Three years ago, the nation's most infamous child-molestation case erupted in the Los Angeles suburb of Manhattan Beach. Seven teachers and administrators at the prestigious McMartin Preschool would eventually be indicted on hundreds of counts of child sexual abuse. There were tales of drugs, bondage and the mutilation of animals.
As bizarre as the stories seemed, another chilling possibility was yet to be raised: that none of it had happened at all. In January, after an 18-month preliminary hearing that was the longest in California history, a judge ruled that the prosecution of the seven could go forward. But a week later District Attorney Ira Reiner dropped all charges against five of the defendants, calling the evidence against them "incredibly weak." The two remaining accused, Raymond Buckey, 28, and his mother, Peggy McMartin Buckey, 60, were to be tried last month. Now their day in court has been postponed and the case against them thrown into turmoil by the only element the tale seemed to lack, a touch of Hollywood.
In September Screenwriter-Producer Abby Mann (Judgment at Nuremberg, The Atlanta Child Murders) handed to the defense 30 hours of taped conversations involving himself, his wife Myra, and Glenn Stevens, a former member of the prosecution team who is working with the Manns on a book and a film about the case. Based on those tapes, the defense now asserts that the prosecution acted improperly by withholding important evidence, among other things. Lawyers for the Buckeys are asking to have all remaining charges dropped or, failing that, to have the D.A.'s office removed from the case. Meanwhile, Stevens, the man at the center of the upheaval, could face legal troubles of his own.
The 34-year-old lawyer left his job in the D.A.'s office last January, after leaking to the press that there was dissension on the prosecution team over the soundness of the case. The charges against the defendants are based mainly on interviews with the children and physical traces of sexual activity; no other substantial corroboration like pornographic photos, was uncovered. Under cross-examination during the hearing, the children's stories seemed to Stevens to unravel. He came to agree with the defense that an expert on child sex abuse had asked leading and suggestive questions during pretrial investigations. "They're contaminated kids," argues Stevens.
Soon after leaving his job, Stevens was approached by the Manns with a book- and-movie contract. They saw him as a leading character, they said, perhaps played by Robert Redford—an ambitious lawyer but one whose conscience would not let him use a tainted case to advance his career. During long hours at the Manns' home in Beverly Hills, Stevens spilled his thoughts into a tape recorder. That material, it was agreed, would be considered confidential until after the trial. But some of what Stevens was saying seemed as if it might help the defense.