How hysterical parents, incompetent therapists and malicious prosecutors destroyed the lives of
seven innocent North Carolinians – and have yet to admit they were wrong

“And When Did You Last See Your Father?” by William Frederick Yeames, 1878, depicting English Puritan inquisitors grilling the child of a Royalist family

“And When Did You Last See Your Father?” by William Frederick Yeames, 1878, depicting English Puritan inquisitors grilling the child of a Royalist family


Will a court pay attention?

April 13, 2021

If I had harbored even an iota of doubt about Junior Chandler’s innocence, it would’ve been vaporized by the podcast episode below.

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?


Today’s random selection from the Little Rascals Day Care archives….


A mother to fear at your day-care door

June 6, 2012

“The Kellys decided to buy the day care center after a previous owner quit following a dispute with a mother (who) was upset that her son didn’t get cake at a party because he wouldn’t wear a bib, Mrs. Kelly said (in testimony at Bob Kelly’s trial).

– The Associated Press, Feb. 11, 1992

What a coincidence – Jane Mabry, the disgruntled mother who ran off the first day-care owner, is the very same disgruntled mother who shut down the Kellys!

Prosecutors learned wrong lesson from McMartin

March 28, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Postcard from the bumpy path to exoneration

120903Montgomery-BlinnSept. 3, 2012

Since its creation by the General Assembly in 2006, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission has considered more than 1,100 innocence claims, three of which resulted in exonerations.  This is from a letter I wrote the Innocence Inquiry Commission requesting that it take up the case of the Edenton Seven:

“I am fully aware that my request falls outside the letter of your mandate. It is of such importance, however, that I believe consideration by the Commission would be both just and appropriate.”

And this is from the response I received from Kendra Montgomery-Blinn, executive director:

“By law the Commission is only permitted to consider claims arising from current convictions. We cannot consider cases in which the conviction was vacated, even if the claimants were not fully exonerated.

“I am familiar with the (Little Rascals) case as I studied it both in college and in law school. In fact, I cited the case in the brief for a 2007 Commission hearing….

“I am sorry that the Commission cannot be of further assistance. The only other option I am aware of is a Gubernatorial pardon. The surviving defendants from the Wilmington 10 case have recently applied for pardons.

“Thank you for contacting the Commission and for continuing to bring attention to this important case and the subject of wrongful convictions. I am proud that North Carolina is first in the nation to have a state-run innocence commission.”

Another door to exoneration is closed, however sympathetically. Others remain.

Footnote: The hearing Ms. Montgomery-Blinn mentions grew out of a 2001 case in Pitt County. Henry Reeves had been convicted of taking indecent liberties with his 6-year-old daughter, Marquita. This passage in the Innocence Commission’s investigative statement caught my eye:

“Barbara Hardy (the child’s mother and the defendant’s wife) stated that when Marquita came out of her sessions with Dr. (Betty) Robertson, Marquita would have gum or little presents, and Marquita would state ‘Look what she gave me for getting the questions right.’

“Mrs. Hardy said that she tried to tell Dr. Robertson that Marquita was a people pleaser  and may say things just to be rewarded, but Dr. Robertson said, ‘I believe it happened, and it’s going to court.’

“It is important to note that Dr. Robertson…. provided therapy and evaluations to 23 of the children in (the Little Rascals) case….”

Still rewarding possibly-abused children for “getting the questions right”?  Did Betty Robertson learn nothing from the 23 false positives she reported in Edenton?

Lack of DNA evidence opens way for injustice

150418McAlisterApril 18, 2015

“DNA testing has been used 329 times now to prove the innocence of people wrongly convicted of a crime. But what happens when there is no DNA evidence to prove someone’s innocence? What happens when there is only his word, and the mounded doubts of the team that prosecuted and convicted him? And what happens when – despite growing certainty that it has imprisoned the wrong man for more than 20 years – the Commonwealth of Virginia stands poised to keep him locked up, possibly forever?

“Of all the maddening stories of wrongful convictions, Michael McAlister’s may be one of the worst. For starters, he has been in prison for 29 years for an attempted rape he almost certainly did not commit….”

 – From “This Man Deserves a Pardon” by Dahlia Lithwick at Slate (April 13)

Michael McAlister’s story surely qualifies as “one of the worst,” but forgive me if I think Junior Chandler – coincidentally now serving his 29th year of imprisonment – has suffered every bit as much injustice.  And in McAlister’s case at least a crime was actually committed, just not by him.

