Tapes & Transcripts

Transcripts   Innocence Lost: The Plea
Written, produced and directed by Ofra Bikel
Air date: May 27, 1997

[This program contains graphic descriptions of alleged child sexual abuse. Viewer discretion is advised.]

ANNOUNCER: In April, 1992, a verdict was handed down in a courthouse in North Carolina.

COURT OFFICIAL: [reading] "We, the jury, unanimously find the defendant guilty of first- degree sexual offense, guilty of taking indecent liberties with a child and"--

ANNOUNCER: Day care owner Bob Kelly was convicted on 99 counts of child sexual abuse. His wife, Betsy, sat behind him that day.

BETSY KELLY: Those people are saying Bob's guilty. How can they do that? I wanted to scream. I wanted to look at each one of them and I wanted to just scream at them, "You're wrong. He's not guilty."

ANNOUNCER: Bob Kelly was sentenced to 12 consecutive life terms based on the testimony of small children.

BILL HART: [in court] This case rises and falls on what the children said and there has been nothing presented-- Can you please tell us what those bad things were?

JAMIE: Well, he stuck a knife in my butt.

SUZY: He-- he put his penis in my heinie.

MIKE SPIVEY, Defense Attorney: Who killed the babies?

ANNOUNCER: The children accused six others, including Betsy Kelly.

BETSY KELLY: When I got arrested, I knew then how it really felt for someone to say, "She did that" and know in your heart you never did those things, but feel so helpless to prove it.

ANNOUNCER: For seven years FRONTLINE has followed the extraordinary case of the day care in Edenton, North Carolina, and the people whose lives were forever changed by it. It is a story of private pain and public humiliation, a story of terrible defeat and great courage.

DAWN WILSON: I'm still going to fight to the very end because I'm not guilty.

ANNOUNCER: It is also a troubling investigation of a prosecution team determined to prove its case and to use every tactic to extract a guilty plea.

SCOTT PRIVOTT: Attorneys are advising me, you know, "Go ahead and take the plea. Get on with your life," you know, and so forth. That's what it amounts to, just pressure, just immense pressure.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight those pressures and what it's like to be accused of a crime you know you didn't commit.

BETSY KELLY: If I take this plea bargain, I will only have to go back and do a year and then it's over. But to me, that's an exceptional price to pay for freedom.

ANNOUNCER: On FRONTLINE, the dramatic third act of "Innocence Lost: The Plea."

NARRATOR: When we came back to Edenton in the winter of 1994, as we have done every year for the past seven years, we visited with Betsy Kelly. She was living in a neighboring county, out on bond, having already served two years in prison. She was waiting for her trial. By that time she had seen her husband and one of her employees sentenced to life in prison for sexually abusing children in the day care that she owned and ran. She was friendless and she was bitter.

BETSY KELLY: I can't pinpoint where I knew it was all going downhill, this dream that not only I had of owning and running the finest day care in Edenton, but that was my father's dream. That was his gift to me. I was so very proud of it. To think that someone would believe that I would take a gift like that, something that my father gave to me, and use it as a-- as a place to abuse children, it-- it just-- it befuddles me.

NARRATOR: Her father, Warren Twiddy, was a successful businessman. Her mother, Alice, was a clerk at the county courthouse. She had one sister, Nancy.

WARREN TWIDDY: We're a family, a very close family. I imagine we're closer than a lot of families.

NARRATOR: Within the family, he and his youngest daughter, Betsy, had a special bond.

WARREN TWIDDY: She used to ride with me when she was a baby and we would just seem to be closer, for some reason.

NARRATOR: In 1987, Betsy had turned to her father for help when she wanted to expand the small day care center she was running.

WARREN TWIDDY: Betsy and Bob came to me and this is what they wanted to do and I came across this old bottling plant and I did negotiate a deal to buy the bottling plant and that's when I designed it myself. I thought it would be a future for them and something that they could have.

NARRATOR: The building that Warren Twiddy bought and rented to his daughter became the most prestigious day care in Edenton. It was called Little Rascals and was later to be at the heart of one or the most famous child sexual abuse cases in the country. This is the place where it was alleged that Betsy Kelly and her husband, Bob, together with five other defendants, committed child sexual abuse. The prosecution alleged that dozens of children, most of them between the ages of 2 and 5, were abused at Little Rascals.

BILL HART: There are 29 children that are named in the indictments involving these seven defendants--

NARRATOR: Betsy who ran the day care, and who was every one's friend, over night, became their enemy.

BETSY KELLY, N.C. Correctional Institution for Women: [1990] The day I was arrested, the day before, I had talked to people a lot. We had lunch together, we did a lot of things together. And now it's like, where are those people, you know? You just want to walk up to them and say, you know, "Who are you now?"

JANE MABRY, Parent: The Betsy I knew either never existed or has died. She's just not the person that I knew. She's someone else. I buried the other Betsy.

LYNNE LAYTON, Parent: I loved Betsy like a friend. It was very hard to turn this love into a hate because I-- I can truly say that I despise Betsy. Oh, yes. Yes. When I look at Betsy, I hate Betsy.

ATTORNEY: [in court] She is accused of eight charges of first-degree sexual offense--

NARRATOR: All that was left was her family. They were squarely behind her. They came to every motion. They attended every hearing. Her sister, Nancy Smith, was always there.

NANCY SMITH: We're 17 months apart and we were always together. Other than my children, I don't think there's-- there are very few people in this life I'd go to the mat for and she's one of them.

NARRATOR: They hired one of best-known attorneys in North Carolina, Joe Cheshire.

NANCY SMITH: The truth has to-- has to win out and the truth is that Betsy did not do these things, Betsy did not know about these things being done because they were not done and Betsy is an innocent person.

NARRATOR: But who was innocent and who was not would always be debated by the people of Edenton.

DILLARD DIXON, Parent: I believe they're guilty. In the bottom of my heart, I mean, I know they're guilty.

LYNNE LAYTON: There is not one hair on my body that even has a doubt. I am completely positive that they did this.

JANE MABRY: I believe the children. I know now that children do not lie about things like this.

NARRATOR: To this day, Betsy and her family believe that the whole case started with a falling out between Betsy and her best friend, Jane Mabry. In September, 1988, Betsy's husband, Bob Kelly, slapped Jane's 4- year-old son, Joel, at the day care. He claimed it was an accident. Jane was devastated. She pulled Joel out of the day care.

JANE MABRY: I just felt like my world had crumbled and it was a feeling. It doesn't lend itself easily to being defined by words. I knew that life as I knew it would never be the same.

NARRATOR: And life for Betsy's family would never be the same, either, from that day on.

NANCY SMITH: Betsy's friend, Jane, showed up at the day care expecting Betsy to be very contrite and expecting her to apologize profusely. And Betsy didn't do it.

JANE MABRY: And we had a very bad scene. I was crying and weeping and saying, "How could this happen?" at the time still thinking it was an accident, but knowing I could never bring Joel back down there unless he understood that adults could make mistakes and they can rectify them. And that was never done.

NANCY SMITH: And the more she thought about Betsy not groveling and apologizing, the madder she got.

NARRATOR: Joel had been out of the day care for over two months and had not been asked back.

JANE MABRY: I was hoping that both Bob and Betsy would realize that losing Joel was a loss, mainly because he was my son and Betsy and I were friends.

NARRATOR: According to Nancy, Jane was determined that if her son Joel couldn't be at the day care, no other child would.

NANCY SMITH: She knew that, legally, physical abuse, which is what she thought she was justified in charging, wasn't going to close the day care. One incidence wasn't going to do it. Another parent evidently stumbled into Betsy's friend and Betsy's friend knew how to take what this other parent was talking about and use it. And she did.

JANE MABRY: My_ my understanding is this one particular mother I talked to was concerned-- in our talking it raised some more red flags and she pursued it and found that it wasn't a physical abuse that was taking place, but that it was sexual abuse. And that's what precipitated the investigation by the social services.

NARRATOR: The mother Jane stumbled upon was Audrey Stever, whose 3-year-old son was unhappy at the day care. Audrey was a friend of Brenda Toppin, an Edenton police officer, who had recently attended a seminar on child sexual abuse.

AUDREY STEVER: I had to have someone else-- I had to go to someone else and have them talk to him because--

NARRATOR: It was while they talked that the subject of sexual abuse had first come up.

AUDREY STEVER: I sort of turned it over to Social Services and the investigating officer really rather quickly.

NARRATOR: But as far as Nancy is concerned, Jane started it.

NANCY SMITH: She took it and she directed this parent to the correct legal channels that would blow this thing sky high.

NARRATOR: At first, the small town of Edenton went about its life as it always had. But a police investigation started and progressed. Then the town learned there was an arrest. Bob Kelly was arrested in April of 1989. Years later, Betsy would remember.

BETSY KELLY: I asked him every day, every hour of the day, "Bob, why are these children saying these things? Why are these parents turning against us? Why would someone want to say that you did this?" And then, when I got arrested, then I had a different perspective. I knew then how it really felt for someone to say, "Yes, she did that," and know in your heart you never did those things, but feel so helpless to prove it.

NARRATOR: Betsy was arrested in September of 1989. In the small town with one main street, rumors spread fast as people talked and other people listened.

JIM BAKER, Parent: There were names being bandied about the town and I said to myself, "Now, wait a minute. This is getting ridiculous." I said, "You could just go out and say anything." I could walk out on the street and say someone's name and say, "Did you know that"-- and all of a sudden, the next day it would come-- it would go full circle. It would stay in the loop and come around the loop and come right back at me and it was so easy to start something.

DEBBIE FOREST, Parent: These people panicked. I mean the rumors were unbelievable. You heard crazy things. It was everybody from the guy that ran the bank to the guy that ran the gas station to the police. It was just absurd. And everybody was looking at everybody else as you walked down the street.

NARRATOR: There were those who wondered how so much abuse could have taken place in such a small town, in a day care one block away from Main Street. Nancy, Betsy's sister, sometimes worked in Little Rascals.

