lot of sweet moments in the history of “satanic ritual abuse” day-care prosecutions. Check out the last paragraph…. More.

Nov. 19
“They have been through more dress rehearsals than the cast of ‘Cats.’”
– Joe Cheshire, lawyer for Betsy Kelly, protesting the latitude given the prosecution in preparing Little Rascals children to testify (New York Times, Aug. 19, 1991)

Nov. 17
“While we often moan about the internet’s role as a ‘disease vector’ in the spread of conspiracy theories, it may also contain at least part of the solution. It does make it easier for those of us who oppose the satanic panic pushers to see who they are, to identify the links amongst them, and to counter their fear-mongering with facts and evidence.” More.

Nov. 16
“The American Satanic Panic of the 1980s fits this lineage perfectly. As US families transitioned from depending on one parent’s income to expecting both parents to work, children increasingly spent their days with childcare professionals. This social change led to widespread suspicion of daycare workers, among others. (Rampant homophobia and rising awareness of the ubiquity of queerness also played a role in these suspicions.) Innocuous but odd remarks made by children or bizarre claims drawn out of kids and adults via bullshit recovered memory techniques got sifted through the same cultural prism that inspired other occult panics through history….” More.

Oct. 31
“I don’t blame the [McMartin Preschool] kids for what happened. There was so much pressure on them to say what they said and do what they did that they really had no choice.
“I think it’s really important that these adults now, who were children then, can see this information, and if any of them can come to grips and go, ‘You know what, maybe we weren’t telling the truth, maybe we were programmed to say these things, maybe a lot of pressure was put on us that we just said what the adults wanted to hear.’ ” More.

Oct. 23
“Securing exonerations for the Little Rascals defendants would be an uphill battle, said Theresa Newman, co-director of the Wrongful Convictions Clinic…. Lawyers can’t ask for evidence to be retested or present newly-discovered confessions from suspects to disprove original prosecutions. The crimes alleged in the Little Rascals case don’t have any DNA or physical evidence to dispel prosecutors’ theories based on long-ago testimony from young children. ‘You have to prove how someone got convicted when there was no crime,’ said Newman….” More.

Oct. 5
“Of course, there was no evidence that these Satanic sex-abuse cults existed at all, much less that they had infiltrated the nation’s day-care centers, but that was treated as beyond question: They had to exist, because we were having a national hysteria about them, and we wouldn’t be having a national hysteria about nothing, would we? Why would we do that?…” More.


More 2018 posts to come



Dec. 22
“Moral panics feature implausible or bizarre allegations and enormous, coordinated conspiracies. Those speaking up against the workplace abusers have largely described events that are sadly mundane…. ”  More.

Nov. 16
In the world of exoneration, success is always bittersweet….. More.

Oct. 24
Exoneree finds not all the predators were in prison…. More.

Oct. 15
Posted without further comment. More.

Sept. 8
Perhaps chastened by the damage caused by his cockamamie “child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome,” Roland Summit later argued against its use in courtrooms. Too late — prosecutors had already weaponized it to smear the McMartins, Kelly Michaels and other “satanic ritual abuse” defendants…. More.

Sept. 6
“There wasn’t a lick of proof to back up any of this: No photos, no guilt-ridden former Satanists stepping forward to confess their crimes, no forensic evidence of the thousands of purported human sacrifices murdered by these cults.
“It was, quite simply, a case of temporary global insanity. …” More.

Aug. 31
“We’ve done other reports on wrongful prosecutions where people are prosecuted with flimsy evidence. We can see this is all part of one system where human error infects so many different stages of the process.” More.

Aug. 25
Sept. 29, 1988: A four-year-old at Little Rascals Day Care complains of being slapped by Bob Kelly. Under pressure from his mother the complaint is amplified into “satanic ritual abuse.”
Aug. 15, 1991: A three-year-old at Fran’s Day Care complains of being spanked by Dan Keller. Under pressure from her mother the complaint is amplified into “satanic ritual abuse.” More.

Aug. 23
North Carolina exonerees are entitled to $50,000 for each year spent in prison, plus job training and college tuition, up to a maximum of $750,000. However, those statutes apply only to persons “granted a pardon of innocence by the Governor upon the grounds that the crime with which the person was charged either was not committed at all or was not committed by that person.” More.

Aug. 4
Through FOIA requests, analysis of publicly available documents including court transcripts, and all sorts of other methods, this project will shine a light into some dark corners inhabited by psychiatrists and mental health counselors who may be causing unaccounted-for damage to their clients by peddling conspiratorial theories of organized groups of Satanists engaged in ritual abuse. More.

July 26
Whatever the outcome of this legal imbroglio, Snopes must continue its righteous mission. If only it had been around during the “satanic ritual abuse” era! More.

July 22
“My point in recalling this travesty of justice [in the McMartin Preschool case] is that it can happen again. All it takes are highly impressionable child-witnesses, unscrupulous prosecutors, and mass hysteria. Teachers who choose to teach in preschool have virtually no protection against outrageous charges. We want our toddlers to be safe and secure, but we also need to balance their rights against those of their teachers. I seriously question if the proper lessons have been learned.” More.

July 17
“This was the pre-social-media era, to be sure; but the national press and assorted TV personalities—including future Presidential Medal of Freedom laureate Oprah Winfrey, talk-show host Sally Jessy Raphael, and newsman Geraldo Rivera, among many others—seized on the story with particular relish, and a nationwide hunt began.” More.

July 16
A view from the Netherlands with universal relevance: “The impact of wrongful sex allegations has gone unnoticed for far too long. We need to have our eyes opened to these forgotten victims. Not just in science, but in society as a whole.” More.

July 6
Junior Chandler has served 30 years in prison and is still awaiting exoneration. He hasn’t given up. “I see a lot of people on TV that are getting out,” he told me last month. More.

June 21
Many similarities to the cases of the Edenton Seven and Junior Chandler — including the long, cruel and frustrating path to exoneration. Congratulations to the Kellers and to all who worked to make this day happen…. More.

May 28
Police have spent nearly two years looking into allegations that the late Prime Minister Edward Heath was a pedophile and part of a “Satanic ritual abuse” ring. They have been accused of wasting money better spent protecting the public. More.

May 24
“Serial killers, serial rapists, child abuse, sexual abuse, satanic ritual abuse, recovered memory syndrome – all were hot, controversial topics during the late ’80s and early ’90s…. The horror and crime fiction of the era drew in these ideas and what they represented, namely, the idea of profound evil living right next door to you, maybe under your roof, even within yourself.” More.

May 24
Posted without further comment. More.

May 22
In the Little Rascals prosecution this role of charismatic leader was enthusiastically played by assistant DA Nancy Lamb: “He or she becomes the one person who knows the extent of a threat and also how to address it.” More.

May 17
Despite this unfortunate and perhaps crucial lapse, the N&O has a long history of investing top-shelf talent in addressing failures of the criminal justice system. For instance:  the 2011 Michael Kelly Award. More.

May 13
Posted without further comment. More.

May 5
The formula of the nocturnal ritual fantasy… continues to find audiences ready to believe it. For example, before Pizzagate, modern America had a tussle in the form of the “satanic panic” of the 1980s and 90s….
A string of day-care workers was accused of sexually abusing the children in their care as ritualistic offerings to Satan. Most of these stories… are wildly implausible; under close scrutiny, they have always been proven false…. More.

May 4
No argument for victims’ rights should fail to prioritize the plight of exonerees…. More.

May 1
Posted without further comment. More.

Aprill 21
Is tampering with drug samples any more reprehensible than tampering with the minds of child witnesses? More.

April 19
After 68 years, and several previous failed attempts, the state of Florida has finally found the words that justice had been waiting on all this time: “We’re truly sorry.”
On the floor of the Florida House of Representatives on Tuesday, lawmakers unanimously passed a resolution apologizing to the families of the “Groveland Four” and exonerating the men. More.

April 11
“The lawsuit said, even though Small has been exonerated, the damages to him from his wrongful conviction are enormous. Small was incarcerated from age 15 to age 44. It said growing up in prison, Small was deprived the opportunity to finish school, get a job, have a family and experience fatherhood.
“ ‘In short, he was denied the ability to live life as an autonomous human being.’ ” More.

April 9
“Instead of requiring prosecutors to prove sexual intent, Arizona’s law puts the burden on defendants to prove a lack of sexual intent….” The Edenton Seven were similarly burdened with proving a negative, and in the eyes of the jury were unable to do so. More.

April 7
“ ‘The Satanic Panic’ of the 1980s and 1990s was largely supported by these now-discredited ‘survivor’ pseudo-memories, and countless lives were ruined by false accusations of heinous crimes. According to Grey Faction, the Satanic Panic never ended and is still actively propagated by the ISSTD, not only implicitly by way of its advocacy for the debunked therapeutic practices that helped sustain it, but explicitly by the ISSTD’s open endorsement of conspiracist narratives of Satanic Cult Abuse advanced by its ‘Ritual Abuse/Mind-Control Special Interest Group.’ ” More.

March 30
Attn: Nancy Lamb, Bill Hart and H.P. Williams Jr…..Has it been hard remaining unaware of the ever-growing body of evidence that the “satanic ritual abuse” day-care prosecutions were based on nothing more than therapist-induced fantasies? More.

