Five of seven defendants in the McMartin Preschool molestation case will not be prosecuted because of insufficient evidence, District Attorney Ira Reiner said today.
The decision was criticized by many parents of children allegedly abused at the school in suburban Manhattan Beach.
Only Raymond Buckey, 27, and his mother, Peggy McMartin Buckey, 58, who faced more charges than any of their alleged co-conspirators, are to stand trial. The two have been jailed for almost two years.
"Based upon our review of evidence at the preliminary hearing and all other available evidence . . . there is insufficient evidence to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for the others," said Schuyler Sprowles, a spokesman for Reiner.
Charges were dropped against the school's founder, Virginia McMartin, 78, and her granddaughter, Peggy Ann Buckey, 29. Also dismissed from the case were former teachers Mary Ann Jackson, 57; Betty Raidor, 65, and Babette Spitler, 36. The two who remain accused are the founder's daughter and grandson.
The seven defendants originally were charged with more than 300 counts of rape, sodomy and other abuse involving 41 children from ages 2 to 8. Last week, at the close of a 17-month preliminary hearing that cost Los Angeles County $4 million, the defendants had been ordered to trial on a total of 135 counts of conspiracy and child molestation, based on testimony by 14 of the children.
Despite today's dismissals, lead prosecutor Lael Rubin told United Press International that she still believes that hundreds of children were molested at the school.
One parent whose child was allegedly molested there said, "Reasonable doubt should be something for a jury to decide, not the D.A." Deputy District Attorney Roger Gunson countered, "It is up to a jury once we have decided there is sufficient evidence for charges to be proved at trial."
Arvin Collins, who said two of his children were molested at the school, told Associated Press he would not involve himself in "vigilante-type activity" but that, judging from talk, "I wouldn't want to be one of those defendants walking the street."
Raymond Buckey remains charged with one count of conspiracy, 67 of lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14 years of age and 12 of lewd and lascivious acts by force on a child under 14. Peggy McMartin Buckey faces one count of conspiracy and 20 of lewd and lascivious acts against a child under 14, two of those committed by force.
On Thursday, with rumors circulating that charges would be dropped against some defendants, parents of some former McMartin pupils gathered at the now-shuttered school and said they may ask the state attorney general to intervene. Assistant Attorney General Ted Fogel said that he has not received any such requests and that "it would be premature for us to guess what we will do."
Parent Diane Carter said, "The case is not complete without all seven. This occurred over a period of many years, and we believe it was a conspiracy and a ritualized abuse. To cut some of the defendants away is to suggest the case is less important."
Another parent said dropping some of the defendants suggests that the alleged molestations were "isolated incidents" and not, as many parents have said, "the day-to-day business at that school."
Reiner, who today met with parents of McMartin students, told reporters he disagrees with therapists' assessments that hundreds of children had been molested.
One McMartin parent, who asked not to be named, said, "The community is incensed. The feeling is that the children have been slapped in the face. How do you explain it to them?"