NANCY SMITH: People were constantly in and out-- staffers coming to work at different times during the day, parents coming to pick one up for dentist, one for doctor, one was sick this morning so he's coming in at 11:00. You never knew when the door was going to swing open. Never.

NARRATOR: Debbie Forest had a 4-year-old child in the day care.

DEBBIE FOREST: My schedule was awful. They would never have had any idea when I was coming or going. I frequently would get two hours in the afternoon and go pick him up, wake him up from nap time and go have lunch and spend a little bit of time with him. And in all that time, 18 months of being there and all my comings and goings and my husband's comings and goings, we never saw anything to give us any concern. Ever.

NARRATOR: When questioned by their parents, most children denied there was any abuse.

GRACE BEAN, Parent: We asked our son and he denied it. I had asked him just very briefly to get his reaction, without putting things into his head, and we believed him, just like everybody else believed their child.

NARRATOR: In order to draw the children out, the police recommended sending all the children to therapists, whose reports would later be the basis of the prosecution's case. Three therapists would treat most of the children involved in the indictment. And within months, children who first denied the abuse to their parents would come to describe it.

LISA BAKER, Parent: It was a long process and we took her to be evaluated and it took about 10 months before she felt comfortable and safe enough to indicate that there was something that had happened there.

GARY SMITH, Parent: Once the children got into therapy and started working it out-- it didn't come right away. It took her quite a while. But once it started, it was just devastating.

OFRA BIKEL: I want to ask you a real hard question. I'm told that many children deny that they were abused and the parents didn't see any signs of abuse, either. Is it possible that if you let the children alone that they would have been all right?

LYNNE LAYTON: I'm going to say no. I think things would have-- there were things that were-- or she had lots-- my child had lots of anger before she opened up. There were lots of violent temper tantrums and-- that-- things that she was keeping bottled up that had to come out.

NARRATOR: Soon there would be such a flood of allegations by so many children naming so many people that the three prosecutors -- H.P. Williams, Nancy Lamb and Bill Hart -- had to stop interviewing more children.

BILL HART: There are 90-some children that have been involved in therapy and have disclosed some form of abuse. We made the decision to stop bringing charges or to only bring charges involving the children we thought, at that point were old enough, emotionally stable enough, verbal enough to be able to go into a courtroom and actually testify in front of a jury and in front of a defendant.

TELEVISION REPORTER: Robin Byrum worked with 2- and3-year-olds at the center, but her name hadn't beenconnected with the case until now. She was arrested--

NARRATOR: By the winter of 1990, seven defendants would be arrested. Besides Bob and Betsy Kelly, they were Robin Byrum, an 18-year-old day care worker, who was married with a 9-month-old baby; Dawn Wilson, 24-year-old single mother, who worked as a cook at the day care; Scott Privott, an Edenton video store owner with no connections to Little Rascals. Two other women, Darlene Harris and Shelley Stone, were released on bail. Together they were charged with 429 separate counts, including raping and sodomizing the children, having sex in front of the children, forcing the children to have sex with each other, inserting knives, scissors and toy hammers in the children's vaginal and anal openings, photographing the abuse and more. District Attorney H.P. Williams summed up.

H.P. WILLIAMS: [to reporter] I will tell you that all seven people are charged with conspiracy and they are charged together.

NARRATOR: In jail, the younger defendants, separated from their small children were pressured to talk, to implicate the Kellys.

DAWN WILSON, N.C. Correctional Institution for Women: [1990] I feel that they arrested the last three of us just so that we'd talk to them, tell them what they wanted to hear. I mean, taking me away from my baby at 19 months old, taking Robin from hers and he was 3 months, putting pressure on us so that we would talk to them and give them what they wanted. But they didn't think that we'd last this long.

NARRATOR: Robin was also pressured by the prosecution to inform on the Kellys.

ROBIN BYRUM, N.C. Correctional Institution for Women: [1990] If I knew something, I would have said something the minute I was arrested and taken from my baby. That would have been my breaking point.

NARRATOR: Attorney Joe Cheshire remembers.

JOE CHESHIRE, Defense Attorney: None of those women would have sat with children in prison, when they were offered to walk away with no charges by opening their mouth and saying Bob Kelly did something, if they had ever been involved. Anybody that's ever been in the criminal justice system knows that if a person is involved and offered a walk to say something, they will say something and walk.

NARRATOR: Robin and Dawn would stay in jail for a year before they were released on reduced bond to await trial. The prosecution insisted on trying the defendants separately. The first trial began in July, 1991, in Farmville, N.C., about 60 miles from Edenton. The defendant was Bob Kelly, who was accused of more than 100 counts of sexual abuse.

PHYSICIAN: [in court] I did a complete examination and dealing with child abuse, I examined the child completely from head to toe--

NARRATOR: More than a hundred witnesses testified over eight months, but at the end there would be no conclusive medical evidence, no physical evidence and no eyewitnesses. A key witness was Brenda Toppin, the police officer who led the investigation and who was the first to question the children. It turned out that she had destroyed, lost or erased every original document or tape she had and she seldom remembered what questions she had asked the children to elicit their responses.

BRENDA TOPPIN: [in court] As I have told you before, I have not written down my questions--

NARRATOR: Her first interviews with the children, she testified, were conducted with the help of her anatomically correct dolls.

BRENDA TOPPIN: [in court] This is the male doll.

MIKE SPIVEY, Defense Attorney: Okay. And that also has the rectal opening, just as the others do?

BRENDA TOPPIN: It does, yes.

NARRATOR: So at the end, it came down to the words of the children. They were questioned by the prosecutors Bill Hart, Nancy Lamb and H.P. Williams and cross-examined by the defense attorneys Mike Spivey and Jeff Miller in front of the 12 jurors. Their testimony is excerpted and read by actors.

BILL HART: [in court] Okay, did you like that school, Jamie?

JAMIE: No.

BILL HART: Why not?

JAMIE: Because a lot of bad things happened.

BILL HART: Can you please tell us what those bad things were?

JAMIE: Well, he-- he stuck a knife in my butt.

GIRL: He put his penis in my private.

NANCY LAMB, Assistant District Attorney: Are you talking about your front private?

GIRL: Yes.

SUZY: He put his penis in my_ heinie.

NANCY LAMB: Did that happen one time, Suzy, or more that one time?

SUZY: More than one time.

NARRATOR: The parents expressed their belief in their children's testimony.

CHRIS BEAN, Parent: I believed that these little children, who were 4 years old, could never have described the things that have been said unless they had happened.

GRACE BEAN, Parent: It's not in their realm of vocabulary. It's not in their realm of experience, unless they have experienced it themselves.

JEAN SMITH, Parent: Our son is 30-and-a-half, our daughter is 6 years old. They have no reason to say these things so, you know, we believe them.

MIKE SPIVEY: [in court] Bridget, who killed the babies?

BRIDGET: Sometimes Miss Betsy or Mr. Bob.

MIKE SPIVEY: And how did they kill them?

BRIDGET: With a gun.

NARRATOR: If some of the children's charges had seemed plausible, others seemed bizarre.

MIKE SPIVEY: [in court] Well, now, you told Miss Judy it happened in outer space didn't you, Bridget?

BRIDGET: It was a space ship.

NARRATOR: Bridget was 4 at the time. Jamie was 5.

JAMIE: [in court] He pushed me in the water and he said, "There's a shark," and he really did that at nighttime.

NARRATOR: Andy was 4.

MIKE SPIVEY: [in court] Where did he keep the sharks?

ANDY: He kept them in a salt water pond. He had a pond behind his house and he put lots and lots of salt in it so the sharks could live.

MIKE SPIVEY: Okay. And when he took the sharks out there so they could circle around the boat--

NARRATOR: The jury was divided.

OFRA BIKEL: Did you believe it all? Everything?

DAVID WILLIAMS, Former Juror: Everything. Sounded like a fairy tale, but a child that's 3 or 4 years old, they can't get it all out. But they try to tell you to the best of their knowledge and so I believed them.

DENNIS RAY, Former Juror: These children were so consistent over their stories and the little inconsistencies that they had-- like one of them said that he rode in a space ship and then, during the examination of the testimony, we found that they had went to the circus the Wednesday, I think, before that and the child had ridden on-- his favorite ride was a space ship ride. So the thing started making sense.

NARRATOR: Not to all of them. Some jurors had grave doubts.

ROSWELL STREETER, Former Juror: Them kids said a lot of things-- I mean, flying in outer space, in hot air balloons. I mean, in my opinion, it's the same kid that said Mr. Bob stuck a finger in their rectum. That's the same kids that said, you know, they'd been to outer space and he'd shot babies at the day care. You know, I-- in my opinion, the jurors are supposed to look at all of that, not just the kids said "Mr. Bob did that."

NARRATOR: Juror Mary Nichols was also unconvinced.

MARY NICHOLS: It just doesn't make sense. I was lying awake at night with this on my mind, worrying about it and worrying about what to do and just-- if I just had one thing that would convince me that he had done these things, and I couldn't come up with it.

NARRATOR: Something else bothered some jurors: The children had named more than 20 people in town as their abusers. Why weren't they all arrested?

ROSWELL STREETER: I mean, the children, they named over 20 people. That was-- it's very confusing. It's still confusing to me today. I mean, some people go to jail the rest of their lives and some don't, you know.

NARRATOR: Juror Marvin Shackleford, a 54-year-old factory worker, said that he, too, was perplexed.

MARVIN SHACKLEFORD: It all seemed-- sounded just like something a 2- or 3-year- old or 4-year-old young'n would dream up. I told them, I said, "You ain't proved a thing in the world to me." I said, "You have got to-- you're messing with a man's life." I said, "You just got to have some proof."

NARRATOR: The jury deliberated for three weeks. The arguments were intense and emotional.

