The first child to testify in pretrial hearings of the Virginia McMartin Pre-School molestation case had a morning chat with television's Mr. T today and then climbed into the witness stand to be cross-examined.
Dean Gits, attorney for 58-year-old Peggy McMartin Buckey, one of seven defendants, questioned the child, known as John Doe No. 7.
Gits' first question was whether the youth, now 7, had had fun when he attended the nursery school several years ago. The answer was an emphatic "No."
Gits used an easy tone when addressing the boy, leading him back over his first day of testimony Tuesday and through details of the routine at the Manhattan Beach school. Gits often asked many questions on a single issue, and the queries came in rapid succession.
The child testified that, on about four occasions during the period in 1981 when he claims to have been molested, teachers took him and about 16 classmates to strangers' houses. Asked by Gits what happened when they got there, the boy said, "We got touched . . . ."
The attorney was able to elicit one apparent contradiction with the child's earlier testimony. On Tuesday, the crew-cut blond youngster told the court that, in a game called "Cowboys and Indians," the teachers would "capture us and put us in the jail and touch us." Today, during questioning about that game, the youth told Gits that the children were not put in a "jail."
The remainder of the boy's testimony today seemed consistent with his earlier statements and was delivered in a steady voice. The child's mother and an investigator from the district attorney's office sat near him in court.
Reporters and spectators are not allowed in the courtroom but may view the proceedings via closed-circuit television in an adjacent room.
The youngster had been scheduled to begin his testimony last week but became ill with the flu. He did not appear to be fully recovered today, sometimes coughing or sniffling. He had the short attention span common to children, yawning after about 20 minutes on the stand, and occasionally lost track of the questioning. Municipal Court Judge Aviva K. Bobb called frequent recesses.
Now and again, when asked a question that seemed to strike him as silly, the boy giggled.
Gits asked several questions about a farm and a house that the boy said he had been taken to by McMartin teachers. At the farm, the boy told the court, he saw defendant Ray Buckey, 26, beat animals with a stick. On Tuesday the boy said the house seemed like "a circus" and a man there had dressed as an elephant.
Today, Gits asked the child if he had seen horses at the farm. "Yes." Chickens? "No." Rabbits? "No." Turtles? "No." Had he seen an elephant there? Big giggle, and then, "No."
Ray Buckey, facing 97 counts, is the main defendant in the 208-count case involving 41 children.
In other testimony, the boy said he had not told his parents about what happened at the school until, after the defendants' arrest, he was interviewed by a psychologist. He also said that each of the defendants -- Virginia McMartin, her daughter, two grandchildren and three other teachers at the now-closed school -- was nice to him "sometimes."
Prosecutors have contended that the children were intimidated into silence.
Before court began today, Mr. T, wearing battle fatigues and his trademark gold jewelry, talked to the witness for about 10 minutes. The actor, who appears in NBC's "The A-Team," then joined reporters to watch the courtroom proceedings on TV monitors.
Mr. T, who said he has met with about 15 children who attended the McMartin school, said it is "almost like a slow death" for a child who is molested. Asked about his chat with John Doe No. 7, Mr. T said: "I told him to tell the truth, don't be afraid. Mr. T is here."