“And When Did You Last See Your Father?” by William Frederick Yeames, 1878
depicting English Puritan inquisitors grilling the child of a Royalist family
How hysterical parents, incompetent therapists and malicious prosecutors
destroyed the lives of seven innocent North Carolinians – and
have yet to admit they were wrong
is it fear of blowback?
Dec. 8, 2013
“Obviously, there’s a modern trend towards more limited use of executive clemency that extends beyond the current president. I speculate that the increased media scrutiny given to pardons and commutations has made presidents reluctant to exercise clemency.....
“The same trend... may be present in North Carolina as well.... Most of Governor Easley’s pardons were in cases in which DNA evidence exonerated the defendant, while almost all of Governor Perdue’s pardons concerned the racially tainted Wilmington 10 cases.... It is too early to tell how much, or how little, Governor McCrory will exercise executive clemency.”
The chart above, compiled by Welty, a faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of Government, depicts poignantly the odds faced by Junior Chandler and others pursuing clemency from recent North Carolina governors.
Since Jim Hunt left office in 2001, pardons have become historically scarce, paralleling the drop-off at the presidential level. But that smattering of clemency, as Welty points out, is most like to occur in December, under cover of the Christmas spirit.
Three ‘built-in biases’ with tragic consequences
Dec. 2, 2013
“Of the many built-in biases in human thought, three have perhaps the greatest consequences for our own history and that of nations: the belief that we see things as they really are, rather than as we wish them to be; the belief that we are better, kinder, smarter and more ethical than average; and the confirmation bias, which sees to it that we notice, remember, and accept information that confirms our beliefs – and overlook, forget and discount information that disconfirms our beliefs.”
– From “History Gets in
Bed With Psychology, and It’s a Happy Match”
by Carol Tavris at History News Network (Nov. 11, 2013)
Once again Dr.
Tavris nails it. The prosecutors in Little Rascals and the other day-care
ritual-abuse cases fit her profile as exactly as if they had been completing a
checklist. Yes, it must have been difficult to resist those “built-in biases” –
it wasn’t impossible.
Lamb exit leaves district at risk of satanic ritual abuse
Nov. 22, 2013
“Gov. Pat McCrory has appointed the Albemarle’s chief public defender – and a member of the governor’s political party – to complete the term of the late Frank Parrish as district attorney in the 1st Prosecutorial District.
“Interim District Attorney Nancy Lamb said she was informed Monday that McCrory had chosen Andrew Womble to complete Parrish’s term...
“Lamb, who had sought the permanent appointment, said she knew she faced an uphill climb.
“ ‘I accept this decision for what it is, the partisan prerogative of a Republican governor,’ Lamb said. ‘I knew that as a registered Democrat that an appointment by this governor would be a long shot.’
“Lamb said she plans to complete a 30-year career as a prosecutor in the 1st Prosecutorial District on Feb. 28.
“ ‘I am proud of the job I have done representing the citizens of this district, especially victims of crime,’ she said.”
– From “McCrory appoints Womble DA” in the Elizabeth City Daily Advance (Nov. 18)
Thus are dashed my hopes that Lamb would be facing the voters next year and perhaps having to answer for her prosecution of the Edenton Seven.
Instead, she will be clearing off her desk and then presumably joining her
husband, the wonderfully named Zee B. Lamb, who has just taken a
new job in Nash
Texas ex-DA pays price, however little and late
Nov. 20, 2013
“GEORGETOWN, Texas – A former Texas prosecutor who won a conviction that sent an innocent man to prison for nearly 25 years agreed Friday to serve 10 days in jail and complete 500 hours of community service.
“Ken Anderson also will be disbarred and fined $500.... Anderson faced up to 10 years in prison if convicted of tampering with evidence in the 1987 murder trial of Michael Morton, [who] was released in 2011 after DNA evidence showed he didn't beat his wife to death.
“Morton watched from the front row of the gallery Friday as the man who helped convict him now sat at the defense table, just as he once did. Morton smiled and was hugged by family members after the judge adjourned....
“During a weeklong Court of Inquiry earlier this year, special prosecutor Rusty Hardin presented witness testimony and other evidence to show Anderson kept evidence from Morton's attorneys at his trial....
“Anderson said he couldn't remember if he had evidence at the time of the trial that could have cleared Morton, but if he had had such material, he would have turned it over to the defense team.”
– From “Former
Texas Prosecutor Gets Jail for Conviction that Sent
Innocent Man to Prison” by the Associated Press (Nov. 8)
Even the righteous Jack McCoy
withheld exculpatory evidence at least once, but of course the “Law & Order”
DA was a fictional character – unlike Ken Anderson and the
Little Rascals prosecutors and their unfortunate victims.
For Junior, one door closes – will another open?
Nov. 16, 2013
An update from Mark Montgomery, Junior Chandler’s appellate attorney: “[The N.C. Center on Actual Innocence] reviewed Junior's case but could not find anything that would help him. The ‘kids’ were too young at the time to have anything helpful to say now. Of the two retarded adults who rode Junior's bus (and testified against him), one is dead and the other incompetent.”
On a somewhat more encouraging note, Mark reports that the governor's office has
notified him that Junior’s
clemency application is being considered.
Want to put in a word on Junior’s behalf? Here’s where to write:
Executive Clemency Office
4294 Mail Service Center
Raleigh NC 27699-4294
Whatever happened to Kelly’s ex-lawyer? This....
Nov. 8, 2013
While we await Gov. McCrory’s decision on whether to promote Nancy Lamb to district attorney, another key figure in the Little Rascals prosecution is stepping aside.
From the Elizabeth City Daily Advance:
EDENTON -- Judge Chris Bean, chief district court judge in the 1st Judicial District, does not plan to seek re-election to another term.
Bean, who has been a judge for more than two decades, said recently he plans to step down when his current term ends in December 2014.
“I have been doing this for 20-some years,” Bean said. “It has been a fascinating career.”
Unmentioned by Judge Bean (or by the Advance, which seems to have purged Little Rascals from its memory) is his deeply prejudicial testimony against former client Bob Kelly.
Bean and Lamb have continued to share an immunity to just consequences. (Compare the enormity of the Little Rascals prosecution with the penny-ante misconduct that typically brings about disbarment in North Carolina.)
Only their innocent victims – the Edenton Seven, the child witnesses -- paid a price, and it was a high one indeed.
‘Lack of rigor’ is nothing new in social sciences
Nov. 4, 2013
“It’s not a great time for psychology. Diederik A. Stapel, a Dutch social psychologist, has recently confessed to serial fraud. That he gamed the peer review process of his field’s best journals so often and for so long calls into question the quality-control mechanisms of academic psychology. If garbage can pass peer review, as long as it is well-written and well-formatted garbage, then the authority conferred by appearing in peer-reviewed publications would seem to be slight....
“Most work in the psychological and social sciences suffers from a lack of conceptual rigor. It’s a bit sloppy around the edges, and in the middle, too.... It’s as if the precision of the statistical analysis is supposed somehow to compensate for, or help us forget, the imprecision of thought at the foundation of the enterprise.”
– From “Barbara Fredrickson’s Bestselling ‘Positivity’
Is Trashed by a New Study”
by Will Wilkinson at the Daily Beast (Aug. 16, 2013)
The contemporary cases Wilkinson cites and the episodes of the day-care ritual-abuse era bear many dissimilarities. But they share all too closely the practitioners’ use of “the precision of the statistical analysis... to compensate for, or help us forget, the imprecision of thought at the foundation of the enterprise.”
50 college students now know the facts
Oct. 28, 2013
“What was surprising was that in a class of 50 students, none had heard of the day care allegations of the 1980s.”
– From a note from Catherine Caldwell-Harris,
associate professor of psychology, Boston University
Well, that’s a bracing dose of reality, isn’t it? But thanks to Dr. Caldwell-Harris, those students in her developmental psychology class now have an understanding of the moral panic. Here’s her lesson plan, which she doesn’t mind being borrowed, along with her comments on how students responded.
Maybe the current generation of academics sees clearly what many of their predecessors so horribly misjudged?
Nancy Lamb, DA? It’s up to Gov. McCrory
Oct. 18, 2013
Because the Elizabeth City Daily Advance rejected my letter to the editor questioning its support of Nancy Lamb for district attorney, I’ve been posting comments in the online Advance, these two most recently:
Oct. 2: “It was no ‘technicality’ that led the North Carolina Court of Appeals to overturn the conviction of Bob Kelly (and of Dawn Wilson). The court focused on three glaring reversible errors in Kelly's trial and implied it could have cited many more had that been needed. You can read the decision here.
“Little Rascals was only one of a wave of ‘ritual abuse’ day-care prosecutions during the '80s and '90s -- virtually all of them based on hysteria rather than facts. You can read more here.
“Thank God, ‘Frontline’ put a national spotlight on the shameful abuse H.P. Williams, Bill Hart and Nancy Lamb – and their team of ill-trained therapists – were inflicting on the Edenton Seven, but the miscarriage of justice was clear even without it.”
Oct. 12: “Unfortunately, the most salient example of Nancy Lamb's ‘ability to think for herself’ was her irrational, hysterical, unprofessional prosecution of the Little Rascals Day Care case. It would be easier to forgive her role in perpetuating the myth of ‘satanic ritual abuse’ in day cares were she finally able to admit her mistake and to apologize for crushing the lives of seven innocent defendants.”
After the death of District Attorney Frank Parrish, Gov. McCrory gave Lamb a 60-day appointment as interim DA. He is now deciding who should complete Parrish’s term. Next election for DA will be in November 2014.
Focus on Lamb’s politics is off the mark
Oct. 14, 2013
“Whether Nancy Lamb should be promoted to district attorney is not simply a question of Democrats vs. Republicans. [Lamb is a Democrat; the decision on whether to appoint her to fill the rest of the late Frank Parrish’s term rests with Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican.]