ROSWELL STREETER: At the beginning of deliberations, I was so excited. I said, "Well, I'm here I'm serving now," you know and I felt like I was the best juror in the world. But I was-- I became very-- I soon became very confused. I couldn't figure out what did I miss during these eight months of testimony. I could not figure it out. It was like I was in a totally different courtroom than the majority of the jurors and it made me feel very inadequate.

NARRATOR: The majority of the jurors were convinced by the children.

DENNIS RAY: Once I heard the actual things that went on, from the time these children started to talking to the time up to present, the evidence was there.

MARY NICHOLS: I didn't believe that, but when I said I didn't believe it, then sooner or later they would get to the point that they looked at you like you were the village idiot, so you just shut up. You didn't say anything.

NARRATOR: Finally, after three tumultuous weeks of deliberations, the jury's verdict was out.

Judge MCLELLAND: Madame Foreman, and members of the jury have you agreed on verdicts in the cases of State against Robert Fulton Kelly, Jr.?

JURY FOREPERSON: Yes, sir. We have.

Judge MCLELLAND: Will you hand them to the Bailiff, please?

COURT OFFICIAL: [reading] "The State of North Carolina versus Robert Fulton Kelly, Jr.-- whereas the defendant is accused of first degree sexual offense, taking indecent liberties with a child"--

NARRATOR: By then Betsy Kelly was out on bond and was sitting behind Bob when the verdict was read.

BETSY KELLY: I felt like I was just sitting right there on top of her. And selfishly, I thought about myself. I thought, "What am I going to do? How am I going to go home? Where is home? What is my life going to be like?" And then I thought about Bob and I thought, "How on earth is he going to stand there and listen to someone say he's guilty?"

COURT OFFICIAL: [reading] "We, the jury, as attested by our signatures below, unanimously find the defendant guilty of first-degree sexual offense, guilty of taking indecent liberties with a child." Is that your verdict so say you all?

JURY: Yes.

COURT OFFICIAL: [reading] "We, the jury, unanimously find the defendant guilty of first- degree sexual offense"--

NARRATOR: Bob Kelly was found guilty on 99 out of 100 charges and sentenced to 12 consecutive life sentences.

COURT OFFICIAL: [reading] --"guilty of first-degree sexual offense" --guilty of-- --guilty-- --guilty-- --guilty--

BOB KELLY: I would have swore that everybody in the courtroom could hear my heart going, "Boom, boom, boom." It was so loud. It seemed like it took forever for them to read 100 verdicts.

COURT OFFICIAL: [reading] --"unanimously find the defendant guilty of first-degree sexual offense"--

BETSY KELLY: I don't think the atomic bomb could have gone off right beside me and it would have hit me any stronger than it did. Those people are saying Bob's guilty. How can they do that? I wanted to scream. I wanted to look at each one of them and I wanted to just scream at them, "You're wrong. He's not guilty."

TELEVISION REPORTER: Tears and hugs, parents call this a win for the children--

NARRATOR: How did the jury reach a unanimous verdict with some of them so uncertain?

MARY NICHOLS: My health was not good. I shouldn't have been there, but I was willing to do what I thought was right until it just got to the point where I couldn't.

NARRATOR: Mary Nichols died not long after the end of the trial. Marvin Shackleford also worried about his health.

MARVIN SHACKLEFORD: I had done had one heart attack and I sat there and argued and fussed until I started hurting in my chest. And I knew I didn't want to ave another heart attack, so I finally agreed just to get out of there. But I don't believe justice was served on the man. I really don't.

NARRATOR: The youngest of the jurors, 27-year-old Roswell Streeter, told us he simply gave up.

ROSWELL STREETER: I was honest in-- in-- in my answers in being selected for the jury. I sat and listened to everything and I was very honest until I was influenced that my vote be guilty. I was very honest up until that point. And you know, hey, I'm-- I'm-- I'm human. I can say I made a mistake.

CHILDREN: I hate you! I hate you! See you in a billion years!

NARRATOR: Flush with victory, the prosecution was feeling confident.

H.P. WILLIAMS: [to reporter] This is the transcripts of the trials, less jury selection, it does not include jury selection.

NARRATOR: It had been a long and expensive trial, so with six more defendants to try, they began to offer deals. So certain were they of the strength of the children's testimony that they were offering 40 and 50 years in jail as inducement for guilty pleas. There were no takers. So to start the ball rolling, the prosecution picked the defendant they considered the weakest link -- Dawn Wilson, the day care's cook -- and offered her an unexpectedly good plea bargain.

BO SIMMONS: As I said, you would be eligible for parole immediately. You would have served approximately a year and four or five months awaiting trial. Now, because of the--

NARRATOR: Dawn's father came with her to hear the terms. She would have to admit to only a few charges and would serve a year in jail. Going to trial after Bob Kelly's verdict was risky.

BO SIMMONS: --and were it not, I think, for the Bob Kelly case and the results of that, then to me it wouldn't be much of a choice. You couldn't stand up and say, "I did something I didn't do," particularly something of this nature.

DAWN WILSON: What about Elizabeth, though? If I go and I plead guilty-- about her, everybody saying her mother was a child abuser and stuff, how-- you know, I just worry about how she would feel.

BO SIMMONS: Sure, and that should be one of your main considerations. Potentially, somebody or some agency could come along and say, "Well, you've admitted that you have committed these acts with young children" and could try to remove Elizabeth from your care and custody.

NARRATOR: A single mother of a 5-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, Dawn Wilson had served 17 months jail awaiting trial. She had been free on bond for one year, reunited with her daughter, when Bob Kelly's verdict came out. Now she was given four days to decide. She could go to a jury trial or she could take the prosecution's plea offer.

DAWN WILSON: I feel like I'm being put on the spot, being forced to make a decision that I don't want to make or can't make. Part of me wants to take the plea so that I'll have that last time and it will all be behind me. I could be home in less than, you know, a year or two years or three, but then there's always the bad side of it that I would have pleaded guilty to something that I didn't do.

ROBIN BYRUM: Are you going to stick it out?

NARRATOR: She wanted to talk to her co-defendants.

DAWN WILSON: I'm no closer to a decision than I was Monday.

NARRATOR: Robin Byrum was her cellmate.

DAWN WILSON: I feel like I'm between a rock and a hard place. I don't know.

ROBIN BYRUM: The only thing is, if you take it, though, and we've fought as long as we have now, no matter what, you'll never be able to prove to people that you were innocent if you admit your guilt.

DAWN WILSON: What if I get a jury like Bob's and I'm there for the rest of my life? I'll be in prison looking at my grandkids grow up.

SHELLEY STONE: What I am really saying Dawn, is that's a decision you yourself has to make. I can't make it for you.

NARRATOR: Shelley was the third Little Rascals employee awaiting trial. Older, she was also the one closest to Dawn.

SHELLEY STONE: You have to live with it, no matter where you go. If you say you're guilty by taking the plea bargain, because that's what you're saying, that's with you the rest of your life and you can't take that away. If we go to trial, we fight it, we've got a chance that possibly-- that we will be found innocent because we are innocent.

NARRATOR: In spite of Bob Kelly's verdict, Shelley and Romer Stone tried to remain optimistic. Shelley, who worked at the day care taking care of the 4- and 5- year-olds, spent a month in prison before being released on bond and lived outside Edenton with her two daughters and her husband, Romer.

OFRA BIKEL: If Shelley were to be offered a plea, what would you say to her? What will you--

ROMER STONE: I'd say, "No." No. Never. I will not let her do that. If she does-- and she argued with me, of course, she might win out, but I'm not going to-- I'm not going to go along with it. I'm not going to go. If there is anything in my power to say, "No deal," no deal, because she just hasn't done anything.

NARRATOR: Mike Spivey, who, together with Jeff Miller, spent two years on the defense of Bob Kelly, knows the Little Rascals case intimately and believes that all the defendants are innocent.

MIKE SPIVEY: When you are representing somebody who says that they're innocent, and especially if you believe that they're innocent, and you have to sit there and tell them, "Listen, you can't sit there and say, `I'm innocent. The system will work and so I'm going to take the jury trial.' You've got to understand that the system doesn't always work. And if the jury believes you're guilty, in spite of the fact that you're innocent-- if the jury believes, based on this evidence that you're guilty, then you're going to go to prison for the rest of your life and there's nothing anybody can do about it. And you're going to have to live with that and your family's going to have to live with that."

NARRATOR: After four days, Dawn decided to reject the offer. The prosecution sweetened the deal: only a few months in jail in exchange for a guilty plea. She turned that down, too. She had decided she would put her trust in the system. She would go to trial.

COURT OFFICIAL: All rise. O yes, o yes, o yes. This honorable court is now in session --

Judge MCLELLAND: Thank you. Good morning to you all.

NARRATOR: Dawn's trial opened on November 2nd, 1992, in Hertford, 15 miles from Edenton. It lasted two months. Her case was prosecuted by Nancy Lamb and Bill Hart. Dawn's defense attorney was Bo Simmons. The children's parents were there, just as they'd been before. So were the children, four of the twelve from the previous trial with similar testimony, except less of it. It had now been three years since the abuse allegedly occurred.

1st GIRL: [in court] She stuck a needle in my privates.

NANCY LAMB: Do you remember what the needle looked like?

1st GIRL: No.

2nd GIRL: She licked Mr. Bob's penis.

BILL HART: Do you remember whether Mr. Bob's clothes were on or off when she did that?

2nd GIRL: No, sir.

NARRATOR: The children were now older. Killing babies in spaceships was not discussed.

BILL HART: [in court] Tell us what you remember having to do with Miss Dawn.

BOY: Lick her.

NARRATOR: In his summation, Bill Hart would stress the credibility of the children.

BILL HART: [in court] This case rises and falls on what the children say. And there has been nothing presented to show that you shouldn't consider these children as persons, that you shouldn't consider them to be eyewitnesses to these crimes.

NARRATOR: Bo Simmons, Dawn's lawyer, talked about the lack of evidence and the influence of the therapists on the children.

