A Municipal Court judge dismissed dozens more charges against defendants in the McMartin Pre-School preliminary hearing Wednesday, drastically reducing the number of counts in the massive child sexual abuse case.
There was confusion in court about the exact number of counts dismissed, largely because many of the 207 counts listed in indictments applied to more than one defendant, but it was clear that at least one charge remained against each of the seven defendants.
"It's too early yet to play games with numbers," Deputy Dist. Atty. Lael Rubin told reporters. Wait until the preliminary hearing is over.
"By then, this case will not have been decimated as some people say it has been. There is still a strong case on which we intend to proceed to trial, and I think that's what is important for people to understand at this point."
Municipal Judge Aviva K. Bobb began dismissing counts Tuesday in the culmination of a chain of events that began when she ruled against allowing any of 41 alleged young victims who have not testified to do so by closed-circuit television.
Prosecutors then decided to call no more children to the stand and abruptly rested their case after a girl, the 13th young witness, finished her testimony.
The defense also rested, without calling any witnesses, and moved for dismissal of the charges.
The judge began ruling on the counts individually, throwing out those charges that did not relate to the 13 child witnesses who have testified.
On Tuesday, Bobb dismissed nine counts against Virginia McMartin, leaving three counts against the elderly operator of the now-closed nursery school; dismissed 42 counts against her daughter, Peggy Buckey, leaving 15, and dismissed 13 counts against McMartin's granddaughter, Peggy Anne Buckey, leaving one.
Attorneys for Raymond Buckey, McMartin's grandson and the chief defendant, said the judge Wednesday dismissed "62 to 65%" of the counts against him, but the exact number is unclear.
Preliminary estimates showed that Bobb on Wednesday dismissed 33 counts against former teacher Betty Raidor, leaving 12; dismissed 15 counts against former teacher Babette Spitler, leaving seven, and dismissed 13 counts against Mary Ann Jackson, leaving two.
The prosecution did not contest most of the dismissals, and authorities said new charges might be filed involving alleged offenses revealed during 10 months of testimony by the 13 child witnesses.
"We can file anytime from now to the Superior Court arraignment," district attorney's spokesman Al Albergate said. "We'll just have to see day by day what happens."
Bobb made her initial ruling Tuesday, saying the children could not testify at the hearing via closed-circuit television on grounds that a new state law allowing such testimony could not be applied to proceedings already in progress.
That prompted several parents to refuse to allow their youngsters to testify, forcing Rubin to announce that she would not call any of the 28 remaining children.
Authorities said parents of five children said they would let them testify in a closed-circuit arrangement, while parents of 16 others refused to let their youngsters testify in any case because they felt the children were being harassed by defense attorneys.