"Parent Involvement"

Prosecutors knew at an early stage of the investigation that parents of the children who were abused at Little Rascals would need to be monitored carefully, kept informed, and given a great deal of support. Prosecutors began meeting with the entire group of parents early and on a regular basis in order to relay information to them concerning the progress of the case. Prosecutors called special meetings after court hearings concerning pre-trial issues to inform them in lay terms as to what had occurred at each particular hearing. Prosecutors were careful never to discuss specifics of any particular child's case during these meetings and instructed families to refrain from discussing case specifics among themselves in order to avoid the later inevitable defense claims of hysteria and cross pollination of information. Nevertheless, prosecutors had to deal with the defense strategy at trial of attempting to show the allegations of abuse were fueled by community hysteria. This problem was compounded by the defendants and their supporters appearing on FRONTLINE , a nationally syndicated PBS series, prior to the start of Bob Kelly's trial, and presenting their view of the case, while prosecutors and families could say very little at that time, thus leaving the viewing public with a skewed view of how the allegations of abuse actually developed. At trial, however, prosecutors were able to present information which revealed that parents were anything but vindictive and hysterical. Evidence was presented which showed that many people in the community and also other parents isolated the initial reporting parents from any support, thus reinforcing the idea that nothing sexual occurred in the day care, and the Kellys should be believed. It was not until the day care closed and their own children began disclosing that these other parents were forced to re-think their position and face the reality that their children had been molested at the day care. This reality was in direct contrast to the defense strategy to compare this situation to the Salem Witch Hunt and to try to prove there was social peer pressure among the group of parents whose children attended the Little Rascals.

The prosecution would have had a much more difficult time dealing with defense claims of hysteria if they had not intervened early with parents and kept them informed and supported. Fortunately, prosecutors realized that without the cooperation of well-informed, emotionally healthy and supportive parents, chances of a successful prosecution were slim.

During both trials, prosecutors had to be caring and sensitive to the needs of the children and their parents as it came time for them to testify, because this was an extremely stressful and emotional time for the families. In each child's case, both parents were called as witnesses in order to corroborate, if possible, their child's testimony about the abuse and to describe their observations concerning their child's behavior during the time the abuse was occurring and after the child began to disclose. In calling several different "family units," prosecutors were able to demonstrate that most parents did not know the specific allegations other children besides their own were involved in. They were further able to show that many parents who had been experiencing behavior problems with their children during the time the day care was still in operation knew that other children besides their own were having similar behavior problems because of discussions that had occurred regarding the problems between various mothers who were at their wit's end as to how to deal with these issues. Thus, such discussions reassured those parents who were seeing behavior changes in their children to more easily dismiss the unusual behavior as a "phase" that all children go through. Use of the "family unit" testimony proved to be a positive support mechanism for the parents by bringing them closer together during the trials, thus allowing for the development of a strong support system among the entire group.

"Children in Court"

Preparing all the potential child witnesses for testifying was a major undertaking for the prosecutors. Because of the large number of potential child witnesses, prosecutors has to find a way to effectively prepare all of them for the upcoming trials. One of the prosecutors was familiar with the court school concept, and felt that it would be the best way to familiarize the children as a group with what they could expect if they were called as witnesses. The school consisted of two sessions, each 1 1/2 hours long, which were held in an actual courtroom after hours. The objectives of court school were to familiarize children the courtroom setting and acquaint them with the people who may be present in court during a trial. The main emphasis was on the child's "job" as a witness--to tell the truth. Role-playing was utilized to reinforce this issue, and also to teach them that the truth may be that they do not know or do not remember the answers to some of the questions asked of them. During court school, children were not allowed to discuss the facts of their particular cases. Other children who had cases pending besides the Little Rascals victims also participated in court school. Prosecutors videotaped all court school sessions and made them available to the defense; however, none of the defense attorneys ever requested to view the tapes.

Court school was an effective tool for preparing the children to testify, but it also served the prosecutors well. They were able to assess each child's potential ability to be an effective witness. It provided the prosecutors and the children an opportunity to become acquainted. It gave the children the time and space they need to develop trust in the prosecutors. It let each child realize the he/she was not in this alone. Finally, it provided prosecutors with the opportunity to determine which of them should question which child if that child testified.

After every potential child witness completed court school, prosecutors divided the children into groups and assigned each group to an individual prosecutor for individual preparation. This was more difficult for both the children and prosecutors as together they went over each particular child's case. Individual preparation began with a rapport developing stage, which involved getting to know each child on a more personal basis over a period of time. Specifics of a child's case were not discussed during this stage of preparation. After a child became more comfortable, the discussion would turn to what had happened to him or her at the day care. Prosecutors were careful, however, to avoid over-prepping because they wanted the children to be themselves on the stand and to testify in their own words. Prosecutors also kept the parents informed of their child's progress and emotional state during this phase of preparation, because most children had difficulty discussing what had happened to them at Little Rascals, as they had been threatened to keep it a secret.

The decision to choose which children would actually testify at both trials included many of the same considerations used in making the original charging decisions, as well as whether a particular child had medical findings, documented behavior changes, unique descriptions of abuse made in their own words, corroboration by other witnesses, clear and concise disclosures of abuse, and corroborations of their statements and behavior within journals parents kept. Prosecutors paid close attention to how the children described what they had perceived and used the children's language in such descriptions. This was an important factor used to rebut the defense theory that parents and therapists had planted these ideas in the children's minds. There were many examples of unique child-like descriptions of what were clearly sexual activities that were stated by the children and other corroborating witnesses at trial, which illustrated to the jury that the children were not influenced by parents and therapists. Jurors also heard each child use their own unique words to describe the same kinds of abuse.

Before Bob Kelly's trial began, prosecutors had intended to call approximately 20 children to testify about acts of abuse they were involved in personally. However, it became obvious after several children and their families had testified that the impact of their testimony on the jury was starting to diminish. Also, prosecutors had a better idea after hearing the defense attorneys cross-examine the children and their families as to what the defense strategies were. Thus, prosecutors decided after presenting evidence of abuse through 12 children and their families to call no more children, believing that jurors had ample evidence to convince them beyond a reasonable doubt of Kelly's guilt.

During Dawn Wilson's trial, prosecutors originally intended to call 6 children to testify. Again, however, after the trial began and prosecutors could better grasp the defense the defense theories of the case, they called only 4 children to testify about acts of abuse they witnessed or were involved in personally.

Carefully and sensitive attention to the needs of the child victims in these cases on the part of the prosecutors, both before and during trial, was one of the most important factors in bringing about convictions in these two cases. The children's parents had to believe that prosecutors had the best interests of their children at heart during the decision making processes, and the children had to believe that the prosecutors were people they could trust. Prosecutors knew that if they did not do all they could to gain the trust and support of the child victims, they had not chance of ever being able to prosecute these cases at all. Therefore, careful planning at an early stage of investigation concerning preparation of the child victims and presentation of their testimony turned out to be invaluable.

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