BO SIMMONS: [in court] There's not one shred of physical evidence to support what the children say. You remember these children-- none of these children had ever said anything about Dawn prior to the therapy process. And I went through with you yesterday and I showed you with each of these four children, how many months it was into that process and how many sessions they had had before they ever mentioned Dawn Wilson's name.

NARRATOR: Nancy Lamb would smear Dawn's reputation, as she and Bill Hart had done throughout the trial.

NANCY LAMB: [in court] Oh, poor Dawn. Oh, poor, falsely accused Dawn. This defendant has tried to portray herself to you as a sweet, innocent young mother of a little girl that she loves very much who could not possibly do these things these four children have said she could do. She made a concerted effort to make sure that you saw her interacting with that daughter in front of you as you would file into the courtroom after a recess. And she would be at the table, not out in the courtroom, back up at her table, hugging her daughter. Do you think she did that because she loves her daughter? She did it to build her facade.

NARRATOR: The jury deliberated for five days. When they came back, their verdict was unanimous. Dawn Wilson was found guilty on one count of first-degree sexual offense and four counts of indecent liberties. She was sentenced to life in prison, eligible for parole after 20 years. She was taken immediately to Women's Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina, to begin serving her sentence. Years later she would talk about the plea she'd rejected.

DAWN WILSON: It was always in the back of my mind, "Well, if I had taken that last plea, I'd be home by now. I'd be home with-- with Elizabeth for Christmas." It was always in the back of my mind

NARRATOR: Her parents, who had encouraged her to take the plea, were devastated.

SARA RICH, Dawn's Mother: I wanted her to take it. I wanted her to accept their plea because they were giving her such a minute amount of time. Take it. I wanted her to have a life. I didn't want her to suffer the same fate Bob had suffered. But she believed in the system. She had more faith in it than I did.

ROBIN BYRUM: I always go back and think about the week or two before she had her decision about the plea and I know now she wishes she took it. In mean, who wouldn't? She's facing life.

NARRATOR: When Dawn was convicted, Robin had been out on reduced bond for two years, living with her husband and her 3-year-old son, Anthony.

ROBIN BYRUM: All of this has been just a nightmare, but especially it's just coming closer. It's creeping closer and closer to me now and it's very scary to think-- but I have to go on. I have to. And if I just sat and dwelled on it, I wouldn't be here right now.

NARRATOR: Her mother, a nurse, raised Robin as a single mother. Robin was all she had.

ROBIN BYRUM: Mom's spent over $100,000 supporting me through all this. To get me out on bond, my mother put up $30,000 cash and we won't never see that again. I mean who wants to spend your life's savings, you know, to defend something you didn't do?

LOU BOLES: How do I feel? That I wonder if telling the truth is worth anything. It doesn't seem to work, so far. So it kind of takes away everything you ever believed in-- you know, if you tell the truth, things will come out. And see--and people will tell the truth and they get convicted.

ROBIN BYRUM: There's no way out. You're on a roller coaster. You can't get off of it unless you lie. If you lie and get a plea, then you're off. I thought about if they said, "No active time, but you still did something, would you consider?" That would mean knowing I would not ever have to be separated from my child again, but then I'd have to live with the rest of my life that I did something like that when I didn't do it.

NARRATOR: As the defendants were waiting, life in Edenton went on. Time passed. A year went by, then another. The seasons changed. Holidays came and went. There was not that much talk of the Little Rascals case anymore. As for the prosecution-- while plea offers circulated, talk of trials did not. In charge of the court calendar, they kept the schedule a secret. No defense attorney or defendant knew what to expect or when. There were rumors that the next defendant to be tried would be the one who was still sitting in jail right behind the court building in Edenton. Scott Privott had been there for over three and a half years.

SCOTT PRIVOTT: [October, 1993] Three and a half years. It's hard to comprehend sometimes that I've been locked up that long.

OFRA BIKEL: Do you think that they have evidence against you?

SCOTT PRIVOTT: No, they can't have any evidence against me. It's impossible. They might create some evidence, you know? But as far having anything real? No, because I didn't do anything. I've never been in the place. Again, I keep telling people that and they just go, "Well, I'm shocked." I say, "Yeah, I'm shocked too. For three and a half years I'm shocked." But no. If they've got evidence, I'd like to know what it is.

NARRATOR: The former president of the country club, the son of a judge, he was now charged with having perpetrated 61 acts of rape, sodomy and kidnapping on 15 day care children, who he claimed he had never even seen. Now the local press was asking the prosecution what was to become of him.

REPORTER: So safe to assume that Scott Privott you'll be targeting as the--

NANCY LAMB: Well, we'll certainly be looking towards him because he's in custody is the-- is one of the main reasons.

REPORTER: Any idea when you might be able to begin that process?

NANCY LAMB: It's hard to say without sitting down and thinking more about it, but, hopefully, sometime in the spring would be what we'd probably be looking at.

REPORTER: That soon?

NANCY LAMB: Right, that soon.

NARRATOR: But Scott's lawyer, John Halstead, was as much in the dark as his client, having never been informed how Scott became involved in the case, in the first place.

JOHN HALSTEAD: The state has been very reluctant to turn over materials over to us which would indicate to us how these allegations actually came to be, how Scott even came to be mentioned, in the first place in these-- his involvement with these charges. They have refused to provide those materials and have fought our efforts to gain those materials all the way.

NARRATOR: In all these years, Scott had never entertained the idea of a plea bargain.

SCOTT PRIVOTT: I can't. I mean, right now, the way I look at it, I couldn't take a plea. I know I didn't do anything and I just-- I just in no way can see taking a plea. I can't see saying I'm guilty of something that I know I didn't do. I just can't see it.

OFRA BIKEL: What would you do?

MIKE SPIVEY, Defense Attorney: Ofra, I'm not sure. I-- I really don't know. I just-- I would like to think-- I would like to think that I would say, "No, I-- I won't plead guilty to something I didn't do." But if I was actually confronted with that choice, knowing what I know about the system and knowing what can happen to you, I think I'd feel pretty badly if I was sitting in prison the rest of my life and I'd sacrificed my life and my family when I could have walked away from it all.

JOE CHESHIRE, Defense Attorney: The-- the closer you are to the system the more afraid you are of it because you know how it works. I think, to me, a lot of it would depend on how old my children were. If my children were grown and I thought they believed in their dad, I'd probably take it all the way. If my children were young and they needed me, I'd choose my children over my self-pride, even if I knew I was innocent.

NARRATOR: Joe Cheshire had always known that one day Betsy might have to face this dilemma. That time was getting near. It was rumored that the prosecution had changed its mind: Rather than Scott Privott, they now wanted to try Betsy. Bob and Betsy's daughter, Laura, was 6 when her parents were arrested. She had lived with Betsy's sister, Nancy. In the last year, with her mother released on bond and living outside of Edenton, she had been shuttling between the two homes.

BETSY KELLY: Laura-- Laura's good, but Laura's very angry. There are a lot of times when I just don't know. I don't know. I'm at my rope's end. I don't know what else to do. I've done-- we've talked about it. I've shown her how much I love her. I've tried to do as much as I can in financially providing things for her. I've let her make choices that I normally make and-- and I don't know. I don't know how deep that anger is or how long it's going to take to get it all out. If she'll ever get it all out.

LAURA KELLY: [December, 1992] When people ask me, "Where's your dad? Where's your mom?" I say that they've gone on trips, they won't be back for a long time. I can't say the real truth because they ask me and then I have to tell them the whole story and it's a really long story and it's really sad to tell them, but it's not-- it's like you can't tell them. You have to keep it a secret.

OFRA BIKEL: Does this make you kind of mad at your mom?

LAURA KELLY: No. It makes me angry that the people aren't telling the truth. I just don't know why they're doing this because they're not saying the right things. They know that they just want to get me mad, because-- they don't know that I'm mad, but I am because it's not fair that they can have a family and I can't. I can't have a family.

NARRATOR: Unexpectedly, Laura said that she wanted to live only at her aunt Nancy's house, afraid that once again her mother might be taken away from her.

NANCY SMITH: Once before, we picked her up from school and said, "Laura, you've got to come live with us because they've put your mother in jail" and she's not going to let that happen to her again. And she's sat here and seen her daddy go to prison and she knows that there's a possibility of your going, too, and she's not going to let us do that to her a second time, just go and--

BETSY KELLY: To be able to say, "If I take this plea bargain, I will only have to go back and do a year and then it's over"-- but to me that's an exceptional price to pay for freedom. And really, do you have freedom when it's over? How can I look at my 10-year-old daughter and tell her, "All this time, I've told you I'm an innocent person, but I have to tell this group of people I'm guilty so I don't have to go to prison"? I can't do that. I can't do that. Yes, I'm outraged. I'm extremely outraged. The longer this goes on the more outraged you become. I think probably the hardest part in all of this is what it's doing to my family.

NARRATOR: Her family had been shunned and ostracized since the case began. Cut off from their friends, they only had each other.

WARREN TWIDDY: I have been always one, when I went down Broad Street, I threw up my hand I hollered at somebody, I spoke to somebody. But now I walk down Broad Street and if somebody comes along and I speak, they'll put their head down and don't even answer me.

ALICE TWIDDY: I think you know when you're being isolated. No one has tell you this. You sense it and you know it. And you mainly know it by your friends not speaking to you.

WARREN TWIDDY: It is very lonely, but I can do it. This is going to come over and when it's over, then I will have my time and my say. But until it is, I have tried to remain calm and cool and have not made any statements to anyone about anything. I've accepted it and kept it within myself.

NARRATOR: Nancy, who had been raising Laura together with her own two children, had been trying hard to keep the family's spirits up.

NANCY SMITH: You just went on with your life. You had to, but you knew that somewhere down the road, questions were going to have to be answered and you were going to get to tell your side of the story. I could look at these people -- and I had to look at some of them every day -- and in the back of my mind I could always think, "Our day's coming. We'll meet you in court."

NARRATOR: Finally, Betsy's trial was scheduled for some time in 1994, five years after the case began. A pre-trial motion took place in the courthouse in Edenton. Three years later, Nancy still remembers every moment of what happened that day.

NANCY SMITH: We had gotten ourselves emotionally ready, as well as legally ready for a trial. All the people were there. All the right people were there, I thought, for motions, venue, the thousand things you have to do before you actually go to trial.

BILL HART: [in court] We're not quite ready to proceed and we ask the court's indulgence.

JOE CHESHIRE: We'd also join in that, your honor, we need about ten minutes. Then we will be ready.

JUDGE: Ten minutes, all right. Be back in about ten minutes. Recess is right now.

NANCY SMITH: Then all of a sudden, they adjourn. They leave. We're all sitting in the courtroom. Where are they going? What are they doing? And in a really short time, it seemed to me, she comes back and they've worked out a deal.

BILL HART: [in court] I wish to inform the court that, rather than hear the motions, we wish you honor to accept a plea from the defendant as to some of the charges that she has pending. In 89CRS-1328, defendant will plead to the charge of indecent liberties--

NANCY SMITH: They've worked out a deal. Betsy's going to take a plea. And then I thought, "Well, if you were going to do this, why didn't you do it at the beginning? Why did we go through all this torment?" And I have to be very honest, for just a split second I thought, "Maybe there's something here I don't know"-- just for a split second.

OFRA BIKEL: Maybe she did something?

NANCY SMITH: Maybe she did.

OFRA BIKEL: Why? Or else she wouldn't have taken the plea?

NANCY SMITH: Or she wouldn't take the plea. And that was horrible. That was horrible. And I know better. I know -- I know -- that nothing happened. I was there. I know nothing happened. And I know her. But just for that split second, I thought, "Why is she going to do this?" The parents sitting over there seemed very calm, as if they knew this was going to happen. And I'm looking around the room thinking, "Am I the only person here that didn't know about this?" It just all happened all at once and all of a sudden everything's come to a halt. It's all over. Done. Over. And I was so angry. I was so angry.

BETSY KELLY: I was beaten. I know that Nancy was very angry. I know my father was very disappointed. But I was going to be the one to walk through those gates and spend the rest of my life in prison if it didn't work out, if their day in court didn't work out.

NANCY SMITH: Now, my mind completely understands that. I do because it's her life. It's her decision. Intellectually, I understand that. But my heart did not understand that. We hung in there for seven years. We hung in there. And she made this decision by herself.

NARRATOR: She did tell her husband, on her last to visit to prison, of her decision.

BOB KELLY: We talked about it very briefly. I never told her I didn't want her to do it because she already knew that. But basically, I told her, I said, "It's your life. If that's what you want to do, I'll support you every way I can. I'll still love you. I'll still believe in you."

BETSY KELLY: But I knew. I knew what he really wanted to say was that, "Why did you do that? I would never do that. I will never do that." I knew that's what he wanted to say. I knew that's what he would have said, but he didn't say that.

NARRATOR: Betsy's father blames her lawyer.

WARREN TWIDDY: I wanted her vindicated, found innocent. And I believe Joe could have done it if he hadn't have give in. I guess she was told that that was the best way out and the only way out, but there were other ways out. She consulted with her attorney, not with us, so she had to take his advice, I guess.

JOE CHESHIRE: She was broken-- the imprisonment, the time without her daughter, the belief in the system, sitting through Bob's trial, which was just such an aberration of justice, losing faith in the system of justice.

JUDGE: Are you aware that the plea of "no contest" is, so far as the entry of judgment is concerned--

NARRATOR: The plea that Betsy Kelly was offered and the only one she said she would accept was a plea of "no contest," where the prosecution allowed her to go on maintaining her innocence, while understanding that in the eyes of the law she would be considered guilty. In a case like hers, it is an unusual plea.

JUDGE: What is your plea to these 30 offenses?

BETSY KELLY: I plead "no contest," sir.

NANCY SMITH: What-- what is that? What is "no contest"? What difference does it make? The bottom line is, she quit. And that leaves that open. That leaves that question always hanging there. If she wasn't guilty, why did she take a deal?

BETSY KELLY: [in court] When I began this journey about five years ago, I was a very strong, a very optimistic, a very believing and a very innocent person. And as I sit here today, I've become very tired. I've become very disillusioned--

JOE CHESHIRE: I think Betsy made a courageous decision. I support her in the decision that she made. Yes, it'd have been wonderful if we could have gone to trial and won and the whole case would have fallen down like the house of cards that it is. But she could not afford, at that moment in history, to take that chance.

NARRATOR: The prosecution demanded that in exchange for the plea, Betsy would serve an additional six to twelve months in prison. As far as the family was concerned, they lost.

WARREN TWIDDY: They were happy with that, the plea bargain. They won. They were happy. They told the parents, "Look."

NARRATOR: The children's parents were quietly victorious.

REPORTER: Mr. Smith, what's your reaction to this plea?

GARY SMITH: Well, I am disappointed that the time wasn't longer, but then again, I'm grateful that this one's behind us.

JEAN SMITH: People know that she is a child abuser. That is what is important to us right now.

GARY SMITH: If she gets out in one day or five days, as far as I'm concerned, as long as she lives, she's a child abuser. She's a convicted child abuser and that's the end of the story.

NARRATOR: All that was left now was to explain it to Laura.

BETSY KELLY: In six months, we'll go through my birthday,

LAURA KELLY: --Leslie's birthday, my birthday, Daddy's birthday--

BETSY KELLY: She needed a parent. And at the time, I was her only hope. Here was a chance. Here was an opportunity that she could have a mother.

NARRATOR: Betsy stayed in prison almost one full year. In the middle of 1993, Glenn Lancaster, a successful businessman in Raleigh, North Carolina, picked up a local paper. He read a story about the Little Rascals case and about the man the writer called "the forgotten defendant," Scott Privott, who had been languishing in jail for over 3 and half years awaiting trial.

GLENN LANCASTER: I'm finding myself saying, "This cannot happen in America. This cannot happen. This doesn't happen in our country," you know? I mean, we don't throw people in jail without even-- the police even interrogating them or talking to them or asking them questions.

NARRATOR: But obviously, it had happened. In the three and half years that Scott Privott had been in jail, hehad been interrogated by the police only once.

SCOTT PRIVOTT: It's like almost everything I've been taught to believe in in this country has just been trashed.

OFRA BIKEL: What do you see in your future?

SCOTT PRIVOTT: I don't really see a future. I don't see a future right now. I just exist from day to day. That's-- you know, that's my future, just exist from day to day.

GLENN LANCASTER (on the phone): Hello. Is this John Halstead's office, please? I'd like to speak with him.

NARRATOR: Glenn Lancaster called John Halstead Scott's lawyer who told him what he had told us.

JOHN HALSTEAD: Scott remains in jail because of the exorbitant bond, a million dollars or more. Our experience has, from efforts on other defense counsels to get bonds reduced, even then they were only able to get them reduced to a certain level and even that level, Scott cannot meet those types of bonds.

NARRATOR: Glenn Lancaster began to make phone calls and write letters. Then, without any explanation, the prosecution agreed to reduce Scott's bond from $1 million to $50,000. The bond was posted and he was released to await trial. Scott Privott had spend 1,333 days in jail.

SCOTT PRIVOTT: It's almost like holding a compass in your hand and just watching the needle spin. You just don't know which direction is which. The wife is gone, step-daughter's gone. Friends, you don't see them. A lot of people I call friends I've not heard a word from.

NARRATOR: But he had at least one new friend. As soon as he was released, Glenn Lancaster, who was in the telecommunication business, offered him a job in his telephone maintenance department.

GLENN LANCASTER: I remember very well the day he got out. He had an old set of golf clubs, no golf shoes, and a couple of cardboard boxes with some paperback books in them and an old radio. And this was for a man who on the first Monday of September of '89 walked out of his front door-- he was married, he owned a home, he owned two businesses and he had a little bit of money in the bank. And then he's released and he-- and he-- and everything he's got is gone.

NARRATOR: With Glenn's help, Scott said, he felt he was getting back on his feet.

SCOTT PRIVOTT: You know, I'm working. I've got a job. You know, I'm realizing freedom again. I can do as I pretty much please. The only part of the bond was that I couldn't go into Chowan County, but other than that I was free to go, walk, do anything I wanted to do-- you know, just enjoy myself.

NARRATOR: Then there was Darlene Leighton, who had also followed his case and believed in his innocence. They fell in love.

SCOTT PRIVOTT: I was married when I was arrested and that marriage just went amok because I was locked up. But this lady here that I've met, she's been fantastic. She's shown me a lot about life that I've never known before. She's really shown me some true caring and love.

NARRATOR: While Scott, with Darlene's support, was preparing to go to trial, the prosecution offered him a plea bargain. It wasn't the first.

OFRA BIKEL: What was the offer?

SCOTT PRIVOTT: The initial plea? The first one I can remember-- you know, when I was locked up, they had come to my attorney with something about a 50-year plea bargain and I just said, "Yeah. Right. Hello." You know, 50 years, I'll be 90 to 100 and didn't do anything in the first place. "No. Forget it." And it just kept getting lower and lower each time they'd come back with something.

NARRATOR: The new plea offer was startling, considering the seriousness of the charges. He was allowed to plead "no contest" and not admit to any guilt and would be put on probation with no more jail time. Darlene was adamantly against it.

DARLENE LEIGHTON: I didn't think he should take any plea bargain. We had many, many discussions, many arguments. I would never take a plea bargain for something I didn't do. Never.

NARRATOR: David Rudolf, a prominent attorney in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was closely following the case.

DAVID RUDOLF: If someone says to you, "If you plead `no contest,' this will all be over. You can get on with your life and never have to think about going to prison again. If you refuse, this will continue to hang over your head and at some point you will have to go to trial, we're not sure when, and you will face life in prison," what would you do?

