LOS ANGELES, JULY 2 -- Nearly seven years after the beginning of the nation's longest and costliest criminal case, prosecutors asked a jury today to put aside the tortured legal history of the McMartin Pre-School and find former teacher Raymond Buckey guilty of eight counts of molestation.
"I think it is quite possible that there are some people in this case who were wrongfully accused," said assistant Los Angeles County district attorney Pamela Ferrero, acknowledging the failure to prove charges against six other McMartin teachers. "They have perhaps been wronged by the system, but that does not justify another wrong."
Today's final arguments in Buckey's second trial returned often to the distant past, with defense attorney Danny Davis suggesting that alleged molestation of one child was beyond the statute of limitations and should be dropped from the case.
Davis showed the jury an enlarged copy of a September 1983 letter to McMartin parents from police investigators that he said so tainted Buckey's reputation "that the truth never had a chance" even before anyone was indicted.
Attorneys, reporters, parents and onlookers who have followed the case as it tore through dozens of lives and absorbed $13.2 million in public funds said they were surprised to see the second trial end after only three months.
The first trial of Buckey and his mother, former teacher Peggy McMartin Buckey, took 33 months. It ended with Buckey acquitted on 40 of 53 charges and his mother declared not guilty on all counts.
The first jury could not agree on 13 counts against Buckey, leading prosecutors to retry him on eight, but both sides appeared exhausted by the case and the second trial moved quickly. Two new prosecutors presented charges to a new jury and new judge involving only three children, compared with 11 in the first trial. The number of witnesses dropped from 124 to 40.
The first jury told attorneys and reporters it was disturbed by leading questions asked of children by counselors at the Children's Institute International. Counselors asked children about "yucky games" they said other children had revealed.
Davis repeatedly emphasized today the chance that the "puppet ladies," as the counselors were called, inadvertently induced the children to make up stories of molestation and act them out with dolls as evidence for police. Prosecutors dropped charges against five McMartin teachers for insufficient evidence before the first trial, but Buckey was in jail for five years before he could make bail.
Davis said parents who feared that their children were molested were told that funds were available to pay for counseling if they filed criminal complaints against Buckey and other McMartin teachers. "At the point your child has finished with the puppet ladies," Davis said, "you've bought into a system that has your heart and your destiny by the throat."
Ferrero argued strenuously that circumstantial evidence had weight when buttressed by testimony from the three remaining alleged victims, all girls. Medical examinations found scarring of vaginal and anal passages, unusual in most molestation cases, and parents testified that children had become terrified of attending school when Buckey was there.
Children gave similar accounts of what they called the "naked movie star" game, in which Buckey allegedly persuaded them to disrobe and be photographed. Police searches failed to uncover any of the alleged photos, and Davis today ridiculed prosecution efforts to use photos of clothed children taken by Buckey as evidence of a deviant sexual interest.
Ferrero acknowledged that counselors had to coax children to talk but urged jurors to watch videotapes of the counseling sessions to see how children with no coaching or apparent sexual experience used dolls to show what happened.
"She was 4 1/2 years old," Ferrero said of one child shown in a tape. "You watch her putting those dolls together, and you ask yourself, where do those come from?"
It is possible, Davis replied, "that little children will believe something that may not have happened. My final argument is to make this the final McMartin case."
Jury deliberations are not scheduled to begin until next Monday.