To: MIT.EDU!witchhunt Date: Wed, 7 Dec 1994 14:32:08 -0500 Charges Dropped, Michaels Blame
From: romulus.ehs.uiuc.edu!saul.cis.upenn.edu!pjf (Peter Freyd)
Date: Wed, 7 Dec 1994 14:32:08 -0500
Charges Dropped, Michaels Blames Child Abuse
`Panic' for Imprisonment
By JEFFREY GOLD, Associated Press Writer
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- More than a decade after she was accused of
playing ``nude pileup'' with her students at a day care center and
spreading peanut butter and jelly on their genitals, Margaret Kelly
Michaels believes she is finally free, but forever defamed.
Her reputation has been ``irreparably harmed,'' Michaels said
Friday, less than two hours after the Essex County prosecutor dropped
over 100 child abuse charges against her.
``There's always going to be someone who doubts whether I'm a decent
and honorable person. You can never get that back,'' said Michaels,
32, who served five years of a 47-year term before an appellate court
overturned her 1988 conviction on 115 counts of sexual abuse involving
19 children, aged 3 to 5.
``These charges were patently ridiculous and impossible to have
occurred,'' Michaels said. ``The fact that so many people, including
the press and many others, either didn't question them or bought them
whole cloth, is a cause of great anger.''
But she also thanked several journalists for exposing what her
lawyer called ``egregious investigative abuses'' by the prosecutor's
office, and noted that the appeals court and the state Supreme Court
ultimately agreed with that view.
Michaels, a Pittsburgh native, believes the whole ordeal stemmed
from a climate in the 1980s that suspected widespread child abuse.
The case began in April 1985, four days after Michaels left Wee Care
Nursery Center in Maplewood. A child having his temperature taken
rectally by a doctor's aide said, ``This is what my teacher does to me
``Who can guess what's in a 3-year-old's mind?'' Michaels
said. ``From all accounts it was a very innocent statement, (but) in
the panic of that time, in the mid-80s when a child-abuse panic was
building, I think that innocent statement was taken greatly out of
When the charges against Michaels came out two months later --
eventually there were 235 counts -- the nation had already been
exposed to similar allegations against a mother and son who operated
the McMartin Preschool day care center in the Los Angeles suburb of
The case against Peggy McMartin Buckey and Raymond Buckey, charged
with 52 felony counts in 1983, become the nation's longest and most
expensive criminal trial. Mrs. Buckey was acquitted in 1990, and
charges against her son were dropped after juries at two trials
acquitted him of some counts and became deadlocked on others.
Essex County Prosecutor Clifford J. Minor, who was not in office
when Michaels was indicted, cited post-verdict rulings as a key factor
in dropping the case.
The Supreme Court decision required a pre-trial hearing to determine
whether the memories of the children were tainted because there was
``a substantial likelihood that the evidence derived from them
(interviews) is unreliable.''
At the hearing Friday in which a state judge dismissed the charges,
Deputy First Assistant Prosecutor John S. Redden said some witnesses
from the first trial are now unavailable and some children and parents
refused to participate in a new trial.
The withdrawal ``should not be construed as any adverse reflection
upon the veracity of the victim children or their parents,'' Minor
said in a prepared statement. He refused to make himself available for
Michaels said she hasn't considered whether to pursue wrongful
prosecution charges. She wants to spend time with family and fiance
Jay Romano, finish writing a book about her ``personal odyssey,'' get
married and have children.
``I hope and pray to make the rest of my life as remarkable and
productive and is it can be. And hopefully, maybe, it will turn out
that I will be able to do much more good than the so-called aspiring
actress I was as a 23-year-old,'' Michaels said.
``I feel great pity for those that still believe it, that have given
their time and energy and years to an impossible fabrication, and I
can only pray that they will be able to come to grips with reality and
get on with their lives,'' Michaels said.
Her lawyer, Alan L. Zegas, declined to comment on whether
prosecutor's investigators should be sanctioned, but asserted tape
recordings show that probers promised rewards to alleged victims and
played one child off another.
``They were feeding them information that they wanted to hear,'' he
said. As a result the state Supreme Court imposed standards that
maintain children can't be asked ``highly suggestive, leading
questions,'' he said.
``Because the children's minds were so tainted by investigative
abuse, we're never going to know what the truth is,'' Zegas said.
The tapes are sealed. Romano, a lawyer and freelance journalist who
lives in Rutherford with Michaels, said anyone wishing copies of the
33,000-page trial transcript must pay to have all names expunged.
Messages left with several parents of children that were interviewed
were not returned.
Michaels said she has emerged with wisdom, and will use love and
``positive energy'' to build her life.
She said she met Romano shortly after her release from prison when
he came to interview her for an article.
``He ended up turning the tape-recorder off and saying, `I really
can't write a story about you because I believe you,''' Michaels
They became friends, and then fell in love, she said.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank