To: Witchhunt +lt;MIT.EDU!witchhunt+gt; Date: 10 Dec 94 08:48:17 EST (c) 1994 Record (The)

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From:!!73437.2541 (George Hero) To: Witchhunt Date: 10 Dec 94 08:48:17 EST (c) 1994 Record (The). All rts. reserv. 07837018 DAY-CARE ABUSE CASE DROPPED STATE WON'T TAKE MICHAELS BACK TO COURT Record (Northern New Jersey) (RE) - SATURDAY, December 3, 1994 By: BILL SANDERSON, Trenton Bureau Edition: All Editions Section: NEWS Page: a01 Word Count: 1,304 MEMO: CHRONOLOGY - Page a16. TEXT: NEWARK - Essex County prosecutors dropped all charges Friday against Margaret Kelly Michaels, conceding that they lacked enough evidence to retry her on allegations that she sexually abused 20 preschool children at a Maplewood day-care center in 1984 and 1985. The decision ends a decade-long ordeal for Michaels, 32, who spent five years in prison before an appeals court reversed her conviction last year. The onetime aspiring actress says she is the victim of a witch hunt brought on by public hysteria over child abuse. "It was so ridiculous and preposterous," Michaels said at a news conference in her lawyer's office. "If it had not been child abuse, it would not have gone this far. It took years for people to look more dryly and intellectually at the facts, and see that this did not happen." In a news release, Essex County Prosecutor Clifford J. Minor said dropping the charges was "the most difficult decision that I have had to make during my term of office." He and other prosecutors on his staff declined requests for interviews. The Appellate Division and the state Supreme Court harshly criticized the interviewing techniques employed by police and investigators for the Prosecutor's Office. In overturning Michaels' 1988 conviction, the appeals panel said the interrogation of the children, who ranged in age from 3 to 5 years old, was so tainted by suggestive and coercive questioning that the youngsters' credibility was in grave doubt. In a brief filed with the state Supreme Court, 45 social scientists from universities in the United States and Canada said the children were questioned so ineptly that their stories of abuse were no longer believable. "In fact, there may have been no abuse until the interviews began," the brief said, suggesting that Essex County investigators may have done great harm by planting false memories of abuse in the children's minds. Prosecutors conceded little in their motion to dismiss the case, presented at a brief hearing before Superior Court Judge Joseph A. Falcone. The motion noted the difficulty of reassembling the evidence in the case, and of making sure the alleged victims - now adolescents - had not been tainted during their questioning by investigators. "This issue is not one free from doubt," the state's motion said. But prosecutors added that the difficulty of retrying the case "militates in favor of dismissal of the indictments." Michaels, who lives with her fiance in Rutherford, said she felt "great relief" that her long battle with the criminal justice system had come to an end. "I am completely innocent of every single charge that has been brought against me in this case," she told reporters who gathered after the hearing in the West Orange office of her attorney, Alan L. Zegas. Michaels said she feels no bitterness over her prosecution and imprisonment for a crime she has said occurred only in the minds of overzealous prosecutors. "I love life too much to waste it being bitter," she said. "You can't get them back," she said of the years spent behind bars and fighting to prove her innocence. "But I have today and tomorrow, and I'm grateful for it." Michaels moved to the New York area in 1984, hoping to become an actress. She took a job as a day-care worker at Wee Care Day Nursery in Maplewood. In April 1985, shortly after Michaels left Wee Care for a better-paying job, one of the children at the school told his doctor that Michaels regularly took his temperature with a rectal thermometer. The investigation that ensued resulted in a 10-month trial, during which prosecutors charged that Michaels had raped and assaulted children with eating utensils, played the piano in the nude, and led the children in nude pileup games. They said Michaels had threatened to harm the children's parents if they disclosed their activities to anyone. Michaels' lawyers portrayed the state's case as a witch hunt; they noted that her co-workers never saw her participate in any suspicious activities, and that the children showed no fear or reluctance to be with her. In April 1988, Michaels was convicted of 115 counts, including aggravated sexual assault and other crimes. She was sentenced to 47 years in prison. In their friend-of-the-court brief filed with the state Supreme Court, the social scientists said investigators so mishandled the case, no one will ever know the truth of the allegations. The brief said the interviews were so suggestive, they may have caused them great psychological harm. Michaels' conviction was overturned by the Appellate Division in March 1993. Besides questioning the children's testimony, the appellate judges said the trial judge showed bias when the children testified via a closed-circuit television hookup from his chambers, and that a prosecution expert witness presented unscientific evidence that improperly swayed the jury. The state Supreme Court affirmed Michaels' right to a hearing on the validity of the children's testimony before a new trial could be held. Michaels said she doesn't plan a civil lawsuit for wrongful prosecution. "I have had enough of courtrooms, and enough of being chased by the media and the harassment involved," she said. One of those most convinced of Michaels' innocence is her boyfriend, Jay Romano, a freelance journalist and lawyer who is the municipal prosecutor in North Bergen. Romano interviewed Michaels shortly after she was released from prison. "I expected to find someone very bitter, and I didn't," he said. "I haven't seen a spark of it since." "I am not one to bash the system," Michaels said. "This was a failing of human logic. People buckled under the weight of a horrifying accusation. But I am here to tell about it." (SIDEBAR, PAGE a16) CHRONOLOGY * September 1984 - Margaret Kelly Michaels begins work at the Wee Care Day Nursery in Maplewood as a teacher's aide and later becomes a teacher. * April 15, 1985 - Michaels gives Wee Care two weeks' notice that she is leaving for personal reasons. She explains in a letter to her pupils' parents that she has taken another job. * April 30, 1985 - Four days after Michaels leaves Wee Care, a child having his temperature taken rectally by a doctor's aide says, "This is what my teacher does to me at school." That launches the investigation. * June 6, 1985 - Michaels is charged in a six-count indictment, which was followed by two more indictments, bringing the count of charges to 235. * June 22, 1987 - Michaels' trial begins in Newark. In months that follow, 19 children testify by closed-circuit television from the judge's chambers. * April 15, 1988 - After 12 days of deliberation, the jury returns guilty verdicts on 115 counts of aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, endangering the welfare of children, and terroristic threats. * Aug. 2, 1988 - Michaels is sentenced to 47 years in prison with no chance of parole for 14 years. She is immediately incarcerated. * February 1990 - Michaels appeals her conviction with the help of a private attorney, Morton Stavis. Stavis, then president of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, took the case after the pubic defender's office had decided that an appeal would be unwinnable. Stavis died in December 1992. * June 20, 1991 - A judge rules that Michaels cannot be released on bail during her appeal. * March 26, 1993 - A state appellate panel overturns the convictions, citing problems in interviews with the alleged victims. * Feb. 3, 1994 - A state judge modifies Michaels' bail conditions, allowing her to reside in New Jersey. * June 24, 1994 - The state Supreme Court affirms the appellate court opinion and orders a "taint hearing" before any new trial to determine whether the children's testimony is reliable. * Dec. 2, 1994 - At the request of the prosecution, a judge dismisses charges against Michaels. CAPTION: COLOR PHOTO - BETH BALBIERZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER - Margaret Kelly Michaels in her lawyer's office. DESCRIPTORS: MARGARET KELLY MICHAELS; ESSEX COUNTY; COURT; MAPLEWOOD; DAY CARE; TEACHER; CHILD; SEX; ABUSE


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