A jury in Morristown, N.J., has acquitted a psychologist of sexual abuse charges after hearing his 4-year-old daughter testify about an incident that allegedly occurred when she was 2 1/2.
The case had received national attention from fathers' rights groups, which saw it as a chilling misuse of the legal system by a bitter former spouse. The complaint by the child's mother, Valori Mulvey, 27, against her ex-husband, Lawrence Spiegel, 40, led to what legal experts said was the first time a child so young had been allowed to testify in such circumstances about such distant events.
Morris County assistant prosecutor Michael Rubbinaccio said his failure to win a conviction based on the girl's testimony indicates the difficulty in pressing charges against persons accused of molesting very young children.
Rubbinaccio cited the recent controversial dismissal of charges against five defendants in California's McMartin Pre-School case as further sign of a national legal quandary.
Spiegel, who said his clinical practice was severely damaged by the charges, said he was overjoyed at the verdict and planned to publish a book about his ordeal, "A Question of Innocence," on Father's Day.
Spiegel's attorney had objected to initial plans to allow bouncy, blue-eyed Jessica Spiegel to testify on her mother's lap to ease her fright. Appeals courts ruled that she could testify but the trial judge ruled out her mother's presence.
The girl instead testified via closed-circuit television with only Rubbinaccio, Spiegel's attorney and a camera operator present.
Alternately hugging and clinging to both lawyers, the girl told the prosecutor that her father had kissed her on the genitals and had "hurt me." She said her mother, whom Spiegel had accused of "programming" the child, had said Spiegel was "sick in the brain."
Spiegel said a family court judge will consider next week his request for temporary custody of his daughter. He has been denied normal contact with her for two years.