Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Who Was Abused? The victims of false abuse charges and claims of satanic rings

It is important to keep in mind that just as there is the horror of child abuse - there is also the horror of false accusations. The following article describes some of the victims of crusading prosecutors and child protective services who manipulated children into giving false testimony and destroying their own parents. Despite the fact that most of these witch hunt convictions were overturned - sometimes after the innocent spent decades in jail - the people responsible for these serious miscarriages of justice are unrepentant and are still convinced that they were right. Caring for children and being horrified by child abuse - does not justify the wrong that is done to get a conviction of anyone who is accused of child abuse.

For a more realistic appreciation of the horrors of having your own children taken away and pressured into giving false testimony that resulted in sentences of over 200 years for each of the parents - there a movie depicting an actual case "Just ask my children". The innocent parents remained in jail for 12 years while their children were in 16 different foster homes - until their sentence was overturned.

NY Times  by
There are several ways to view the small white house on Center Street in Bakersfield, Calif. From one perspective it's just another low-slung home in a working-class neighborhood, with a front yard, brown carpeting, a TV in the living room. Now consider it from the standpoint of the Kern County district attorney's office: 20 years ago, this was a crime scene of depraved proportions. According to investigators, in the living room with brown carpeting and a TV, boys between the ages of 6 and 8 were made to pose for pornographic photos. On a water bed in the back bedroom, the boys were sodomized by three men, while a mother had sex with her own son.

But look at the house once again -- this time, through Ed Sampley's eyes. Twenty years ago he was one of the boys molested in the house where sex abuse was part of the weekend fabric. That's what he told Kern County investigators. That's what he told a judge, a jury and a courtroom of lawyers. The testimony of Sampley and five other boys was the prosecution's key evidence in a trial in which four defendants were convicted, with John Stoll, a 41-year-old carpenter, receiving the longest sentence of the group: 40 years for 17 counts of lewd and lascivious conduct.

Now for the first time in 20 years, Sampley is back in the driveway of that small white house. "It never happened," he tells me. He lied about Stoll, an easygoing divorced father who always insisted the neighborhood kids call him John rather than Mr. Stoll and let them run in and out of his house in their bathing suits, eat popcorn on the living-room floor and watch "fright night" videos.

Last January, Sampley and three other former accusers returned to the courthouse where they had testified against Stoll. This time they came to say Stoll never molested them. They are in their late 20's now. They have jobs in construction, car repair, sales. A couple of them have children about the same age as they were when they testified. Although most of the boys drifted apart after the trial, their life stories echo with similarities. Each of them said he always knew the truth -- that Stoll had never touched them. Each said that he felt pressured by the investigators to describe sex acts. A fifth accuser isn't sure what happened all those years ago but has no memory of being molested. During the court hearing to release Stoll, only his son Jed remained adamant that his father had molested him, though he couldn't remember details of the abuse: "I've been through many years of therapy to try to get over that," he told the court.

Maggie Bruck, co-author of "Jeopardy in the Courtroom: A Scientific Analysis of Children's Testimony" and a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, says no long-term psychological studies exist that track groups of children involved in alleged sex-abuse rings, in part because of confidentiality issues. But Bruck has studied follow-up interviews of children involved in cases similar to the notorious McMartin preschool trial. Some kids continue to believe they were abused. Bruck suspects it's because their families or therapists have reinforced the stories of abuse. "The children say they don't remember the salient, allegedly terrifying details," she told me. "But they are sure it happened."[...]

"They told me that John Stoll was a bad man and I needed to help put him in prison so he wouldn't hurt any more children," Sampley says. "They said everything would be O.K. if I just told them something had happened." And at some point -- Sampley doesn't remember when or exactly why -- he changed his story. He told them yes, Stoll had done something very bad to him. And Stoll had done worse things to other boys.

By then, the investigators were convinced they were on the trail of another sex ring. Kern County prosecuted the first major child-sex ring in the United States in 1982, and within two years the investigations of Stoll and the McMartin teachers in Manhattan Beach, Calif., were under way. The hysteria began creeping across the country, to Maplewood, N.J. (Wee Care Day Nursery), to Malden, Mass. (Fells Acres), and to Great Neck, Long Island, where the documentary "Capturing the Friedmans" takes place.[...]

