Borshch Bones NOT Human SacrificeAncient ritual abuse legend reappears among urban "Molokans"
Scared by the longest and most expensive criminal trial in American history
by Andrei Conovaloff, February 21, 2011 — DRAFT In-Progress — Updated July 10, 2013
News articles attached
Angeles Times, Apr 13, 1984 OC_A14
|Two couples who live on the same block in Pico Rivera were formally charged Thursday with sexually molesting four neighborhood children, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office announced.||461 words|
Parents say children forced to watch mutilationsThe Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution, May 23, 1985, page A/13
|Los Angeles Times
NORWALK, Calif. - A group of parents, digging at an abandoned church site where children said they were forced to watch satanic killings of humans and animals, have uncovered 300 to 500 bones.
The bones, uncovered during three days of digging at the site in Norwalk, about 15 miles south of Los Angeles, are the latest twist in a convoluted child-molestation investigation that has involved at least 12 children.
But the parents and officials disagreed Wednesday ...
Churchyard Dug Up in Molestation CaseMay 30, 1985 — Los Angeles Times — Section: Long Beach — Page: 10-10 — By David Ferrell — Red notes updated August 28, 2011
|NORWALK — News
cameras rolled as jackhammers and bulldozers took cracks
at the huge slab of concrete. Dozens of bystanders watched
from under shade trees cordoned off with long ribbons of
police tape. Sheriff's deputies milled about near a mobile
crime lab as traffic slowed to a crawl on the nearby San
Gabriel River Freeway [605 Freeway].
The scene last Friday, in a former church yard on Flatbush Avenue [at Branscomb Street, southeast corner], was part of the search for evidence in a child-molestation case that has baffled investigators for more than a year and has torn apart the working-class neighborhood of Planter Street in Pico Rivera.
Beginning May 18, parents of the alleged victims dug at the site and uncovered hundreds of bones they attributed to satanic sacrifices of humans and animals. The parents said their children had reported being taken there and watching rituals in chambers beneath the church.
According to the parents and police reports, at least a dozen Planter Street children have described being molested and, in some cases, threatened with knives and guns to keep them quiet.
Last April, four residents of Planter Street were arrested and charged with 19 counts of kidnapping and child molestation. The charges against them were dismissed at a preliminary hearing in July in downtown Whittier, however, after several children recanted their stories and the judge ruled there was insufficient evidence. A fifth resident, arrested in September, has been bound over for trial on two counts of molestation and two counts of kidnapping. All allegations were dismissed 10 years later. "The Nightmare That Lingers," Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1995. $18 million in damages awarded.
Called a 'Witch Hunt'
Defense attorneys have described the case as a "witch hunt" cooked up by conspiring children, crusading parents and the recent media uproar over child molestation in general.
"This is the kind of case we all read about ... where (lives) are ruined by absolute fabrications," one attorney, Peter Gwosdof, said in an interview. "I just can't believe that such a case exists."
Former suspects have filed multimillion-dollar damage suits against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the city of Pico Rivera, which contracts with the sheriff for police services. The suits charge false arrest, civil-rights violations, defamation and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Parents, meanwhile, have carried on a search for evidence while at odds with sheriff's investigators. Some parents have criticized the Sheriff's Department for taking what they said was only a cursory look at the allegations involving ritual sacrifices that surfaced last summer.
Led by Vicki Meyers, mother of three of the alleged
victims, a small band of parents began digging at the
former site of the Old Dukh-i-zhiznik
"The kids told us there was a basement under this
church," Meyers said. "We rented a jackhammer and
decided to dig up the bottom."
Although sheriff's deputies halted the excavation on the state-owned property last week, Norwalk Mayor Marcial (Rod) Rodriguez, urged investigators, city officials and parents to begin working together to look beneath the building's concrete foundation. By Tuesday, the quest had produced a haul of about 500 bones — most or all believed to be animal remains — and conflicting conclusions about what the bones might mean.
Parents Point to Bones
To the parents, the bones helped confirmed the allegations, but a sampling of the bones examined last week by the coroner's office was determined to be nothing more than soup bones and poultry bones — perhaps left over from some long-ago meals, a coroner's spokesman said.
A member of the Dukh-i-zhiznik
"We used to throw our trash in the rubbish bin, but most of our services were on weekends and the rubbish (trucks) came toward the end of the week," church member Mike Treguboff said. "We had flies and maggots . . . so we said, 'The land's open, we might as well bury the bones.'"
