Raymond Buckey, the chief defendant in the McMartin Pre-School molestation case, moved a step closer to freedom Tuesday when a Los Angeles Superior Court judge cut his bail in half to $1.5 million.
Judge William Pounders said, "It has been all year long a concern to me that Mr. Buckey is still incarcerated."
The judge said he now believes that the $3-million bail he set last December was excessive because it was so far beyond the defendant's reach.
The 30-year-old Buckey has been behind bars at Men's Central Jail for nearly five years and had been held without bail until Pounders set the high bail figure last year.
"Is it reasonable to hold someone in jail for five years without determining his guilt?" the judge asked rhetorically.
He said he does not believe that Buckey poses a risk to society at this time but voiced concern that "anybody facing life in prison has an incentive to flee." Nonetheless, he said, the reduced amount "minimally assures me the defendant will return to face trial."
Buckey's attorney, Danny Davis, said after the proceedings that he has pledges totaling about $1.8 million in real estate, still considerably short of the $3 million in property required to satisfy the lowered bail. (Property assessed at double the amount of bail may be substituted for cash.) He said he is hopeful that he can amass the necessary property, none of it his own nor that of anyone with a stake in the case.
But he said he is "scared" of not being able to raise the funds, scared for Buckey's safety and scared of the psychological adjustments his client would have to make before being able to testify before the jury.
Asked whether Buckey wants to get out, Davis replied, "I don't think he knows the answer to that or even what the word 'out' means."
At Tuesday's bail hearing, Pounders also reduced bail for Buckey's mother, defendant Peggy McMartin Buckey, 62, who has been free after posting $495,000 bail almost three years ago. He reduced her bail to $395,000 in April and on Tuesday to $295,000, which could free property for use toward her son's release.
Although dozens of charges against the Buckeys have been dropped since trial began 19 months ago because the prosecution presented no evidence or testimony to support them, the pair still face a total of 65 counts of molestation and conspiracy.
Peggy McMartin Buckey's attorney, Dean Gits, had moved that she be released on her own recognizance, noting that the judge has described her as "a model defendant."
"It is ludicrous to think that money is what is bringing her to court every day; it's her commitment to prove her innocence," Gits told Pounders.
After watching her and listening to family members testify, he said, "you're seeing a family that is fighting together . . . they are not going to run."
Pounders said he would not seriously consider Gits' request, given the nature of the charges.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Lael Rubin argued unsuccessfully against reductions in bail for either defendant, saying that the facts of the case are unchanged since last year. She argued that the closer the trial comes to its conclusion, the greater the danger that the defendants--both of whom could face life in prison if convicted--would flee. She added that the nine children who have testified are still fearful of Raymond Buckey.