SCOTT PRIVOTT: It works on you. It does. It scares you. It's just fear is what it is, and you think, "I've got my freedom back and," you know, "attorneys are advising me," you know, " `Go ahead and take the plea. Get on with your life,' you know, and so forth. That's what it amounts to. It's just pressure. It's immense pressure. I mean, I didn't just, you know, say, "Hey, yeah. I'll take the plea." I mean, I-- I dealt with it. It-- it was a struggle.

NARRATOR: He finally decided to take the plea and go on with his life. On June 16, 1994, he made a statement in court.

SCOTT PRIVOTT: [in court] I appear in this courtroom today to accept a plea agreement with the state of North Carolina. I say to you I am innocent of each and every charge. I plead the "no contest" not as an admission of guilt, but as an admission of fear, a fear of being incarcerated for life for something I did not do--

OFRA BIKEL: Why did the offer you a plea? Why did they--

SCOTT PRIVOTT: That's a good question. Why did they offer me a plea? You know, if I'm supposed to be the monster that they said I was, if I did these crimes that they said I did, why would they offer me a plea? I think the people of the state of North Carolina should ask that to the state. You know, "Who are you-- if this man did this stuff, who are you to let him back on the streets? You should bury him under Central Prison." But they came to me with the plea. I didn't ask for a plea. They came.

MIKE SPIVEY: There are a lot of legitimate reasons for making decisions about who you try and what charges you try them on. Where you run into difficulty is when you have a case like this, where you have people charged with identical conduct and terrible things. And if they are true, if these things were true, how could you ever justify putting all these people back on the street? How can you say that a person that will rape children over and over and over again in groups should be put back on the street? I-- I don't think you can say that. I don't think there's any way you can justify that. I don't know what the answer to that is. You'll have to ask them.

NARRATOR: In spite of repeated requests by FRONTLINE, the prosecution would not talk to us or explain their reasoning or motives. Scott has his own explanation.

SCOTT PRIVOTT: Why? Because they knew nothing happened and they wanted to save face. So I guess maybe I helped them save face, but I'm not happy with them at all.

DARLENE LEIGHTON: I don't believe they could possibly have prosecuted him. I don't believe it.

OFRA BIKEL: But what a dangerous game.

DARLENE LEIGHTON: It is a dangerous game. And it is taking a chance. But I just think it would have been a glorious win.

COURT OFFICIAL: [reading] "We, the jury, unanimously find the defendant guilty of first- degree rape, guilty of first-degree sexual offense, guilty of taking indecent liberties with a child." Is this your verdict, so say you all?

JURORS: Yes.

NARRATOR: When Bob Kelly lost, he lost big. He had spent three years in jail before he was convicted and sentenced to 12 consecutive life sentences. It took two more years for an appeal to be completed and filed and another a year before the three appellate judges had studied the brief and were ready for the oral arguments. We who had been following the case from the start expected nothing of any importance to happen. We were surprised. The honorable Gerald Arnold was the Chief Judge.

Justice GERALD ARNOLD: [January 9, 1995] Let me say that, here in our function in appellate adjudication, we do not pass upon the question of guilt or innocence. Our function is to review the trial proceeding for correctness.

MARK MONTGOMERY, Appellate Attorney: If I could turn, then, to issues one through five, our contention there--

NARRATOR: Bob Kelly's appellate lawyer was Mark Montgomery. He had argued over 200 cases in front of the appellate courts.

MARK MONTGOMERY: Every trial, even a trial that lasts nine hours, has errors in it. The trick on appeal is finding errors that make a difference. I think that if the court had not had a sense, as most people in the public did, that there was just something wrong with the enormity of the prosecution, the outlandishness of the accusations that were being made-- if the court hadn't had a sort of a gut level sense that there must be something wrong with this, we would have been in big trouble. [in court] The case, as these cases often do, came down to a question of the reliability of 3- and 4- year-old children as reporters of abuse. The prosecutors in the case attempted to say--

NARRATOR: The attorneys were allowed only 45 minutes to highlight the most important points in their briefs. The Kelly case was first. Then the judges heard the arguments in the case of North Carolina versus Katherine Dawn Wilson. Dawn's appellate lawyer was Kirk Osborn.

KIRK OSBORN: [in court] --that the parents diaries in this case are full of indications that one parent was talking to another parent about what their child said--

NARRATOR: Four months later, the court of appeals would announce its decision, unanimously overturning the verdict, granting Kelly a new trial, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court of North Carolina.

GERALD BEAVER, Defense Attorney: I can't tell you how unusual that is. For the Court of Appeals of North Carolina to unanimously reverse this case, and the Supreme Court of North Carolina to uphold it, shows that what occurred in Farmville must have been fundamentally flawed to the point that it-- the verdict could not be trusted.

NARRATOR: Released on bond, Bob Kelly for the first time in seven years could hold his wife's hand and walk outside.

REPORTER: Bob, how did you handle the separation from your family?

BOB KELLY: I tried not to dwell on it. I tried to-- [to Betsy] Am I hurting your hand? I'm hurting your hand. I just tried not to dwell on being separated and to remember the good, happy times and-- you know, there's no one answer. It's just--

REPORTER: Bob, what are your immediate plans right now? Where are you going to go when you leave the parking lot?

BOB KELLY: I have no idea. You'll have to ask-- she has arranged everything.

BETSY KELLY: I'm the travel agent.

BOB KELLY: I don't know. Anything else? Thank you.

NARRATOR: They were married for 17 years, they had been separated for 7. It did not take them very long to realize that nothing was ever going to be the same for them.

BETSY KELLY: I had changed. And he had, too.

NANCY SMITH: She and Bob tried. They tried. But the one thing that they both were trying to get away from was the only thing they had left in common-- the case. So every time they were together, there it was between them. And there's no way to get around it and there's no way to get over it and there's no way to get under it and it destroyed them.

NARRATOR: So while Betsy and Laura went back to Edenton to live with Betsy's parents, Bob stayed in a small motel in the outskirts of Raleigh.

BOB KELLY: Good morning. How are you? You have a good day.

NARRATOR: Like Scott, he worked for Glenn Lancaster in telephone maintenance, trying hard, he said, to enjoy what he had.

BOB KELLY: I look to what I can appreciate today. Most of the time, I'm driving someplace and I get to see the birds and the trees and the sunrises and the sunsets. You can't see that in prison. The air smells different. I'm 48, almost 49. I don't want my life to be eaten up with bitterness. Life's too short.

NARRATOR: His daughter, Laura, spends every weekend with him.

BOB KELLY: She's a veteran, almost. She's been through the wars with us. I've tried to teach her not to give up. I've tried to teach her to do what's right. When I was incarcerated, I would write her once or twice a week and, at the end of the letter, I would always write, "Do your best. Always be truthful and never give up." And I was separated from my little girl for six years and I had to try to raise her through the mail for six years. Laura was 6. She was in kindergarten. And she had some tough times and that made me angry, knowing I couldn't be there with her and I couldn't put my arms around her and comfort her.

LAURA KELLY: I had a friend and she said-- she didn't really explain it to me, but she said, "I can't come to-- my momma won't let me come to your house because of you dad." She was a good friend, but she never told me the reason that she couldn't come to my house because of my dad. She never told me. I never asked her. Why did it happen to us? Yes, I feel angry because it should have happened to somebody else instead of us, but I know that somebody else would feel bad about it and say that it should have happened to us but-- I wish it didn't really happen to anybody because it wouldn't be fair.

BOB KELLY: I see your Uncle Jimmy taught you how to shuffle--

LAURA KELLY: It's always-- in the back of my mind, it's always there, but it's not going to make me go home and cry for hours because I-- I did that in the past and it didn't work, so I'm not going to do it again. I'm going to stand up and I'm going to be strong and I'm going to go through this.

NARRATOR: In the very beginning of the case, Bob was offered a plea bargain where he was to serve three to five years in prison. He turned it down. All along, he remained adamant that he would never accept any kind of plea bargain.

BOB KELLY: Most people I was in prison with said, "I would take a plea. I'd get it over with. I'd do this. I'd do that." And I'd tell them, "Fine. You do that. I can't do that." I have a tremendous responsibility for my children to raise them the best way I can and I can't raise them saying, "Do as I say, not as I do." I have to raise them by example.

NARRATOR: Glenn Lancaster had become a good friend to both Scott and Bob. He worried about Bob's future.

GLENN LANCASTER: Personally, I would be devastated if he was convicted. And about three weeks ago I asked Bob to come into my office. I was trying to give him a reason that he might consider about plea bargaining. Oh, I'm sure they'd give it to him. But after listening to me without interrupting me, he smiled and said, "I can't do it." He said, "I cannot do it." He said, "I'm going to fight them." He said, "I committed none of these crimes. I will not plea bargain," you know, "in any way whatsoever." You know, "They can try me or they can turn me loose, but that's the only two things they can do."

LAURA KELLY: It makes me strong. You know, it's like I'm walking down the street, you know, with a sign on my chest saying, "My father's not guilty. My father's not guilty." I don't care if this goes on for the rest of my life. We're going to be found not guilty. We may be found guilty 50 times before we're found not guilty that one time and Dad's going to be let go. He's not-- he may stay in jail-- he may be put in jail 10 more years, 20 more years, I mean, but he is going to be found not guilty because nothing ever happened.

NARRATOR: By Christmas of 1996, we'd been visiting Edenton for the past seven years. By now, all the defendants were at least temporarily free, enjoying the holiday season. Dawn Wilson, now married, was shopping for pets for her 5-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, and 3-year-old son, Zachary.

DAWN WILSON: That's a heck of a story to tell him of how he came into the world and where he was at and what was going on at the time with his mother and his father and everybody else.

NARRATOR: He was born in the prison hospital seven months after she had begun her life sentence.