The bones were mostly the remains of meals served at weddings and other occasions, Treguboff said.
Lt. Bill Stonich, a member of the county's child-abuse detail, said more than 100 bones and bone fragments would be examined this week by both the sheriff's crime lab and a county paleontologist, to determine their age and origin.
But so far, he said, none of the bones has promised a
|"At this point,
we are leaving literally no stone unturned," Stonich said
Tuesday. He said investigators have done their best to
check out every allegation.
"The children have told us many, many things. We have spent thousands of hours investigating .... If (we) had human bones, certainly that would be something to look at in depth.
"We don't have that. We have chicken bones, steak bones and so forth. We are no closer to prosecution (now) than we were prior to digging."
Parents disputed the coroner's findings, arguing that some of the excavated bones were not cut in the manner of soup bones. The parents said the bones supported the charges even though searchers have yet to find the underground rooms where the rituals allegedly occurred.
"My son told us where to dig ... " Meyers said. "We dug in a 6-by-8-foot area and found approximately 500 bones. The kids in the neighborhood know what's going on."
Despite medical evidence that some children were
molested, investigators acknowledge they have had
difficulty from the start sorting out the scores of
detailed and sometimes confusing stories told by the
alleged victims, whose ages range from 3 to 11. Deputies
conducted a three-day investigation before arresting the
four original suspects last April.
All allegations were
dismissed 10 years later. "The
Nightmare That Lingers," Los Angele Times, April 16, 1995. $18
million in damages awarded.
Allegations Recanted Later
After the arrests, investigators continued to gather testimony, interviewing children at the Pico Rivera sheriff's station. The children later began recanting their stories, however, and prosecutors based their case at the preliminary hearing on the testimony of two 8-year-old boys. Under questioning, one said he had lied, and another was accused of lying by Whittier Municipal Court Judge Patricia J. Hofstetter.
The impact of the case has caused at least three families to move from Planter Street and turned the once-close-knit neighborhood into a place of factions and broken friendships, residents said.
Amid widespread television and newspaper coverage last
week, rumors circulated about the religious rites
carried on at the Old Dukh-i-zhiznik
Meyers, who mocked her own reputation by wearing a
jersey with the initials "H.A.P.P." (Hysterical and
said the word "moloch"* has
religious significance: Webster's unabridged dictionary
defines it as "a tyrannical power to be (appeased) by
human subservience or sacrifice."
* Spelled in 9 variants: Molech, Milcom, Molek, Molokh, Melekh, Malkam, Malcham, and Milkowm. "Moloch" has nothing to do with Molokane, nor is this congregation of the Molokan faith. This is an interesting assumption, but entirely wrong. Read much more below.
But church member Treguboff said his is a Spiritual Christian sect that
separated from the Russian Orthodox Church in the 1600s.* The Russian word "molok,"
which means milk, distinguished members of the sect
because they used milk, rather than wine, in religious
said diaspora male members wear
tunics, a high collar Russian shirt or
during services, and the men generally wear beards. Women
wear a head shawl, (Russian: kasinka,
triangle) and full-length dresses with
** Molokane were named for drinking milk during fasts, especially during major fasts like Lent, when no animal products were to be consumed. (See: 1 Peter 2:2) The Russian Orthodox Church had about 200 fasting days a year. Whether they substituted milk for wine needs a citation.
"I feel for the people who went through this ordeal with their children," he said, "(but) people just jump to conclusions."
Parents criticized investigators Tuesday for halting their work at the site after they had dug only one long, sharply angled trench into the church's concrete slab. Parents said the 3-foot-deep trench was not enough to determine whether there were underground rooms.
"They quit," complained one parent who requested anonymity. "The kids told them (the entrance to the cellar) had been filled in ... they were going to have to dig quite a ways to find anything. The kids ... felt they were getting pretty close."
Stonich, however, said children did not indicate the entrance had been filled until after the digging failed to uncover a stairway. He said workmen found no areas that appeared to have been filled in. He also said no further digging is planned unless the studies of the bones support the children's allegations.
"The children told us there was a tunnel and a basement below the foundation," he said. "There was no indication to me or to anyone else that (the basement) exists or ever existed."
Bones in Churchyard Called Table ScrapsJune 6, 1985 — Los Angeles Times — Section: Long Beach — Page: 10-3 — By David Ferrell — Red notes updated March 10, 20111
|NORWALK — More
than 100 bones and bone fragments unearthed at a former
church site here have been determined by a county
paleontologist to be commercially butchered beef and lamb
bones, casting doubt on allegations that they are the
remains of satanic human and animal sacrifices.
That conclusion contradicts charges made by children
and parents in a yearlong child molestation case in Pico
Rivera, according to Lt.
Bill Stonich of the county's child abuse detail.
Parents had claimed their children were sexually
molested and forced to witness satanic sacrifices at the
former site of the Old Dukh-i-zhiznik
"We were told we would find bones of a human origin and/or bones of animals used in some type of ritualistic sacrifices," Stonich said. "We did not find any evidence of that. (We) determined that the bones were beef and lamb bones, apparently cut with a band saw, which is consistent with commercial meat-cutting practices."
Stonich said the bones were examined last week by Dr. David Whistler curator of vertebrate paleontology
of the Los Angeles
County Museum of Natural History. Whistler's
conclusions, Stonich said, supported the earlier
explanation of an Old Dukh-i-zhiznik
Charges Still Pending
The case began in April, 1984, with the arrest of four Planter Street residents on 19 counts of molestation and kidnapping. Their charges were dismissed at a preliminary hearing last July, but a fifth resident of the street was arrested in September. That suspect now faces trial on two counts of molestation and two counts of kidnapping.
Vicki Meyers, a parent who helped initiate the digging
at the former meeting
"I don't care what the bones are," Meyers said. "I want
to know why my kids know where they were buried. If
they're (leftover) dinners . . . where's the other
garbage? There's no food with them, no paper plates . .
Investigators found no blood and saw nothing odd about the bones, according to Stonich.
"I think they're getting down to nit-picking," Treguboff said angrily, denouncing the accusations.
Stonich said investigators unearthed more than 100 bones in the most recent dig, May 24, before turning them over for scientific study.
Parents, who began digging at the site May 18, had
previously uncovered 300 to 500 bones, Meyers estimated.
She said she turned over only a sampling of those bones
to sheriff's deputies. Meyers said she intends to take
some of the remaining bones to an independent cult
specialist to determine whether they were used as part
of satanic rituals
San Jose Mercury News (CA), August 11, 1985, page 1A
|If 10-year-old David
Tackett is correct, six satanic neighbors ran a thriving
den of iniquity and murder in a modest beige house covered
''I know the devil is there," said Tackett, who claims that he and eight playmates were sexually abused during cult-like rituals at the house on Planter Street.
Sitting at his kitchen table recently, Tackett matter-of- factly described baby sacrifices, orgies, cremations, cannibalism, blood letting,...
Law: Four people wrongly accused 11 years ago of child molestation have won a $7.3-million settlement. But the pain the allegations caused has not gone away.April 16, 1995 — Los Angeles Times — Section: Long Beach — Page: _ — By J.Michael Kennedy and John Pope — Red notes updated March 10, 2011
|The pain and the tears
welled up in Helen O'Keefe when she thought of what it had
been like all these years—the good name lost and the fight
to get it back. The court battles, one after another, for
her and her husband, Tim.
And for their onetime neighbors, Jose Valentin and Myrna Malave, as well.
Eleven years ago, a group of young children on Planter Street in Pico Rivera accused the four adults of sexual molestation, relating tales of "dancing knives" and baby killings. All the accused were marched off in handcuffs by sheriff's deputies as their neighbors watched.
They were subjected to the sneering curses and threats that convicts reserve for child molesters, the lowest of the low in jailhouse hierarchies. Old friends wondered aloud if they had really done it. To this day, Valentin will not take his grandchildren out alone for fear of a knowing look from someone who recognizes him.
Although the original charges were quickly dismissed as bogus, none of the accused have ever returned to the two small homes on Planter where they lived for so many years.
"No matter how many years go by, it doesn't get any better," Helen O'Keefe said. "The stigma is still there."
Last week was a victory of sorts for all four. A jury in Norwalk said they deserved to receive a settlement totaling $7.3 million from Los Angeles County for what they have endured, the pain of having their reputations soiled, perhaps beyond repair. One juror said she found it bizarre that even after all these years, two children who once lived on Planter still testified that they had taken part in satanic rituals long ago.
But now comes the wait, the one to see if they must undergo yet another round of courtroom appeals before the long journey can be finished.
So how could this happen? How could Tim O'Keefe the law student and Helen O'Keefe the bank employee, Jose Valentin the bakery worker and Myrna Malave the nurse fall into this morass? It seems unlikely that any of this would have occurred were it not for the now-infamous McMartin child molestation case, which had splashed across the news for the first time only a month before the four Pico Rivera residents were arrested.
In that case, seven people were indicted on 115 counts of child molestation and conspiracy stemming from allegations at the family-run McMartin Pre-School in Manhattan Beach. Suddenly molestation became a hot topic, a subject that was being discussed everywhere.
The McMartin case ended—six years and $15 million after it started—with a mistrial in the case of two defendants. Charges against the other five were dropped.
Tim O'Keefe calls it "riding the McMartin wave" that got them all arrested in the first place. He blames what happened, at least in part, for his not being able to pass his California Bar exam.
Malave says the ordeal is why she can no longer be a nurse and doesn't like to leave her house. Interacting with people has become difficult, she said. "There's always someone who's going to doubt."
It all began April 3, 1984—a Tuesday—when a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy responded to a call from a woman on Planter, according to an appellate brief in the case. The O'Keefes, Valentin and Malave lived on that street as well, but the two couples did not know each other.
According to the brief, the woman told the deputy that two of her children were acting strangely. Among other things, her 3-year-old son had been complaining that there were large spiders under his bed, making her suspect that he had been abused in some fashion. Further, her 8-year-old son told the deputy how, sometime earlier, he had been taken to a house down the street by a Latino teen-ager and locked in a closet.
Neither story set off alarm bells. The deputy said at the time that he was uncertain whether either boy was telling the truth.
But by Thursday, the neighborhood was in an uproar as word of more possible child molestations spread along the street. Deputies were called again to the street, this time because there were more than a dozen angry parents who had been told by their children that they, too, had been abused.
The swirl of activity was lost on the O'Keefes, Valentin and Malave. (The latter two were married but used different last names.) What they did not know was that their two houses were being pointed out by some of the children as the places where child molesters lived. Beginning the next day, a Friday, their lives would be changed unalterably.
Helen O'Keefe was the first to be confronted. A 26-year-old real estate appraiser for Great Western Savings Bank, she had come home for lunch and to finish a report she had been working on. She knew the small house well because she had lived there since she was 3 years old.
There was a loud rapping at the door. When she opened it, she saw two sheriff's deputies, one with his gun drawn, the other with a shotgun. One of the deputies pulled her outside and forced her to the ground.
"I felt like such a criminal," she said. "I kept saying, 'What's happening? What's happening?' "
Down the street, Valentin, then 48, was at home watching television when he heard a noise in the back yard. When he went to investigate, he saw a group of deputies with their guns drawn. Then there was a knock at the front door. More deputies. They told him he was being detained until a search warrant arrived. Three hours later, Valentin was led off in handcuffs.
"I wanted to die right there," he said. "I was in a state of shock."
Through it all, he said, no one told him why he was being arrested.
At the O'Keefe house, Helen was finally allowed to call her husband, who was working as a clerk in an Anaheim law firm while he attended law school. He rushed home, only to be arrested.
Malave, then 42, was not home either when the deputies arrived. She was visiting her daughter when a friend phoned to say that something very strange was going on at her house. There was a crowd of people and police cars out front. When she reached the house, she too was arrested. Valentin had already been taken away.
"I heard the words child abuse and right away said, 'You've got the wrong house,' " she recalled. " 'There's been a mistake. Child abuse to who?' "
The arrest of the two couples was all over the news. They were charged with 17 crimes, including conspiracy, child molesting, sodomy, oral copulation, kidnapping and false imprisonment. Their bail was set at $100,000 each. And inside the jail, Tim O'Keefe, also then 26, said he understood the true meaning of fear the first time he was marched to the shower.
"I had to strip and then walk down to the shower," he said. "There was just a barrage. Every thing was thrown at me—food and urine. People were spitting at me."
They were calling him "baby raper."
For Helen, it was equally demeaning, feeling as if she were on display at the jail and sickened by her own stench after six days with no shower.
|On the weekend after the
O'Keefes were arrested, one of Helen's sisters, Roseann
Ruvolo, called their parents in New Mexico. The parents
drove nonstop through the night to get to Los Angeles the
next day. Each day after that, until the O'Keefes were
released after 22 days, someone from the family was at the
jail to make sure all was well. Valentin and Malave posted
bail earlier and were released before the O'Keefes.
Ironically, relatives of defendants in the McMartin case often would be standing in line to visit at the jail as well. Ruvolo said they did not talk to them for fear of being associated with the more famous case.
Getting out of jail did not diminish the anguish of being treated badly. Valentin found himself a pariah at the bakery, a total outcast.
"People would swear at me. Someone spit on me," he said. "I had to sit there and take it. A guy said under his breath, 'I'll kill the son of a bitch.' When I'd sit down at a table in the cafeteria, everyone would get up and walk away.
"A petition was circulated to get rid of me. I worked nights, and people followed me into the parking lot after work. People asked me if I really did these things. It went on for a long time."
When Tim O'Keefe returned to law school for the first time, one of his classmates—a man he had known since childhood—asked him if he had really done all those things. Tim said he exploded in front of the class.
"It was like going to the guillotine," he said. "You know the press has already been there asking about me."
For her part, Helen O'Keefe returned to work at the bank, but only after enduring an initial threat to take her job away until her innocence was proved. She takes pride in the fact that she has stayed with the bank and been promoted, through economic downsizing and her own problems.
Malave was supposed to start a new job the Monday after her arrest and lost it because she was in jail. She lost another job because of the time required in later civil suits. After several unsuccessful tries at a return to nursing, she is now on permanent disability.
"I don't know if I could face a new job again," she said, citing the stress of the work now.
In the wake of the arrest of the two couples, a talk show got into the act.
One of the children on Planter Street appeared on the Oprah Winfrey program for a segment on victims of satanic rituals. There, he talked of being coerced into witnessing animal sacrifices, drinking animal blood from walnut shells and being put into coffins. Almost in passing, he also said he had witnessed a Latino baby being murdered and baked in an oven. Winfrey, at least on the air, appeared to accept it all as gospel. In the course of the interview, the boy's mother said the four people responsible had been arrested.
The criminal case against the four never made it to trial. Instead, it was dismissed only three months after the charges were filed.
Eight of the 11 children who made initial claims later admitted they had lied, according to a lawyer for the O'Keefes. Another of them recanted on the witness stand at the preliminary hearing. Whittier Municipal Judge Patricia Hofstetter, in dismissing the case, said inconsistencies in the children's testimony led her to conclude that they were lying.
Peter Gwosdof, Helen O'Keefe's lawyer, speculated last week that the children of Planter Street who eventually recanted may have initially merely wanted to get in on the act, to be a part of the excitement going on at the time.
In January, 1985, all four of the accused filed suit, charging false imprisonment, civil rights violations, defamation and the negligent infliction of emotional distress. But the weirdness of the case continued.
Nine months after the four were freed, parents began digging around the former grounds of a Norwalk building
Meanwhile, the two couples pressed forward with their civil suit, which did not reach a courtroom until 1990. A Superior Court judge concluded that the four should be awarded $3.7 million in damages. The county appealed and a jury trial was ordered.
This most recent trial lasted six weeks. During it, one of the Planter Street children—now a teen-ager—took the stand and told essentially the same story that he had on the Oprah Winfrey show all those years ago. He declined to be interviewed, but said he stood by his testimony.
Another witness took the stand and said he had been molested 150 times by 15 different couples in the neighborhood when he was a child. He also said "dancing knives" would come up out of the floor of the meeting hall
Throughout both trials, sheriff's deputies maintained that they did not act improperly when they arrested the two couples.
"It is still the feeling of the county counsel that the officers acted legally," said Peter Glick, the lawyer for the county. He added that the options of what to do next are still being considered.
One juror, Helen McDowell, said the sentiment during deliberations was that the deputies did what they thought was right in light of a group of angry parents trying to protect their children. But they also felt that those arrested had suffered unjustly.
"There was an atmosphere at the moment (the deputies) were really caught up with," McDowell said.
Another juror, Margarita Hernandez, said the jurors were also amazed at the testimony of the two witnesses who are now teen-agers.
"We just thought it was bizarre," she said. "Most of us have children and they do not speak that way. We really thought the kids had a problem."
So both couples wait to see what will happen next. Valentin and Malave were in the process of separating when they were arrested in 1984 and have since done so. None of the four will say where they now live, although all still live in Southern California.
All of the accused said last week that their lives had changed dramatically because of the arrests 11 years ago. They talk of headaches, anger, paranoia, insomnia and more.
