Rascals case in brief

In the beginning, in 1989, more than 90 children at the Little Rascals Day Care Center in Edenton, North Carolina, accused a total of 20 adults with 429 instances of sexual abuse over a three-year period. It may have all begun with one parent’s complaint about punishment given her child.

Among the alleged perpetrators: the sheriff and mayor. But prosecutors would charge only Robin Byrum, Darlene Harris, Elizabeth “Betsy” Kelly, Robert “Bob” Kelly, Willard Scott Privott, Shelley Stone and Dawn Wilson โ€“ the Edenton 7.

Along with sodomy and beatings, allegations included a baby killed with a handgun, a child being hung upside down from a tree and being set on fire and countless other fantastic incidents involving spaceships, hot air balloons, pirate ships and trained sharks.

By the time prosecutors dropped the last charges in 1997, Little Rascals had become North Carolina’s longest and most costly criminal trial. Prosecutors kept defendants jailed in hopes at least one would turn against their supposed co-conspirators. Remarkably, none did. Another shameful record: Five defendants had to wait longer to face their accusers in court than anyone else in North Carolina history.

Between 1991 and 1997, Ofra Bikel produced three extraordinary episodes on the Little Rascals case for the PBS series “Frontline.” Although “Innocence Lost” did not deter prosecutors, it exposed their tactics and fostered nationwide skepticism and dismay.

With each passing year, the absurdity of the Little Rascals charges has become more obvious. But no admission of error has ever come from prosecutors, police, interviewers or parents. This site is devoted to the issues raised by this case.


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March 25, 2023
Encouraging news, after ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ” ๐ฒ๐ž๐š๐ซ๐ฌ 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 Juniorโ€™s seven claims supporting his innocence, but he ordered the August hearing on the last two:
1) that, during Juniorโ€™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 โ€“ 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.
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2 months ago

Junior Chandler's affect in a Boone courtroom over three days in late August gave few clues that the rest of his life was at stake.
Wearing an orange jumpsuit and wrist shackles, Junior sat composed and attentive a few feet in front of Superior Court Judge Gary Gavenus as half a dozen lawyers debated the 1987 trial that resulted in consecutive life sentences plus 21 years for the "satanic ritual abuse" of his Madison County day-care bus riders.
Occasionally he would wince at seeing video of a pediatrician or social worker struggling to defend their profoundly flawed testimony of 36 years ago.
I asked Junior what he would've told Judge Gavenus had he himself been called to testify. Here's what he wrote me from Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution:
"My name is Andrew Edward Chandler Jr. I am 66 years old, and I have been been in prison since April 17, 1987, for crimes I am 100% innocent of!
"I have lost many of my family in that time. My son Andy is now 44 years old, son Nathan will be 40 this month. My Mom is 87 years old. My brother Robert, who took care of Mom, passed away on June 12th, the day before her birthday.
"How much time is enough when there was only hearsay evidence that convicted me! I can only Hope and Pray that Justice will finally come my way and I will have the chance to get to know my sons and grandkids and great grandsons one day!"
It's been almost four months since Junior's hearing in Boone -- and 2.5 years since Judge Gavenus received his Motion for Appropriate Relief. Is it too much to expect that Junior be granted that relief before beginning yet another year behind bars?
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2 months ago