DAWN WILSON: I only spent one day with him and I was taken back to the prison. Then my mother and my stepfather and my daughter came up to get him and took him home. I went through postpartum depression really bad. I cried. I called my mom and cried and cried.

NARRATOR: Her verdict was overturned in 1995, together with Bob Kelly's.

DAWN WILSON: That was the best day of my life. It was like, you know, "I'm never going to let you all go. You're always going to be with me and I'm not going to let anything happen to you and I'll try not to leave you again." Of course that was a promise I really couldn't keep because I don't know if they'll ever come back and charge me again. Of course, it's a scary thought, to be taken away from them again. Zachary's such a mama's boy and Elizabeth and I, it's like trying to get to know each other all over again. We have hard times now. There's some things she gets angry at. Like, I didn't spend the time that I needed to with her, whereas I'm spending it with her brother. It's lost years. I can never make them up to her. I can never go back when she's 18 months old, learning to potty train, learning to do this and learning to put her clothes on, learning to put her shoes on. I can't go back and redo that. I just have to pick up where I came home and go with it from there and just make the best of it.

DAWN WILSON: You got homework tonight? Better go do it. No TV until after homework's done. One day she'll--she'll understand. She'll understand more as she gets older.

NARRATOR: Sara Rich, Dawn's mother, took custody of Elizabeth when dawn was first arrested. She has kept custody for fear of the results of a new trial.

SARA RICH: Each moment is precious. We have Christmas. The four girls will be here. All the girls will be here and the grandchildren. Will this be the last one? I don't know. A resolution is what I'm looking for. Let's put it to rest. Let's resolve somehow, get it behind us and go on. We haven't been able to do it for eight years.

NARRATOR: But Dawn is as adamant as ever.

DAWN WILSON: Even if they were to come knocking at the door and say, "Well, we got this plea for you. Will you take it?" I'd still tell them no. I'm still going to fight to the very end because I'm not guilty.

SARA RICH: She'd stand trial again. It's amazing. She's got more fortitude than I. I would run. I would run and take the quickest bargain they offered me.

NARRATOR: So it was the 1996 Christmas parade in Edenton. To the casual observer, it was an ordinary small-town event. To us it was amazing. There was Betsy Kelly, supposedly a notorious criminal guilty of child sexual abuse, standing in the middle of town, smiling at the children and cheering her daughter on. Betsy and Laura live with her parents, the two people who waited so long for her to come back. But now that she has, they said, she seemed still distant.

ALICE TWIDDY: Betsy is not a very vocal person. Always you-- you're wondering exactly how she feels and she is not going to reveal everything to you.

WARREN TWIDDY: Something's bothering her. I don't know what it is, but something's bearing on her because she comes in and, you know, has dinner and goes upstairs and the two of them don't come down and associate with us downstairs. There's something-- something eating on Betsy.

BETSY KELLY: I don't intend to be disconnected. They're all I've got. I don't have anybody else. It's somewhat of an awkward situation because no one-- no one is the same and no one knows what to talk about. You don't want to dwell on this.

NARRATOR: The things that bother them are not discussed.

WARREN TWIDDY: I wanted her vindicated, found innocent. I would have been retired some nine, ten years ago. I had it all set up for retirement, but I had to continue on. I had obligations I had to meet that I had made in order to support Betsy.

NANCY SMITH: We had hung in as a family. We had survived as a family. We couldn't have survived without each other. But come the plea, it's her decision. It's Betsy's decision, not a family decision.

BETSY KELLY: Their need for vindication is still very much an issue, but it's an issue that I can't-- I can't resolve. I can't help them. I did what I had to do and I did it with the understanding that once done, it was over.

NANCY SMITH: We were very close. We were very close. I knew exactly what she was thinking. I knew what she was feeling. And it wasn't just the crisis we were in. It was just that she was who she was then. But that's all gone. She lets nobody in. She's not the same Betsy.

BETSY KELLY: They won't find that Betsy that left seven years ago because she's-- she's not there anymore because I had been to prison. I have been to hell and back and I had been there alone. And it changed me.

NANCY SMITH: I chalked that up, in the beginning, to being in prison. But now I'm not so sure. She had to make a tough decision and she made it by herself. Now I think that she thinks that she has to face her life mostly by herself.

OFRA BIKEL: Why are you staying here? Why are you in this town?

BETSY KELLY: Because Laura asked me to let her finish school here, not to make her change schools in the middle of the year, This is her home. She's known nothing else. And her life has been so disrupted and there's so much that she's had to adjust to that I felt that I-- I felt that-- that was a sacrifice that I could make.

JOE CHESHIRE, Defense Attorney: Most people in the public think that a plea is kind of a-- you've bought your way out of something. You've gotten some fast talking lawyer who's gotten you out and your happy as a clam. You can't imagine the pressures that there are on you when people have accused you of a crime. You can't imagine how your life changes. When you're charged with a crime, you're raped. And sometimes you're guilty. But if you're not, it changes your life forever. Forever.

NARRATOR: Robin has been accused of crimes all of her adult life. When we visited her and her husband on December 17, 1996, she was still awaiting trial. Neither she nor we had any inkling of what was to happen while we were there. It was in the early afternoon and she was playing with her children when the telephone rang.

ROBIN BYRUM: Hello? Yeah.

NARRATOR: But we're getting ahead of our story. That morning Robin and her husband Kevin had talked about the last seven years.

ROBIN BYRUM: Every day I think about it. OFRA BIKEL: What do you think?

ROBIN BYRUM: How much it hurt and what they put me through and why it happened.

OFRA BIKEL: Do you think about it?

KEVIN BYRUM: I do and I don't. I think about it, but try not to let it show.

NARRATOR: Their son, Anthony, was now 7, his brother, Austin, 9 months old.

ROBIN BYRUM: I mean, if I thought about that I could be taken away from them again, I wouldn't be functional.

OFRA BIKEL: You don't know what it is to be married without--

ROBIN BYRUM: Nope. I don't know what it's like without it. I sure would like to know, though.

NARRATOR: The events that led to Robin's phone call had actually begun with Shelley.

REPORTER: Shelley Stone and her lawyer talk about the time which has elapsed since she became a Little Rascals defendant with a mixture of anger and patience.

SHELLEY STONE: The last seven years have put an emotional and financial strain on my family. It has caused a lot of hardships.

FRANK BALLANCE, Jr., Defense Attorney: Yes, its much too long for any criminal case to drag this long. As you might imagine, the witnesses disappear, things are forgotten--

NARRATOR: Shelley hadn't been able to get a job since the case began.

SHELLEY STONE: Now, a lot of your applications are, "Do you have charges pending?" Well, I had charges pending, so I had to be honest with it and say yes. "What charges are you pending? How long have they been pending?" They think you're crazy. They really think you're crazy when you tell them, "Oh, gee," you know, "this happened in '89 and I've had charges pending since 1989." "When are they going to be over?" You can't tell-- I couldn't tell them when they were going to be over. So people didn't want to hire me because of that.

NARRATOR: Her husband, Romer, who had lost his government job because of cut-backs, couldn't find work either because of the charges against his wife. Over the years, Shelley had been getting plea offers. Now they were getting better and better.

SHELLEY STONE: They offered me no jail time, no probation, no fine, no nothing. All that I had to do was have a felony record and "no contest" and that was it.

OFRA BIKEL: What is the point of such an offer? Why not just dismiss the charges?

DAVID RUDOLF, Defense Attorney: The point is to avoid a trial and at the same time to save face. And the only way that you can do that is by making the offer so good that the person simply cannot turn it down and that's what happened here.

NARRATOR: But Shelley did turn down the offer. She had always maintained she'd rather go to court.

FRANK BALLANCE: Your honor, if it pleases, the court will recall that we had filed a motion to dismiss this prosecution based on the state's denial of a speedy trial to my client, Miss Stone.

NARRATOR: It was on that day, 100 miles away, that we were visiting with Robin. She, too, had been gotten plea offers and rejected them.

ROBIN BYRUM: Well a plea-- the one they had offered me was the best one, "no contest." That's not saying you're innocent and that's what I am, so I'm not going to take it. If they want me, they're going to have to fight for it.

ROBIN BYRUM: [on the phone] Hello? Yeah. Oh, my Gosh! They dismissed all my charges! Oh, my God!

Judge GRANT: The First District has completely dismissed all these cases against your client, Miss Shelley Stone--

NARRATOR: When the prosecution agreed to dismiss the charges against Shelley, they also dropped all the charges against Robin and Darlene Harris. Robin's lawyer had called to tell her.

ROBIN BYRUM: I can't believe this! I don't know what to say. Okay. Thank you all so much! Bye-bye. It's over. They dismissed all of them, and Shelley's, too.

FRANK BALLANCE: Shelley, you are a free woman.

SHELLEY STONE: Thank you very much.

FRANK BALLANCE: I'm proud to tell you that.

SHELLEY STONE: I feel fantastic. I mean, it was seven years and now, all of a sudden, it's over. So I've got to get used to it, that's all.

ROBIN BYRUM: It's good news, honey. It's good. Remember Mama told you Edenton was a bad place? Well, Momma can go anytime she wants now. It's over. Wish your daddy was here. Don't cry, it's happy. It's good news. Yes, it is. Tell brother. Say, "It's good news."

NARRATOR: Why, after seven years of determined prosecution, did the state agree to dismiss the charges? They would not explain their decision to us, so we asked the defense.

OFRA BIKEL: How can they just drop the charges like this? I mean, they don't want to talk to us, but say they did. What do you think they would say?

JOE CHESHIRE: I would guess-- let me see if I can put on political-speak for a minute. "The people of Chowan County have suffered enough. The children have suffered enough. We've certainly made our point. We've labeled all of these people as pedophiles. Whether or not they are or aren't, society is certainly safer for our prosecutions. And we just decided that the judicial resources would be better used in other places." I can't think of anything else they could say.

DAVID RUDOLF: I would be very surprised if they ever try another Little Rascals case again. I don't think they will.

