The Longest Trial In History

The McMartin Preschool Abuse Trial, the longest and most expensive criminal trial in American history, should serve as a cautionary tale. The trial had its origin in Manhattan Beach, Calif., when the mother of a 2½-year-old boy who attended the McMartin Preschool claimed that Ray Buckey, the 25-year-old son of the owner of the preschool, had molested her son. Despite the fact that the young boy was unable to identify Ray from photos and medical examinations of the boy showed no signs of sexual abuse, the police conducted searches of Ray’s home, finding nothing of evidentiary value. The police then sent letters to the parents of each student enrolled at the preschool, and it wasn’t long before one such parent, Judy Johnson, claimed that Ray’s mother, Peggy Buckey, was involved in satanic practices. Eventually most prosecutors would come to recognize Johnson's allegations as the delusions of a paranoid schizophrenic. Nevertheless, the trial proceeded, beginning in early 1984 and ending in 1990, when all charges were dropped. The case cost $15 million, ultimately resulting in no convictions. The McMartin preschool was closed, and in 2005, one of the children (as an adult) retracted the allegations of abuse. The case was simply invented and morphed into a national cause celebre by the misplaced zeal of law enforcement and the prosecution.