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McMartin Preschool Trials: 1987-90

Mother Calls In The Police, Parents Demand Action, Rewarded For "right" Answers, Paranoid Schizophrenic

Defendants: First trial: Raymond Buckey and Peggy Buckey; second trial: Raymond Buckey
Crimes Charged: Child abuse and conspiracy
Chief Defense Lawyers: Raymond Buckey: Daniel G. Davis; Peggy Buckey: Dean R. Gits
Chief Prosecutors: First trial: Roger Gunson, Ira Reiner, and Lael Rubin; second trial: Joseph Martinez
Judges: First trial: William R. Pounders; second trial: Stanley M. Weisberg
Place: Los Angeles, California
Dates of Trials: First trial: July 13, 1987-January 18, 1990; second trial: May 7-July 27, 1990
Verdicts: First trial: Ray Buckey: Acquittal on 39 of 52, hung jury on 13 counts including conspiracy; Peggy Buckey: Acquittal; second trial: Ray Buckey: Hung jury

SIGNIFICANCE: The longest and most expensive criminal trial in U.S. history, the McMartin preschool trials lasted six years from preliminary hearings to acquittal and cost the state of California some $15 million. The case disrupted and adversely affected the lives of hundreds of children, who became convinced they were abused during bizarre rituals. The number of copy-cat prosecutions it engendered cannot be measured, but countless subsequent accusations of sexual and sadistic abuse of children became stereotypical as gullible adults made unfounded hysterical charges. The result has been distrust of the testimony of preadolescent witnesses whose memories of preschool years have been stirred, if not steered, by determined adults.

In 1983, the McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, California, was a longestablished school where toddler applicants often waited six months to get in. It was co-owned by its 76-year-old founder, Virginia McMartin, and her daughter, Peggy Buckey.

On the morning of May 12, 1983, McMartin teachers discovered an unknown two-and-a-half-year-old boy at the door. They found him "pre-verbal" and cared for him, assuming that a parent would pick him up later.

In the school yard was a menagerie of brightly painted wooden animals, including rocking horses, a dinosaur, octopus, camel, giraffe, and ducks big enough to sit on. One of the children's favorite activities was crawling through wooden boxes that zigzagged for 18 feet as aboveground "tunnels."

The boy's mother, 40-year-old Judy Johnson, came for him in the afternoon. She told Peggy Buckey she had no money as she had separated from her husband two months earlier. Mrs. Buckey enrolled the new student.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988