McCrory tires of Sherlock Holmes impersonation

160604McCollumJune 4, 2015

“Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday pardoned two half-brothers who were exonerated of murder after spending three decades in prison.

“The governor took nine months to make the decision….”

– From “Governor pardons McCollum, Brown” by Craig Jarvis in the Raleigh News & Observer  (June 4)

Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, both intellectually disabled and now destitute, had been declared innocent last year by a Superior Court judge. But that exoneration, based on DNA evidence from the crime scene, wasn’t good enough for the governor, and even now the statement accompanying his pardon of innocence is lukewarm at best:

“It is difficult for anyone to know for certain what happened the night of Sabrina Buie’s murder…. I know there are differing opinions about this case and who is responsible….”

McCollum and Brown now qualify for $50,000 for each year they were imprisoned, up to a maximum of $750,000 – unless McCrory decides that process demands further investigation as well.

Read more here.

MPD renamed DID – but it’s still bunk

May 31, 2013

“After the DSM-III, often called the ‘Bible’ of psychiatric diagnosis, included (Multiple Personality Disorder) in 1980, thousands of spurious cases emerged in the next two decades, and special psychiatric clinics arose to treat them. Yet faced with evidence of this disastrous epidemic, the DSM-IV did not delete the diagnosis. Instead, the manual renamed it Dissociative Identity Disorder.

“ ‘MPD presented a dilemma for me,’ says (psychiatrist Allen Frances, who oversaw DSM-IV). ‘We took scrupulous pains to present both sides of the controversy as fairly and effectively as possible – even though I believed one side was complete bunk.’ How do you ‘fairly’ argue for a diagnosis you think is complete bunk? Where’s the methodological rigor? Why did it take malpractice suits to close the psychiatric MPD clinics and not the presumed voice of scientific authority, the DSM? Dissociative Identity Disorder remains in the DSM-5.”

– From “How Psychiatry Went Crazy” by Carol Tavris in the Wall Street Journal (May 17, 2013)

“Another disturbing by-product of the MPD diagnosis is the prevalence of alleged repressed memories of satanic ritual abuse. The association of satanic ritual abuse in MPD diagnoses has been attributed to the belief by numerous MPD adherents in the existence of an intergenerational satanic cult conspiracy that has murdered thousands without leaving a trace of evidence.”

– From “Repressed Memory, Multiple Personality Disorder and Satanic Ritual Abuse,” an amicus brief filed in Supreme Court of Georgia, Kahout v. Charter Peachford Behavioral Health System (September 1998)

Holocaust child-survivors needed no coaxing

120622SiegelJune 22, 2012

“Teen-age Holocaust victims had no trouble looking their abusers straight in the face and saying, ‘You did this to me, you monster.’ None of them, when they were younger, had to have any of their memories elicited. Nor were there embellishments of clowns throwing fire around the room.

“The author of a book on Holocaust survivors, ‘New Lives,’ had this to say: ‘I interviewed hundreds of Holocaust survivors. Would that they could forget anything. At age 4, at age 5 they remembered everything on the SS officers’ uniforms.’ ”

“The author is the Wall Street Journal’s Dorothy Rabinowitz, the first journalist to provide the same in-depth reportage about Fells Acres that ‘Frontline’ provided about Little Rascals and Abby Mann did for the McMartin trial in an HBO movie.”

– From “Abusing Justice, in the Name of Children” by Ed Siegel in the Boston Globe (September 8, 1995)

Anxieties about children still make us crazy

Aug. 16, 2013

“Ritual abuse may now seem an almost quaint aberration, a temporary fad that seized the popular imagination, as outdated as hula-hoops or disco fever. But our anxieties about children continue to affect our judgment. When a meta-analysis of research published in Psychological Bulletin (1998) suggested that not all children under the age of 18 were traumatized by having sexual experiences before adulthood, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the association. Not surprisingly, the popular outcry that led to the Congressional resolution was sparked by talk show celebrity Laura Schlessinger.

“More recently, a book that explored whether overzealous response to fears about children and sexuality are harmful to the youth we seek to protect was published by the University of Minnesota press after trade publishers deemed it too controversial for their lists; Tim Pawlenty, then a state legislator, but who was elected governor of Minnesota in 2002, quickly moved to condemn the publication and the University for publishing it.”

