In a surprise move that created courtroom pandemonium on Friday, prosecutors in the McMartin Pre-School molestation case produced a private tape recording made by former prosecutor Glenn Stevens that they said will cast doubt on his credibility.
During cross-examination by Deputy Dist. Atty. Harry Sondheim, Stevens testified that in the fall of 1984 he had begun talking into a tape recorder while driving home from the preliminary hearing, recording his thoughts about "the most unique case I've ever heard of or been involved in." Those tapes, however, had been lost, he said.
Suddenly, as the questioning took a turn that left no doubt that prosecutors had listened to such a tape, chief prosecutor Lael Rubin removed a tape player from her briefcase and carried it over to the witness stand.
'Looks Like Show Time'
"It looks like show time here," cried defense attorney Dean Gits, who represents Peggy McMartin Buckey, 60, who with her son, Raymond Buckey, 28, is charged with 101 counts of child molestation and conspiracy.
But Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William Pounders stopped Rubin from turning on the tape recorder and ordered that a copy of the tape be given to the defense.
"It is rather dramatic. . . . Apparently the lost tapes (have been found). . . . I'm sure he (Stevens) is surprised," Pounders said. "I know they (defense attorneys) are startled, and I'm a bit surprised."
"We should have been given this," said lawyer Daniel Davis, who represents Raymond Buckey. "This is the very essence of why we are in court today."
The hearing grows out of a defense motion to dismiss the charges or to prohibit the district attorney's office from handling the prosecution, based on allegations by Stevens and others that prosecutors concealed evidence from the defense and are unfairly proceeding against two of the original seven defendants in the case.
Prosecutors found the tape, which they intend to play in court on Tuesday, while cleaning out Stevens' office after he left the district attorney's office last year, Sondheim said. "But its relevance did not become apparent until it was played a few days ago," he said. Two other tapes that Stevens says he made are still missing.
Outside the courtroom, Stevens declined to discuss the tape's contents.
Defense attorneys were angry over the surprise development.
"It's an outrageous violation of the prosecution's ethical duty to disclose evidence," said defense lawyer Andrew Willing, who is assisting Gits.
Bitter at Prosecutor
Davis went further, calling Rubin "a dead rat" and "a cancer in the courtroom."
But a smiling Rubin, the target of allegations of improprieties by Stevens, said she considers the hearing, and the defense's bitter remarks on Friday, part of a vendetta to get her off the case and "an attempt to avoid the real issues, namely what happened at the McMartin Pre-School."
She said that under California law the defense is not entitled to advance notice of the tape, because it relates to the credibility of a witness, not to the subject of the hearing or to the guilt or innocence of the defendants.
The courtroom drama obscured the detailed cross-examination that Sondheim began conducting Friday, during which Stevens testified that:
- He "never really concluded that Judy Johnson was mentally unstable" before she filed the police report that triggered a massive probe of South Bay nursery schools, including the McMartin school. "All I said was it's a possibility that can't be overlooked, it was never investigated."
- He had attempted to set up a meeting with Johnson last fall, shortly before her death, for purposes of a movie project. The fact that she may have been mentally unbalanced, he said, "doesn't mean she can't give lucid, honest answers."
- The idea that Johnson may have tainted the case by telephoning other McMartin parents was suggested to him by a screenwriter. Johnson herself told him that she felt that she had "an obligation" to let people know what had happened at the McMartin school, but never said who or how many she had called, or that she had actually called anyone.