NARRATOR: But in that case, what about Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson who had been granted retrials? By then, the prosecutorial team had been dismantled. Special prosecutor Bill Hart had been removed from the case and was back in Raleigh. District attorney H.P. Williams had lost the race for reelection in 1994 and had become a defense attorney. Only Nancy Lamb, now Assistant D.A, was left and she would add a bizarre new twist to the case.

1st TELEVISION REPORTER: Yesterday the former Little Rascals Day Care owner was indicted by a Chowan County grand jury--

NARRATOR: She had Bob Kelly re-arrested on new charges of sexual abuse of another child in Edenton 10 years ago.

2nd TELEVISION REPORTER: These new allegations brought against Robert Kelly, Jr., are not related to the allegations brought against him in the Little Rascals Day Care sex abuse scandal.

3rd TELEVISION REPORTER: The indictments came down this morning: eight counts of sexual offenses that allegedly occurred here in Edenton in 1987 and allegedly involved a minor child--

NARRATOR: Glenn Lancaster, Bob's employer. posted the bond.

GLENN LANCASTER: It's outrageous. Again, they don't ask Bob any questions. They don't come to him and say, "Someone is saying this. Did you do it?" They just throw this charge at him, he's back in jail and has to post another bond. You know, and they could, I guess, arrest him every other day and see how far he could go, getting people to post bond for him.

JOE CHESHIRE: It stunned me, one, that they would try this transparent little trick of bringing this new case, but-- and it's really almost pitiful. It's almost pitiful. If it wasn't so serious, it would be incredibly funny.

NARRATOR: Nancy Lamb held a small press conference, answering questions about the child and when she had found out about the allegations.

REPORTER: Are they involving just one child? Is that the way we're supposed to understand it?

NANCY LAMB: That's right, one child, one female minor victim.

REPORTER: Nine years old, is that correct?

NANCY LAMB: She was 9-and-a-half or 10 years old that summer. She turned 10 that summer.

REPORTER: How tough is it going to be to--

NARRATOR: She explained that she stumbled upon the accusations the year before at the end of 1995 while reviewing the Little Rascals case after it was overturned.

NANCY LAMB: That's right. During that process of preparing and reviewing the new-- the old cases, if you will, this came to light during that time.

NARRATOR: But in court, Gerald Beaver, Kelly's new state-appointed lawyer, took sworn testimony. Once again, Officer Brenda Toppin was a key witness. She had led the investigation of the Little Rascals case. Now she would contradict Nancy Lamb's statement to the press.

GERALD BEAVER: [in court] And did you get involved in an investigation of Mr. Bob Kelly?

BRENDA TOPPIN: Yes, I did.

GERALD BEAVER: When did that investigation begin?

NARRATOR: She testified that she had known about these allegation back in 1992, at a time when Edenton was a buzz with hundreds of allegations against Kelly.

GERALD BEAVER: [in court] And who did you mention it to?

BRENDA TOPPIN: My recollection is that I mentioned it to Miss Lamb.

NARRATOR: She had reported the allegations to Nancy Lamb, but neither found them important enough to pursue.

GERALD BEAVER: [in court] Do you recall what her response was?

BRENDA TOPPIN: My recollection is that she didn't have much of a response.

GERALD BEAVER, Defense Attorney: Under our statutes, whenever any person has knowledge of a child being abused, they are required by law to report it. One of the odd things in this case, it was not reported, until it became convenient for the state to mount a prosecution to do so. For a period of three years, that child was not seen and was not offered what we call the society, companionship, aid and assistance of the state. No therapy, no help, no anything. [in court]It was only when Robert Fulton Kelly had successfully appealed and was no longer facing those 12 life sentences, or pulling those 12 life sentences, that the State of North Carolina suddenly found it imperative to go out and contact this child. And that's the essence of objective showing of vindictive prosecution. Can anyone in this courtroom deny--

NARRATOR: The defense lawyers see the new charges as a vindictive maneuver intended to put Bob Kelly back in jail at any cost.

MIKE SPIVEY, Defense Attorney: If you try the new case in isolation, then what it looks like is that you have a girl who comes in and says, "That man molested me 10 years ago." And he says, "No, I didn't." Well, who's the jury going to believe? You know it's sort of a no contest. You've got the little girl that says he did and the man who says he didn't, odds are they're going to believe the little girl.

MARK MONTGOMERY, Appellate Attorney: This is the kind of case they win on all the time. You know, dozens of times a year, the prosecution comes up with one isolated charge, one child that says, "The defendant came into my house and messed with me." It becomes a lying contest between her and the defendant and jurors tend to believe a child in a situation like that, I think.

NARRATOR: Nancy Lamb's strategy was to convince the court that there was no vindictiveness involved. She insisted that the alleged victim of 10 years ago should have her day in court, should have it before the Little Rascals retrial and separately from it.

NANCY LAMB: [in court] --dictates that the interests of justice do require that these cases be separated, and that is that this victim in this case is entitled to have her day in court before a jury--

DAVID RUDOLF, Defense Attorney: Why now and why first? If they were going to bring these charges at all, why not bring them with the Little Rascals case and why oppose trying them together?

NANCY LAMB: [in court] --and her day in court should not-- should be, I contend to you, before a jury who is not, if you will, tainted by the stigma of the Little Rascals case. And I say that to you because I believe--

NARRATOR: The Little Rascals case, the prosecution maintained, has been tainted and would taint any other case which comes in contact with it.

NANCY LAMB: [in court] As you may be aware, there were two FRONTLINE presentations on public television and broadcast nationally, including in North Carolina, that dealt with the Little Rascals Day Care prosecutions, analogous, they were claiming, to the Salem witch hunts of the 1600s.

DAVID RUDOLF: I think the non-cynical view is that she thinks Bob Kelly is guilty and she thinks that the new charges will be easier to prove and prosecute than the Little Rascals case and therefore she wants to proceed with that in order to try and get a conviction. That would be the non-cynical view. The cynical view would be that she thinks that she can never win the Little Rascals case, that she wants to save face, that she wants to save her reputation and therefore she proceed with another case, if she can, in an effort to get a conviction for other reasons.

JUDGE: [in court] Based upon the evidence and arguments made at this session of court--

NARRATOR: While the judge did not agree to dismiss the new charges, he ruled that the prosecution could not try the new case separately from the Little Rascals case. So Nancy Lamb must now make a public decision, whether she is ready to try the Little Rascals case again or if she is prepared eight years later, to stand up and dismiss the case which has ruined the lives of so many people. As for Betsy, she will be a convicted felon, guilty of sexual abuse in the eyes of the law for the rest of her life. And for Bob, whatever Nancy Lamb does, he is well aware that a conviction on even one charge of first-degree sexual abuse means the rest of his life in prison.

OFRA BIKEL: What would you advise Bob now?

MARK MONTGOMERY: I asked Bob to keep an open mind about any offers that might come his way. He had been adamant from the start that he would never accept a plea, so it wasn't me bringing up the subject. But yes, the last thing I said to him was "Keep an open mind."

OFRA: Because he's in danger.

MARK MONTGOMERY: He's in danger. He's in grave danger, yes.

BOB KELLY: You either fight or you don't fight, one or the other. And you don't get half way through and give up. [Four days ago, on Friday, May 23, 1997, Assistant District Attorney Nancy Lamb announced the dismissal of all the charges against Robert Kelly and Dawn Wilson in the Little Rascals Day Care case. She did so, she said, reluctantly, for the best interests of the children and their families. However, she will proceed with the prosecution of Bob Kelly on the eight new charges of alleged sexual abuse of a child in Edenton in 1987.]

ANNOUNCER: Dig deeper into this extraordinary case atFRONTLINE on-line at this address. [http://www.pbs.org] What do you think about the history and outcome of Little Rascals? Join our discussion. Or check out our roundtable on the legal and scientific issues with producer Ofra Bikel and leading experts. Read excerpts from the children's testimony, a summary and chronology of Little Rascals and lots more. Explore FRONTLINE online at www.pbs.org. Next time on FRONTLINE--

EXPERT: We have a gun that has no history.

ANNOUNCER: How does a gun that was never made end up in the hands of a killer?

EXPERT: These are coming directly from the factory.

ANNOUNCER: Ride along with an undercover cop for a shocking investigation.

EXPERT: This illicit business of trafficking in firearms is capitalism at its best.

ANNOUNCER: And take a closer look at the epidemic of illegal guns. Watch FRONTLINE. ["Hot Guns"] Now your letters. "Little Criminals" was the story of a 6-year-old boy who assaulted an infant. Most of your comments were sympathetic to the 6-year-old. Here's one that wasn't.

KEVIN F. BROWN: [Long Beach, CA] Dear FRONTLINE-- For the record, I am black and the facts are that the boy was genetically predisposed, poorly managed and environmentally challenged. Nature worked in concert with the mother's inability to nurture. All that considered, he attempted to kill another child. I don't believe he'll change. This child should remain out of civilized society.

JOHN M. WILLIAMS: [San Antonio, TX] Dear FRONTLINE-- The real story here is not about a little boy, but rather about a society whose family structure is disintegrating. Interrogating a 6-year-old baby boy, reading him his Miranda rights and placing him in "jail" for two months is an outrageous crime of the state and should be addressed as such.

FRAN BERNADETTE WAGNER: [Pahrump, NV] Dear FRONTLINE: In today's society there are many kids who are dismissed as a "lost cause." I am one of those lost causes. I was told that I had such severe behavioral problems that i would not live to be 16 years old. It is because I had one adult who really cared I am still here. Children are our future. Believe in them and they will strive. Belittle them and they will shrink.

ANNOUNCER: Let us know what you thought about tonight's program. [fax-- (617) 254-0243; e-mail-- frontline@pbs.org; U.S. mail-- DEAR FRONTLINE, 125 Western Ave., Boston, MA 02134]. INNOCENCE LOST: THE PLEA

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