– From “The Devil in the Details: Media Representation of ‘Ritual Abuse’ and Evaluation of Sources” by Barbara Fister in Studies in Media & Information Literacy Education (May 2003)

Unaccountable prosecutors: A familiar story

May 15, 2013

“As one of the lead prosecutors, (Elizabeth Lederer) helped lock up five young people (the Central Park Five) based on false confessions, no DNA evidence and media hysteria, for a collective 30 years….

“Lederer never apologized. Today, she still serves as an assistant district attorney and teaches at Columbia Law School, one of the most prestigious institutions in the country. While those wrongfully convicted lost years of their lives, her efforts to imprison them had no negative consequences for her…. People like Lederer whose failures cost livelihoods should be held accountable for their actions….

“Defending Lederer’s role in the case as an aggressive lead prosecutor, (New York Times columnist Jim) Dwyer dismissed that as: ‘Mistakes were made.’ That’s the standard public relations line used when trying to deflect blame. But what kinds of mistakes? What were their effects?”

– From “For Central Park Five, wrongful conviction meets false equivalence” by Raymond Santana and Frank Chi at (May 3)

You know where I’m going with this: the Edenton Seven were locked up for some 15 years, and the “aggressive lead prosecutor” in their case remains ensconced on the state payroll, still unrepentant – and always available to share her expertise on “how to defend the forensic interview in the courtroom.”

Perhaps, however, the notoriety she achieved as Little Rascals prosecutor helps explain why she hasn’t risen to district attorney or to district court judge.

Even if so, of course, that consequence wouldn’t begin to atone for the horrors she inflicted over a nonexistent crime.

McMartin: Patient Zero in day-care abuse contagion?

111019Tavris2March 26, 2012

How did the moral panic over day-care ritual abuse spread so widely? Did some undetected psychotropic waft from Manhattan Beach to Edenton to Christchurch, New Zealand?

I was reminded of that lingering question while reading the smart and lively “Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts” (2007).

Although Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson address the day-care panic only briefly, their reference to the McMartin case having produced “copycat accusations against day care teachers across the country” caught my attention. Yes, the timing, pattern and similarity of these cases suggest conscious imitation, but I haven’t seen the evidence.

“We didn’t mean ‘copycat’ literally,” Tavris explains in an e-mail. “It’s just that the McMartin hysteria scared people, and got them worried about their own local day care centers, and motivated DAs and cops to advance their careers by finding these villains… and thereby launched a thousand other efforts to find molesters under the bed and in the day care classrooms…. That’s what a hysterical epidemic means.”

Coincidentally, I’ve been corresponding with Michael Hill, professor of sociology at Victoria University of Wellington, who has traced outbreaks in New Zealand and Australia directly to visits from such American Appleseeds as Roland Summit and Kee MacFarlane.

For Little Rascals DA, mum was always the word

March 29, 2013

“ELIZABETH CITY – Attorneys for the seven defendants in the Edenton child abuse case want to know what techniques were used to elicit accusations from the children…. Prosecutors don’t want to tell them….

“(District Attorney H.P.) Williams would not address a reporter’s questions about how the Edenton investigation was conducted….

“Mr. Williams declined to say how the Edenton investigation grew from complaints by three families to its current size. He declined to say how they communicated with parents or whether a letter was sent out.

“He would not discuss who had interviewed the children or what interview techniques had been used….”

– From “Prosecutors won’t discuss techniques” in the Raleigh News & Observer (Feb. 25, 1990)

Two decades later Williams, though no longer district attorney, was still “not in a position to talk about it.”

Coincidentally – or not – the Little Rascals story shared Page 2C with one noting that “Social workers are trying to determine why reported cases of child abuse and neglect in North Carolina jumped 27 percent in 1989, while cases nationally are expected to rise only 3 percent or 4 percent….”

A consultant with the state Division of Social Services observed that “Any time you get a radical increase in the number of complaints, you’re probably getting a number of complaints of questionable validity…..Folks who make those reports need to use some common sense.”

Will Edenton, too, ever be ‘honest about what took place’?