Notes from this week's evidentiary hearing in Boone on Junior Chandler's Motion for Appropriate Relief (background in first comment):
"๐’๐ก๐จ๐ฐ ๐Œ๐จ๐ฆ๐ฆ๐ฒ ๐ฐ๐ก๐š๐ญ ๐‰๐ฎ๐ง๐ข๐จ๐ซ ๐๐ข๐."
-- Bus rider being prompted in interview with social worker Linda King (reported in the original transcript, but omitted from the prosecution's trial summary)
"๐“๐ก๐ž๐ฒ ๐ค๐ง๐ž๐ฐ ๐ข๐ญ ๐ฐ๐š๐ฌ ๐š ๐Ÿ๐ซ๐š๐ฎ๐ ๐š๐ง๐ ๐ญ๐ก๐ž๐ฒ ๐๐ข๐๐ง'๐ญ ๐œ๐จ๐ซ๐ซ๐ž๐œ๐ญ ๐ญ๐ก๐ž ๐ซ๐ž๐œ๐จ๐ซ๐."
-- Jim Coleman, noting prosecutors' violation of the Brady Rule against withholding evidence
"๐€๐ฅ๐ฅ ๐ญ๐ก๐ข๐ฌ ๐ก๐š๐ฌ ๐›๐ž๐ž๐ง ๐ฅ๐ข๐ญ๐ข๐ ๐š๐ญ๐ž๐ ๐š๐ฅ๐ซ๐ž๐š๐๐ฒ."
-- John Honeycutt, assistant DA for Madison County, dismissing the defense's claims as irrelevant
"๐˜๐จ๐ฎ'๐ฏ๐ž ๐ฅ๐จ๐ฌ๐ญ ๐ฒ๐จ๐ฎ๐ซ ๐œ๐จ๐ฆ๐ฉ๐š๐ฌ๐ฌ ๐š๐›๐จ๐ฎ๐ญ ๐ญ๐ก๐ž ๐œ๐š๐ฌ๐ž."
-- Superior Court Judge Gary Gavenus, scolding the defense for straying beyond the limits of subject matter he had authorized
"๐“๐ก๐ž๐ซ๐ž ๐š๐ซ๐ž ๐๐š๐ฒ๐ฌ ๐ข๐ง ๐…๐ž๐›๐ซ๐ฎ๐š๐ซ๐ฒ ๐ญ๐ก๐š๐ญ ๐š๐ซ๐ž ๐ฐ๐š๐ซ๐ฆ."
-- Social worker King, insisting that one of Junior's bus riders actually could've fallen into the French Broad River, as claimed, without her parents noticing anything amiss when she arrived home.
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2 months ago

Hi Mr. Powell:
"Well, it's rained here all day, so no yard time! We had a good meal for Christmas, roast beef, mashed potatoes, salad, bean salad, chocolate cake for dessert. I watched NFL games on TV. No mail until Thursday....
"We go back to work on Thursday in Maintenance! We're supposed to get a little snow on Friday -- hope we get a good one! [Junior Chandler's favorite job is driving the snow plow.]
"Tell all your family to have a Happy New Year 2024. I believe this is my time to go home. My granddaughter is expecting a boy this week! Wish I could be there, but maybe soon!"
Andrew Edward Chandler Jr.
NC DAC Avery-Mitchell Correctional
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2 months ago

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Todayโ€™s random selection from the Little Rascals Day Care archives….


Professor yet to decide about McMartin case

130628MyersJune 28, 2013

โ€œChildren can lie, but research shows that they do not fabricate detailed descriptions of adult sexual acts unless they have experienced or witnessed them. Studies also show that children have good memories and that even preschoolers can remember key events like sexual abuse. One problem is that repeatedly molested children have great difficulty distinguishing one act of abuse from another and linking abuse to specific dates….

โ€œIn the McMartin case, we learned… to minimize the use of leading questions during interviews…. While the verdict comes as a disappointment to the children in the case, their courage and willingness to testify for weeks on end has been a catalyst for change that will protect countless other children.โ€

โ€“ From Believe the Children adviserย Civia Tamarkin’sย interview withย John E. B. Myers, professor at McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific, inย โ€œThe McMartin Nightmareโ€ (People magazine, Feb. 5, 1990)

As his faculty bio notes, Professor Myers has long been โ€œone of the countryโ€™s foremost authorities on child abuse,โ€ especially in tracing its historical context, but he seems to have been excruciatingly slow to recognize the fraudulence ofย  โ€œsatanic ritual abuseโ€ claims. Although he stopped short of declaring the McMartins guilty, Myers clearly stationed himself in the โ€œchild saverโ€ camp, more sympathetic toward serial interviewer Kee MacFarlane than toward the defendants whose lives she devastated.

In aย journal articleย five years later, Myers would acknowledge โ€œgrowing skepticism regarding childrenโ€™s credibility,โ€ at the same time warning of a โ€œreal danger that the pendulum will swing too far in the direction of disbelief.โ€

More recently, Myers addressed McMartin in โ€œChild Protection in America: Past, Present, and Futureโ€ (2006), crediting it with raising the standard for interviewing, but concluding that โ€œIn the final analysis, we will never know what happened at the McMartin Preschool. From the outset, the case divided people into โ€˜true believersโ€™ and skeptics….โ€

In โ€œThe Backlash: Child Protection Under Fireโ€ (1994) Myers had added a most curious footnote: โ€œI have no opinion regarding the guilt or innocence of any of the McMartin defendants.โ€ How could he โ€“ a law professor! โ€“ acknowledge the corruption of the child-witnessesโ€™ testimony, yet doubt the defendants deserved a โ€œnot guiltyโ€ verdict?

