To: MIT.EDU!witchhunt Date: Wed, 7 Dec 1994 14:32:08 -0500 Charges Dropped, Michaels Blame

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From:!!pjf (Peter Freyd) To: MIT.EDU!witchhunt 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 at school.'' ``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 context.'' 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 Manhattan Beach. 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 questions. 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 recalled. They became friends, and then fell in love, she said.


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