“Witch Hill: The Salem Martyr,” oil on canvas, by Thomas Satterwhite Noble, painted in 1869. Notes from the gallery label: “The young woman who posed as the condemned witch was a librarian in the Cincinnati library, and was a lineal descendant of a woman who was actually hanged as a witch in 17th century Salem. Painted in Cincinnati.”

“Witch Hill: The Salem Martyr,” oil on canvas, by Thomas Satterwhite Noble, painted in 1869. Notes from the gallery label: “The young woman who posed as the condemned witch was a librarian in the Cincinnati library, and was a lineal descendant of a woman who was actually hanged as a witch in 17th century Salem. Painted in Cincinnati.”

Jan. 14, 2016

“Researchers announced this week they have confirmed the plot (in Salem, Mass.) where 19 people accused of witchcraft were hanged in a wave of hysteria that swept this seaside city in 1692.

“Salem plans to mark the ignominious spot, Mayor Kimberley Driscoll said: ‘This is part of our history, and this is an opportunity for us to be honest about what took place.’

“Neither of two previous plans for a memorial there (in 1892 and 1936) went anywhere. Emerson ‘Tad’ Baker, a Salem State University professor who helped pinpoint the location, said the desire by some to forget the witch trials was probably to blame.

– From “Researchers pinpoint site of Salem witch hangings” by Laura Crimaldi in the Boston Globe (Jan. 13)

In Edenton, the “desire by some to forget” still dominates, but should it ever weaken…..


Disapproval of prosecutors ‘about to hit a tipping point’

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams

May 31, 2016

“A consensus is building around the need to seriously rethink the role of the prosecutor in the administration of justice. Power dynamics are unbalanced, sentencing guidelines are outdated, and old-fashioned human biases persist. And prosecutors – singularly independent agents in a justice system roiling in turmoil – have been facing growing criticism and public distrust for some time, and that disapproval is about to hit a tipping point.

“It’s time to curtail the power long held by these officers of the court as they promote justice, ensure fairness, and enhance public safety.”

– From “Are Prosecutors the Key to Justice Reform?” by Juleyka Lantigua-Williams in the Atlantic (May 18)

Is the North Carolina Bar ready to take the first step toward holding prosecutors accountable?


Prosecutors have upper hand in plea bargains

May 9, 2012

“A Question of Innocence: A True Story of False Accusation” by Lawrence D. Spiegel was published in 1986, but this passage – lamenting plea-bargains by those falsely accused of assaulting children – applies exactly to Little Rascals:

“The innocent often fall prey to the waiting hands of the prosecutor and plead guilty to a lesser charge, just to put an end to the ordeal and to the separation from a child.

“Prosecutors, as a result of over-zealousness to protect the child, blind ambition to further a career or a number of other reasons, will do ‘strange’ things for a conviction. It is always to the prosecutor’s benefit to get a guilty plea, even to a lesser charge. Sometimes the prosecutor will wait until the accused is emotionally and financially drained, then the plea bargain offer is made….

“Some falsely accused are so battered and beaten, they accept the humiliation and anger and take the deal. Often this occurs with the consent of the victim’s attorney…. The stigma of the bargain will remain forever.”

‘So, Paula, do YOU think I should pardon them?’

150429McCroryApril 29, 2015

“Wednesday marks the 230th day that Governor Pat McCrory has refused to grant a pardon of innocence to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, the two Robeson County men who both spent 31 years in prison for a rape and murder they did not commit.

“The two men, both mentally disabled and struggling to pay their bills, need the pardon from McCrory to be eligible for financial compensation from the state for the years they were wrongly incarcerated. McCrory received the petition September 11 of last year.

“McCrory has been busy of course, most recently taking an unannounced trip to Los Angeles where he appeared on a panel at conference (and hobnobbed) with Paula Abdul and other celebrities at an event called the Global Gourmet Games….

“Meanwhile Henry McCollum and Leon Brown are still waiting for justice from McCrory and still struggling to pay their water bill….”

– From “Day 230 of Gov. McCrory denying justice to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown” by Chris Fitzsimon at the Progressive Pulse (April 19)

It’s not just Junior Chandler and the Edenton Seven who suffer from the indifference of elected officials who hold the power to at last do right by them.

To withhold compensation from the hapless McCollum and Brown seems especially heartless. If McCrory has an explanation for his nearly eight months of foot-dragging, he’s not revealing it – unless maybe he spilled to his tablemates at the Global Gourmet Games….