March 22
In a just world the prosecutors of the Edenton Seven — H.P. Williams Jr., Bill Hart, Nancy Lamb — would not have escaped consequences for their shameful behavior…. More.

Feb. 26
“As worded, it would apparently forbid the system’s law schools, at UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. Central University, from setting up or operating centers or institutes to help out with such things as the Innocence Project….” More.

Jan. 15
“‘Ill Will’ marks [novelist Dan Chaon’s] first dance with the Satanic Panic of the late 1980s. ‘There was a period when it was blasphemy to question the idea of Satanic ritual abuse. Police departments had their own Satanic task forces. Eventually people were like, “Yeah, I don’t think there really are Satanists in every town.” But if you denied it in the early ’90s, people would have been like, “Are you insane!? Of course there are!” ’”



Dec. 30
“How do you tell apart a false memory from a real one, I asked Chris French, a professor of psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. ‘In the absence of any independent evidence, there simply isn’t a way,’ he answered. People who believe they were once abducted by aliens experience the same degree of fear when reminded of it as people with more earthly traumas, he noted….” More.

Dec. 29
Belief in “satanic ritual abuse” surfaces once again. Hats off to the 29% of respondents who clearly saw through the Pizzagate allegations. As for the other 71%…. More.

Dec. 23
“Instead of Alex Jones spreading bizarre conspiracy theories on the radio in the middle of the night, there was one mainstream news organization after another accepting preposterous claims uncritically. There was even a made-for- television movie on CBS featuring a thinly disguised version of McMartin. But in this version, the hero bursts in on the villainous day care center operators just as a satanic ritual is getting underway.” More.

Dec. 18
Patrice Gaines, my long-ago Charlotte Observer colleague, has done epic work on this Washington case with unavoidable echoes of the Central Park Five. The Supreme Court awaits…. More.

Dec. 14
“Conflating Pizzagate with the ‘Satanic panic’ craze… does show one thing very clearly: that the two moral panics (despite being separated by three decades) are eerily similar — almost as if they were one and the same.” More.

Dec. 13
Let’s hope Pat McCrory isn’t so distracted during his last two weeks in office that he leaves Johnny Small unpardoned….. More.

Dec. 13
“The psychodrama of the ‘satanic ritual abuse’ panic can help us understand — and challenge — the strange, fevered imaginings that now assert themselves again….” More.

Nov. 28
Across the pond, yet another “satanic ritual abuse” case is exposed as a therapist-induced fraud…. More.

Nov. 26
Two decades later a Texas appeals court acknowledges four women were innocent of the “fantastical allegations” of “satanic ritual abuse” that put them in prison. Responds one of the exonerated San Antonio Four: “I was just like, ‘Why couldn’t they have seen that from the beginning?'” More.

Nov. 6
Posted without further comment. More.

Oct. 31
As noted in these endorsement editorials, there’s no shortage of persuasive reasons to choose Josh Stein for North Carolina attorney general over his HB2-proud opponent. Prominent on my own list would be this: Stein may represent the last best hope for the Edenton Seven to receive a statement of innocence from the State of North Carolina. His history of advocacy for a wide range of righteous causes suggests a willingness to reexamine the Little Rascals case, not only as a miscarriage within the courtroom but also as a manifestation of the “satanic ritual abuse” day-care panic…. First, of course, Nov. 8.

Thanks to the Elizabeth City Daily Advance for pointing out another striking difference between Josh Stein and Buck Newton: “The Innocence Commission also has divided the two candidates. The panel considers new evidence in convictions. Its work has resulted in some sentences , including death-row cases, being overturned. Stein’s support of the commission is on record, while Newton has sponsored legislation, unsuccessfully so far, to kill it.” More.

Oct. 9
I responded: “Steinem’s peripatetic advocacy went astray with her support of the ‘satanic ritual abuse’ day-care myth, even to the point of financing the excavation of the McMartin Preschool’s imaginary tunnels. I’m sure the wrongfully prosecuted defendants in such cases would welcome her getting right on this issue, however belatedly….. ” More.

Sept. 20
Listed among the innocent victims of “victim-centered investigations” is Violet Amirault, posthumously exonerated in a Massachusetts case similar to Little Rascals:
“Charged with child sexual assault while operating a day care facility in the 1980s. According to the appellate court, Ms. Amirault, was the victim of ‘overzealous’ investigators who succumbed to a ‘climate of panic, if not hysteria.’ The children’s accounts were tainted by suggestive interviewing techniques and were coerced by investigators who refused to take a denial of abuse as an answer.”

