Now on HBO – Indictment: The McMartin Trial (1995)

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Photo Credit: HBO – Indictment: The McMartin Trial

The longest and most expensive trial in American history ended without a single conviction! The state of California spent seven years and 15 million dollars to prosecute the McMartin child-abuse case–a case that ended in deadlocked juries, a mistrial and outright acquittals. What’s wrong with a criminal justice system that lets that happen? James Woods stars.

Editor’s Note: Indictment with James Woods is now playing on HBO. If you have not heard of the McMartin Preschool trial or have faint memories of it, this Wikipedia article gives an excellent account of it.

We are posting this with a warning that some protective parents might be triggered by the graphic and horrible allegations in this movie. If that might be the case, we recommend they discuss it with their therapist before watching it.

Here are some general conclusions from the McMartin Preschool Case:

  • The case was part of day-care sex-abuse hysteria, a moral panic over alleged Satanic ritual abuse in the 1980s and early 1990s. (Wikipedia)
  • The media coverage was generally skewed towards an uncritical acceptance of the prosecution’s viewpoint.[5] David Shaw of the Los Angeles Times wrote a series of articles, which later won the Pulitzer Prize, discussing the flawed and skewed coverage presented by his own paper on the trial.[32] It was only after the trial that coverage of the flaws in the evidence and events presented by witnesses and the prosecution were discussed.[5] Wayne Satz, at the time a reporter for the Los Angeles ABC affiliate television station KABC, reported on the case and the children’s allegations. He presented an unchallenged view of the children’s and parents’ claims.[33] Satz later entered into a romantic relationship with Kee MacFarlane, the social worker at the Children’s Institute International, who was interviewing the children.[33] Another instance of media conflict of interest occurred when David Rosenzweig, the editor at the Los Angeles Times overseeing the coverage, became engaged to marry Lael Rubin, the prosecutor.[2] (Wikipedia)
  • The Children were interviewed by Kee MacFarlane used interviewing techniques and anatomical dolls that extremely suggestive, leading to false allegations. These techniques are no longer used. Kee MacFarlane had no professional licensing credentials other than a social work degree. She previously worked as a lobbyist for the National Organization for Women. (Wikipedia)
  • The case started in the 1983 when a California woman named Judy Johnson took her 3 year old son to the hospital. She believed her child was abused her child was abused. Johnson later received the diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.

Finally, this case occurred when the child abuse system in America was still in its beginning stages with the passage of the Mondale Act in 1974. There were so many professionals and lawyers that were competing for professional reputations, government grants and leadership in this field. Since that time, although not perfect that system has significantly improved.


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