“A quarter-century ago, Lamb played a crucial role in the wrongful prosecution of the Edenton Seven, defendants in the Little Rascals Day Care case. Little Rascals was an especially notorious example of a wave of ‘satanic ritual abuse’ day-care prosecutions during the '80s and early '90s -- virtually all of them based on hysteria and a misguided campaign to ‘Believe the Children.’ Today no respected social scientist believes these bizarre claims were anything more than a ‘moral panic.’
“Although she ranked below District Attorney H. P. Williams and Assistant Attorney General Bill Hart, it was Nancy Lamb who served not only as the prosecution’s closer in the courtroom, but also its public face. And it was Lamb who, after Williams dropped off the case, continued to cling to the discredited ‘ritual abuse’ fantasy and who vindictively conjured up an unrelated charge against Bob Kelly after his conviction had been resoundingly overturned by the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
“Little Rascals will remain a stain on the state of North Carolina until the Edenton Seven receive a statement of innocence such as that given the Duke lacrosse defendants. Neither the prosecutors nor their ill-trained therapists have ever expressed any regrets or made any amends. To even be considered for district attorney, Nancy Lamb should be willing to address her responsibility. If she still wants to argue that the defendants were guilty, let her do so.”
– From a letter I wrote last week to the Elizabeth City
daily newspaper in the seven-county First Prosecutorial District,
taking issue with its editorial support of Nancy Lamb’s appointment
as district attorney. Editorial is here; page PDF; text cache.
The 900-word editorial could come up with “only one possible explanation for McCrory’s reluctance to appoint her: partisan politics.” Unmentioned was Lamb’s responsibility in the district’s most infamous case – perhaps the Advance has forgotten? Or thinks she deserves to benefit from a prosecutorial statute of limitations?
My letter has yet to appear.
Holocaust denial shows vulnerability of real memory
Oct. 11, 2013
“Holocaust deniers have managed to receive, in recent years, a respectful hearing on college campuses and elsewhere, despite the existence of mountains of firsthand and corroborated traumatic memories of the Holocaust provided by many thousands of survivors – memories that don't have to be recovered because they are all too vividly, and all too persistently, remembered.
“Holocaust deniers began to achieve their victory over memory even before efforts were made to establish the new category of ‘recovered memory.’ If recovered memory remains unchallenged as a new form of memory, then one can only guess how much more vulnerable to doubt and manipulation legitimate memory will become.”
‘Hunt for child abusers has become national pathology’
Oct. 9, 2013
“We are a society that, every 50 years or so, is afflicted by some paroxysm of virtue – an orgy of self-cleansing through which evil of one kind or another is cast out. From the witch-hunts of Salem to the communist hunts of the McCarthy era to the current shrill fixation on child abuse, there runs a common thread of moral hysteria.
“After the McCarthy era, people would ask: But how could it have happened? How could the presumption of innocence have been abandoned wholesale? How did large and powerful institutions acquiesce as congressional investigators ran roughshod over civil liberties – all in the name of a war on communists? How was it possible to believe that subversives lurked behind every library door, in every radio station, that every two-bit actor who had belonged to the wrong political organization posed a threat to the nation's security?
“Years from now people doubtless will ask the same questions about our present era – a time when the most improbable charges of abuse find believers; when it is enough only to be accused by anonymous sources to be hauled off by investigators; a time when the hunt for child abusers has become a national pathology.”
– From “From the Mouths of Babes to a Jail Cell” by
(Harper’s Magazine, May 1990)
The Little Rascals case in brief
In the beginning, in 1989, more than 90 children at the Little Rascals Day Care Center in Edenton, North Carolina, accused a total of 20 adults with 429 instances of sexual abuse over a three-year period. It may have all begun with one parent's complaint about punishment given her child.
Among the alleged perpetrators: the sheriff and mayor. But prosecutors would charge only Robin Byrum, Darlene Harris, Elizabeth "Betsy" Kelly, Robert "Bob" Kelly, Willard Scott Privott, Shelley Stone and Dawn Wilson – the Edenton 7.
Along with sodomy and beatings, allegations included a baby killed with a handgun, a child being hung upside down from a tree and being set on fire and countless other fantastic incidents involving spaceships, hot air balloons, pirate ships and trained sharks.
By the time prosecutors dropped the last charges in 1997, Little Rascals had become North Carolina's longest and most costly criminal trial. Prosecutors kept defendants jailed in hopes at least one would turn against their supposed co-conspirators. Remarkably, none did.
Another shameful record: Five defendants had to wait longer to face their accusers in court than anyone else in North Carolina history.
Between 1991 and 1997, Ofra Bikel produced three extraordinary episodes on the Little Rascals case for the PBS series "Frontline." Although "Innocence Lost" did not deter prosecutors, it exposed their tactics and fostered nationwide skepticism and dismay.
With each passing year, the absurdity of the Little Rascals charges has become more obvious. But no admission of error has ever come from prosecutors, police, interviewers or parents.
This site is devoted to the issues raised by this case.