“According to advocates (of victim impact statements), they allow victims to personalize the crime and elevate the status of the victim by describing the effect the crime has had on them or their families. Some laud the courtroom ritual as an aid in the emotional recovery of the victim…. A few legal scholars suggest that the well-intentioned personalization of a crime can blur the line between public justice and private retribution….”
– From “Death by Treacle” by Pamela Haag in the American Scholar (Spring 2012)
“Prosecutor Nancy Lamb and the mothers of the victims burst into tears. Court officials handed out tissues.”
– From “Day Care Owner Convicted on 99 Counts of Child Abuse” by the Associated Press (April 22, 1992)

Sept. 8
What — no comment from Assistant Attorney General Jess “Innocence is in vogue now” Mekeel? More.

Sept. 2
Durham County may be the most obvious candidate for a review of conviction integrity, but it’s surely not the only one…. Hats off to Chris Mumma and current District Attorney Roger Echols…. More.

Aug. 29
Do North Carolina prosecutors ever tire of withholding evidence? More.

Aug. 6
It’s appalling to see the New York Times quote as experts Dr. Colin A. Ross and Dr. Richard Kluft, psychiatrists who validated and promoted the “satanic ritual abuse” moral panic of the 1980s and early ’90s.
For decades Dr. Ross has spun out cockamamie ideas from supernatural “eye beams” to CIA conspiracies. And as recently as a 2009 interview on CBS “Sunday Morning,” Dr. Kluft confidently posited a nationwide epidemic of undiagnosed cases of “multiple personality disorder”:

Tracy Smith: So do you think that there are, what, thousands of people walking around out there with MPD who don`t even know it?
Kluft: Oh, easily.
Smith: Tens of thousands?
Kluft: Easily.
Smith: Hundreds of thousands?
Kluft: Easily.
Smith: Millions?
Kluft: We might be at that level.
….Do Ross and Kluft really provide the kind of authority the Times needed for this story?

If the New York Times had been aware of this passage from Debbie Nathan’s “Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case,” would it still have cited Dr. Richard Kluft as an expert? …. “Down the hall from my meeting with [the directors of the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation], Dr. Kluft was conducting a stale workshop about Margaret, a patient he’d been seeing for years. Margaret’s parents, Kluft said, were secret Ku Klux Klan members who routinely slaughtered infants and delivered electric shocks to Margaret’s vagina until she escaped by joining the U.S. military, but then she got kidnapped and tortured by high-ranking generals and she only remembered all this during years of therapy for multiple personality disorder. Kluft expressed no doubt her story was true….” More.

July 24
Slowly, ever so slowly…. More.

June 6
Yes!…. In North Carolina prosecutorial misconduct now extends to seeking revenge on those who challenge it. The News & Observer of Raleigh recently reported that:
“For most of 2015, the North Carolina State Bar vigorously and publicly pressed ethics charges against two anti-death penalty lawyers for what were eventually judged to be unimportant inaccuracies in two sworn affidavits.
“During the same time, the bar privately dismissed complaints that three prominent prosecutors – one running for attorney general, another now a Superior Court judge – used a false affidavit in a racially divisive case that has roiled Winston-Salem for more than a decade….” More.

May 7
Twenty-five years ago today, “Frontline” aired Ofra Bikel’s landmark two-hour documentary on the Little Rascals Day Care case. It turned out to be the first of three installments over the next six years.
About the “satanic ritual abuse” day-care panic of the 1980s and early ’90s, historian Mary De Young says:
“Ofra Bikel certainly pounded a nail in its coffin. Her excellent work on the Little Rascals case appeared after the last day care ritual abuse case was prosecuted, but she created a reason to be profoundly skeptical of all the cases that came before.”

April 28
“Welcome to Edenton — Stay Straight!” More.

April 27
Homophobia meets “satanic ritual abuse” in Texas. More.

April 5
In response to post, “Junior Chandler faces 30th year in prison”:
Mr. Morris, thank you very much for your thoughtful response.
I can think of lots of reasons for a bus driver’s tardiness other than
his pausing to commit “satanic ritual abuse” on his passengers…. All those times Junior Chandler was late, and no passenger or parents reported a larger problem?
After visiting the supposed crime site in Madison County, I found it even more inconceivable that Junior – as described in appellate attorney 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.”
Although I see unexplained incidents and conflicting details, I don’t see anything approaching justification for a felony conviction — much less consecutive life sentences!…..
I’m reminded of a comment by a UNC Chapel Hill psychologist who testified against Bob Kelly in the Little Rascals Day Care trial…. He said about the fantastical, nonsensical testimony of the child-witnesses that “There’s so much smoke there, it’s hard to imagine there’s no fire”…. In that case, it has become inarguably clear that there was indeed no fire…. But the conclusions the psychologist drew from the smoke helped to send Bob Kelly to prison for six years….
If there is fire in the case against Junior Chandler, I’m just not able to recognize it…..
Even though we disagree about Junior’s innocence, I appreciate and share your interest in seeing that justice is done.