Malave said the arrest and subsequent events made her a different person.
"I used to be outgoing. I was a happy-go-lucky person. I organized parties. I liked music and meeting people," she said. "I was very social, and now I'm the exact opposite.
"I don't visit anybody and I don't go out much. I don't go to social gatherings, especially anywhere I know there are going to be children. I know it's wrong, but I'm afraid to touch them or hug them or say, 'Oh, you're so cute.' So I just stay away."
And Now the Revenge
A Los Angeles court awards millions to former defendants accused of child molestationPosted on Findlaw.com by Madrid Law Firm, 1 November 1999.
|The first wave of child sex
abuse prosecutions appears to have run its course with
Raymond Buckey's second mistrial in the McMartin Preschool
case. Now come the revenge. In suing the county, the
former district attorney and even a news reporter, Buckey
is following the lead of other exonerated accused seeking
compensation for having their lives destroyed by unproven
Most of the suits like Buckey's have been thrown out before trial. But earlier this year, in apparently the first case of its kind, a Los Angeles judge awarded more than $3 million to four people who had been arrested for allegedly molesting neighborhood children. The charges were dismissed after a preliminary hearing. Valentin v. County of Los Angeles, LA Superior Court, No. C529739.
The judgment holding the county liable for false arrest, false imprisonment and civil rights violations seems to have surprised everyone except the plaintiff's lawyers, who were also the defense lawyers in the criminal action. "Everyone told us we didn't have a case," says Eduardo M. Madrid of the City of Industry, who represented one of the plaintiffs. Madrid says one lawyer for the county told him when he first filed the suit, "We're bulletproof, we have immunity, you have no case, go home."
"It's the first inroad that is likely to have a psychological impact on other cases," says Jim Quinn, one of the lawyers representing former McMartin Preschool defendants Peggy Buckey, Virginia McMartin and Peggy Ann Buckey. "Its significance is in signaling police departments to be more careful in not jumping the gun and ruining the lives of people unmercifully."
The Valentin judgment is being appealed, and recent rulings indicate that the courts give great leeway to prosecutors and witnesses in child sex abuse cases. But the lawyers for the Valentin plaintiffs have overcome the odds before. "It was such a long haul," says Madrid.
The long haul began in 1984 when 11 children living on Planter Street in Pico Rivera told their parents they had been sexually molested by some neighbors. The children, ages three to nine, said they were tied down, photographed nude, sodomized and orally copulated. They said all this took place in the home of Jose Valentin, a sanitation worker at Oroweat Bakery, and his wife, Myrna Malave, a nurse; and in the home of law student Tim O'Keefe and his wife, Helen, a real estate appraiser.
Scared and outraged parents called authorities, who came out to Planter Street to investigate. "There was a lot of hot talk," Lieutenant Jim Moss of the sheriff's department told a reporter at the time. At least one of the parents had threatened to go after the suspects with a shotgun. "Once people realized law enforcement was taking over," said Moss, "they calmed down a lot."
The investigation began on a Tuesday; by Friday, after hearing the children's stories, sheriff's deputies had obtained search warrants. While waiting for the warrants to arrive, the deputies called Deputy District Attorney Robert Z. Corrado, who came to the street to advise them. The O'Keefes later testified that Corrado told them, "If you don't start talking I'm going to fuck up your lives without mercy."
The suspects were arrested solely on the basis of the children's statements.
While testifying at the preliminary hearing two months later, the prosecution's key witness, an eight-year-old boy, started crying and admitted he "had made it all up" about Jose Valentin. "That often happens to young children on the stand," says Kevin C. Brazile, the deputy county counsel who represented Los Angeles County in the civil suit. "These kids still stand by their stories today that they were molested."
With the children's testimony discredited, Municipal Court Judge Patricia J. Hofstetter said she was "left with the choice only of dismissing the case."
At a lunch following the dismissal, the defense lawyers and their clients toasted a bittersweet victory. Both couples had sold their homes and borrowed money to pay bail. Collectively the defendants had spent more than three months in jail.
Helen O'Keefe was fired from her job, although she got it back after the preliminary hearing. All four former defendants continue to suffer psychologically. Myrna Malave is on psychiatric disability, says her attorney, Robert Roman of Norwalk. "She doesn't drive the streets because she's afraid of the police," Roman says. "She's afraid this could happen again."