Almost 20 years later, I wondered whether Myers might have formed an opinion.

His emailed response: โ€œNo idea about guilt or innocence.โ€

Sex-abuse journalism raises ‘strange question’

120625RabinowitzNov. 9, 2012

โ€œDid I recognize that child sex abuse existed and was a serious problem? reporters would ask. A strange question, that. The discussion of no other crime would require such a disclaimer. Journalists who have written about false murder charges are seldom asked to provide reassurance that they know murder is a bad thing, and it really happens.โ€

โ€“ From โ€œNo Crueler Tyrannies: Accusations, False Witnessย and Other Terrors of Our Timesโ€ by Dorothy Rabinowitzย  (2003)

News media newly skeptical about sex allegations?

141203HaywardDec. 3, 2014

โ€œI was in graduate school in Southern California 30 years ago when the McMartin Preschool scandal erupted, featuring tales of Satanic rituals, underground tunnels, group sex with animals and children, and various acrobatic acts that would challenge Cirque du Soleil, all believed credulously by the media and California prosecutors….

โ€œThere was something so literally incredible about (such) โ€˜Satanic ritual abuseโ€™ cults that serious doubts and questions should have been raised right at the outset.

โ€œSome hard questions are starting to be asked about the latest sequel to the Salem witch trials โ€“ the college campus โ€˜rape cultureโ€™ hysteria…. Theย Rolling Stone storyย about an especially brutal gang rape at the University of Virginia is provokingย considerable backlashโ€“ with a few critics suggesting the entire story might be a hoax ….

โ€œIt took years for the โ€˜Satanic child abuse crisisโ€™ to collapse, and several months for the Duke lacrosse scandal to turn around. What is interesting about the UVa story is how quickly it is facing credible challenge….โ€

โ€“ From โ€œThe Spirit of Salem Lives Onโ€ by Steven Haywardย at powerlineblog.com (Dec. 2)

Innocence, alas, does not guarantee exoneration

120611ExonJune 11, 2012

After discovering theย National Registry of Exonerations, I was happy to see that it lists Little Rascals defendantsย Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson, whose convictions were overturned on appeal.

But what about Betsy Kelly and Scott Privott, who both finally accepted plea deals while maintaining their innocence, and Robin Byrum, Darlene Harris and Shelley Stone, all of whom waited years for prosecutors to drop charges?

The registry, a joint project of the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University, speaks unequivocally about โ€œa wave of child sex abuse hysteria that swept the country….

โ€œStarting in the early 1980s, some prosecutors, therapists and child welfare workers became
convinced that child sex abuse on a massive scale was rampant in their communities. They
believed that most of the victims were too afraid or embarrassed to discuss the abuse, so they
worked to overcome this fear and reluctance by using highly suggestive, persistent and
unrelenting questioning techniques when interviewing the young children.

โ€œIt worked. Some of the children complied and accused parents, day-care workers and adult acquaintances of numerous horrifying and bizarre acts. This led to a series of extraordinary prosecutions, many involving allegations of satanic rituals.”

Unfortunately, this acknowledgment of the moral panic doesnโ€™t earn the remaining โ€œEdenton 5โ€ a listing in the registry. Here’s why, according to research assistant Ted Koehler:

โ€œFor a case to count as an exoneration for our purposes, a person convicted of a crime must be declared factually innocent by a government official or organization with authority to make such a declaration.

โ€œIf this has not happened, a person can still be exonerated if the person was relieved of all consequences of the criminal conviction by a government official with proper authority, through pardon, acquittal of the charges for which the person was originally convicted, or dismissal of those same charges. In such a case, the pardon, acquittal, dismissal or posthumous exoneration must have been the result, at least in part, of evidence of innocence that either (i) was not presented at the trial at which the person was convicted; or (ii) if the person pled guilty, was not known to the defendant or to the defense attorney and the court at the time the plea was entered.

โ€œThe Edenton case was a terrible witch hunt. Regretfully, though, because they do not meet the criteria above, Kellyโ€™s and Privottโ€™s guilty pleas and the dropped charges against Byrum, Stone, and Harris do not fit our definition of an exoneration, and are not listed on the registry for that reason.โ€

I understand the registryโ€™s need to set the bar so high. But what a curious twist that the defendantsโ€™ only hope for exoneration lies with the same state that so unjustly prosecuted them.