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Day-Care Scandal Grips a Small Town

December 31, 1989|F. ALAN BOYCE | ASSOCIATED PRESS

EDENTON, N. C. — When five adults were indicted in the sexual abuse of day-care charges, the news seemed to touch everyone in this town of 5,800.

Since the first allegations against Little Rascals' Day Care Center last January, wave after wave of indictments have been handed up. The 202 charges say that employees and others at the center engaged in intercourse in front of children and performed oral and anal sex acts with children beginning in September, 1988.

Initial reports were based on evidence from 21 children allegedly molested, but prosecutors say that all of the approximately 70 children who attended the center are potential witnesses. The center lost its license in June and was closed.

Nearly everyone here knows someone who has been indicted or the family of a child involved in the case.

"I've watched some of the parents of victims grow up," said Alton Elmore, owner of Edenton Furniture and a Chowan County commissioner. "And I've watched some of them who've been charged grow up."

That sense of community makes it extra difficult for residents to deal with the sudden publicity and curiosity seekers.

A clerk at a children's clothing store refused to discuss the case with a stranger. "The manager of the store's little girl is involved in it, so I don't think I should say anything," she said.

Others offered similar responses.

"It's just a bad situation. Some are very upset," said John Smith, owner of Edenton Floral Co..

Locally, however, rumors about the case have been so abundant that Dist. Atty. H. P. Williams issued a public warning that they could jeopardize the state's case.

Townspeople are beginning to tire of the lengthy pretrial proceedings. Some grumble that Williams has been dragging his feet since the first arrest in April.

Williams, up for reelection next November, seemed reluctant to discuss even tangential issues.

Public outrage and concern for the children may have prompted bonds ranging from $375,000 to $1.5 million--so high that only one defendant has been released.

All but one of the defendants is charged with the same four crimes: engaging in sex with a child under 13, taking indecent liberties with a minor, conspiracy to commit indecent liberties with a child and crimes against nature. The fifth defendant, Shelley Stone, is charged only with the first three offenses. All five defendants have pleaded innocent.

Robert Kelly Jr., 41, who operated Little Rascals with his wife, Elizabeth Kelly, 34, is held on $1.5-million bond. He is charged with 152 counts involving at least 21 children, both boys and girls, under age 13.

Elizabeth Kelly faces 19 counts involving eight children and is held on $1-million bond. A friend of the Kellys, Willard Scott Privott, 40, is been charged with 13 counts involving six children, and also kidnaping and terrorizing one girl. He is held on $1-million bond.

Kathryn Dawn Wilson, 23, another center employee, is charged with 19 counts involving eight children.

Stone, accused of nine counts, is the only one of the five to post bond--$375,000 in her case.

Joe Cheshire, the Raleigh attorney representing Robert Kelly, called it "an incredible case." He said that much of the children's testimony would show that nothing had taken place, and would exonerate his client.

"It's very strange to me," Cheshire said. "You have a couple of kids make some statements, and months later you have some more, and now we hear there are some more. I'd just like to find out how that process happened."

Assistant Atty. Gen. Bill Hart said there is no mystery about it.

"We have had continuing disclosure, just like the defense has been getting," he said. "Children don't just come running out of their houses screaming, 'I've been molested!' "

Elmore said that each revelation has rocked the community in a way he has never before seen.

"A lot of good people and the families of good people have gotten hurt," he said.

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