KTTV 70: The McMartin Preschool trial

In the 80's, the sleepy beachside town of Manhattan Beach was known for its beautiful beaches, casual lifestyle and affluent neighborhoods.

The McMartin Preschool, founded by matriarch, Virginia McMartin, was a much sought after school for South Bay children. There was a "waitlist" to get in.

But that serenity was shattered in 1983 after the mother of a young boy alleged that her son had been sexually abused at the McMartin Preschool.

What began with one complaint, turned into a massive investigation. Scores of children alleged that they had been abused. The primary focus was on Raymond Buckey, who was Virginia's grandson and a teacher at the school. But Ray's grandmother, mother, sister and other teachers at the school were also implicated by the children's account.

The Manhattan Beach Police Department sent a letter to parents of students at the school alerting them to the investigation. Police warned that their kids could've been sexually abused. And that the abuse could've been going on for years.

It was against that backdrop, that the allegations and the outrage swept through Manhattan Beach and across the country. There were reports of satanic rituals, day trips away from the school, where the abuse was said to have escalated.

Town Hall meetings were held. Frustrated parents vented at authorities, and sometimes at each other. By spring of 1984, it was claimed 360 children had been abused. A moral panic had set in.

In the end, a preliminary hearing was held. Two trials were held. The trial process was lengthy, cumbersome and costly. After six years of criminal trials in LA County, no convictions were obtained. All charges were dropped in 1990.

As I assembled this retrospective piece, from our KTTV archives, the level of emotion was palpable. The pained looks on parents' faces, the stoicism of the defendants-- it was all there contained on old grainy newsroom footage. I could only imagine in today's 24-hour news cycle how this sensational trial would have been covered. But this began and ended before the OJ Trial, so gavel-to-gavel coverage had yet to go mainstream.

Even all these years later, mention the McMartin Trial and you will see raw emotion. Former McMartin Prosecutor, Lael Rubin spoke thoughtfully on the topic of the trial. Even today, her eyes seemed to well up as she recounted the case that she lost.

She told me that in some instances, "Witnesses testified three times, at the grand jury, the preliminary hearing and the trial. "

She said it would be extremely difficult for anyone to do this, let alone a child. It was clear she believed this process hurt her ability to get a conviction, but she said: " the jury had spoken." And sitting in Danny Davis' home, the fire in his belly clearly had not diminished. He spoke passionately about the injustices the McMartin-Buckey family endured.

Raymond Buckey spent five years in jail but was never convicted. The McMartin- Buckey's lost everything, defending against the charges.

And the alleged child victims? I would have liked very much to have talked to some of them about their perceptions decades later. The manner in which they were questioned by childcare professionals at the Children's Institute International became a huge setback for the prosecution.

Their methods of questioning the kids were deemed aggressive. Some said the children appeared to have been led by questioners to claim they had been molested. In the end, all expressed pain and unhappiness at the way this trial ended.