Prosecutions of child sex-rings later led to dozens of studies about interviewing techniques, many of which suggested that with a little coaxing, children tell adults what they think the grown-ups want to hear -- especially if it means they will go home sooner or be rewarded for providing information. Several years ago two Chicago boys, 7 and 8, were accused (and later exonerated) of killing 11-year-old Ryan Harris. In part, the boys were enticed by a McDonald's Happy Meal to confess.

James Wood, a psychologist at the University of Texas at El Paso who studies interview techniques used with children, says investigators should use nonsuggestive prompts to help kids to narrate their own stories. "They shouldn't tell children they have information from other witnesses," he says. Or praise them when they provide information. Or express disapproval when they don't. Murillo, who retired from the D.A.'s office a couple of years ago, won't talk about her investigations in detail, but she did say: "We never pressured the children. Those boys were telling the truth when they first testified."[...]

Bakersfield isn't a town that welcomes challenges to law enforcement. Though it's just two hours north of Los Angeles, the city feels more like Texas than California, surrounded by miles of oil and agriculture fields. Many residents are proud of the small-town conservative flavor. On its Web site, the Kern County D.A. office highlights having "the highest per-capita prison-commitment rate of any major California county," and the longtime district attorney, Ed Jagels, a subject of the book "Mean Justice," by Edward Humes, is considered one of the toughest prosecutors in the state. (Jagels declined comment for this article.) "You have to understand the power of Ed Jagels," says Michael Snedeker, an attorney who helped overturn 18 convictions of Bakersfield defendants in sex-ring cases and co-author of "Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt" with the journalist Debbie Nathan. "He is more important than the mayor in that city. He's more feared than J. Edgar Hoover on his best day."

In three years during the 1980's, Jagels and his predecessor prosecuted eight sex rings involving 46 defendants. Consider the example of Scott Kniffen, who agreed to be a character witness for his friends Alvin and Deborah McCuan, accused of molesting their own children. Within weeks, Kniffen and his wife, Brenda, were under arrest for supposed involvement in the same sex ring. They were subsequently convicted. (Their convictions were reversed 12 years later). Or consider Jeffrey Modahl. He was a single dad of two daughters who suspected two relatives had molested his girls. After Modahl asked Velda Murillo for help, Murillo's suspicions turned to him. He was sentenced to 48 years in prison for running a family sex ring that included tying his preadolescent daughters to hooks in a bedroom. (No evidence of hooks was ever found.) "Velda said, 'Tell us what happened and you'll go home,"' remembers Carla Jo Modahl, who was 9 when she testified against her father and subsequently tried to commit suicide several times after his conviction. "I didn't understand what would happen. I didn't realize it until everyone was in prison." Carla was scared that if she recanted her testimony, she, too, would be imprisoned. Still, when she was 12, she told a judge she'd lied on the witness stand. The judge didn't believe her, and her father remained in prison for a dozen more years -- until his conviction was finally reversed.[...]

The convictions of most other defendants in Kern County molestation rings were overturned -- including Margie Grafton's and Tim Palomo's -- as appellate judges issued often harsh rebukes of the county's overzealous prosecutions [...]

Certainly prosecutors aren't chasing phantom sex rings as they once did, and investigators are more educated about proper interview techniques, but some of the investigative tactics and the mind-set from that era still linger. In England and Israel, sex-abuse investigators routinely videotape their interviews. In the United States, only a minority of prosecutors and investigators are required to do so, and the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, an organization of child-protection workers, has never officially supported recording interviews. Some members have claimed it confuses juries.

"It's shameful -- they should have taken a stance on it a long time ago," says Wood, the University of Texas psychologist and an Apsac member. "If you want to know what really happened, without an audiotape of the interview it's like trying to diagnose lung cancer without an X-ray." If Murillo and Ericsson had recorded the interviews, life might have turned out differently for Stoll and his co-defendants, as well as for his accusers. The McMartin trial ended without convictions after the jury saw videotapes of therapists' suggestive questioning of kids.

Still, discredited child-sex rings like McMartin actually may not be a bogeyman of the past. Some parents, therapists and child-protection professionals continue to believe ritual sex abuse took place at McMartin preschool. "In 10 to 15 years, there will be an attempt to rehabilitate the ritual abuse scare," Wood says. "You can bet on it." [..]

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