"To say they were humiliated is an understatement," adds Peter M. Gwosdof of Anaheim, Helen O'Keefe's attorney. "Most of them had never even had a traffic ticket, let alone seen the inside of a jail."
|Although none of the
attorneys had any experience in civil rights litigation
and all were sole practitioners, they decided to sue.
Their complaint named 60 defendants, including the county,
sheriff's deputies, the alleged victims and their parents,
Corrado and Deputy DA Brain Wooldrige, who prosecuted the
case. The parents' insurers settled before trial for their
policy limits, but the government defendants were
confident they were immune.
"The county kept telling us that they were going to beat us on a summary judgment and that we didn't have a case," says Madrid.
The lawyers, who were awarded about $2 million in attorneys fees, credit tactical decisions for their success. The first was waiving a jury. In child molestation cases, jurors "might think where there's smoke, there's fire," said Morton Minikes of Los Angeles, who represented Tim O'Keefe. Minikes says a judge is less likely to be swayed by the emotional nature of the charges.
Although Judge J. Kimball Walker quickly dismissed the claims for malicious prosecution, citing the nearly absolute immunity afforded prosecutors, he was open to many of the plaintiff's novel arguments. For example, he did not recognize Corrado's claim of immunity for the civil rights and false arrest causes of action. The plaintiffs argued that Corrado's conduct was outside his normal prosecutorial duties. "He acted more as a police officer than an advocate for the state by going out to the houses, interviewing the kids and directing traffic for the officers," says Minikes. "Therefore he was no longer protected by absolute immunity."
The U. S. Supreme Court during the upcoming term will consider the scope of prosecutorial immunity. One issue before the court is whether a prosecutor is immune for legal advice given to police officers during an investigation. Burns v. Reed, No. 89-1715.
Corrado, now in private practice in Fullerton, insists he never ordered the arrests of the suspects and denies threatening to destroy the O'Keefs' lives. "I'm not a bad guy. I never said that," he maintains. "They have it confused with another time when Pete Gwosdof and I yelled at each other." In his 1985 deposition, however, Corrado admitted, "I might have uttered it under my breath." Judge Walker called the threat "oppressive conduct" and ordered Corrado to pay $60,000 in punitive damages.
To impose liability for the arresting officers conduct the plaintiffs needed to show the arrests and been made without probable cause. Rather than discuss the statements of the children or the legal advice provided by Corrado, the plaintiffs' attorneys say they decided to stick with the criteria established by the leading case in the area. According to People v. Ramey (1976) 16 C3d 263, an officer can enter a home to make a warrantless arrest only under exigent [pressing; demanding] circumstances. The plaintiff's case was based on proving there were no exigent circumstances.
They called all the sheriff's deputy defendants as adverse witnesses. "We took the teeth out of the lion's mouth by examining their witnesses first," says Madrid. "That's one thing they weren't expecting."
Each deputy was asked if he or she was familiar with Ramey, explains Madrid, and all said yes. "Since each deputy admitted no one was trying to flee and no evidence or property was in danger of being destroyed, we established that these guys knew the law but still didn't follow it," Madrid says. "That's how we got them on illegal entry."
Despite the verdict, county counsel Brazile says, "The judge doesn't know the law on probable cause, which is why I think we have a very good shot on the appeal." He is relying in part on the citizen-victim informant doctrine, which says that statements from an alleged victim that a crime has occurred provide probable cause for an arrest. "It may not be enough for a conviction, but it sure is sufficient for an arrest," Brazile says. In a recent molestation case, the Fourth District Court of Appeal said the uncorroborated testimony of a four-year-old is enough for a conviction. People v. Harlan, 90 Daily Journal DAR 8359.
Other cases indicate that the California judiciary is sympathetic to the prosecution in child molestation cases. The state Supreme Court recently upheld some child sex abuse convictions even though no specific dates were given for the offenses. People v. Jones, 90 Daily Journal DAR 7663. And the Second District Court of Appeal applied a prosecutor's absolute immunity to a social worker investigating alleged child molestation. Alicia T. v. County of Los Angeles, 90 Daily Journal DAR 8303.
But Madrid, who has met with the lawyers handling the McMartin civil suits and others, remains optimistic. "Sure, immunity isn't easy to get around, but I see it as a hurdle that can be overcome," he says. "It's like the unpopular guy who wants to take out the prom queen and everybody says, 'Forget it'. He'll never find out if he doesn't ask."
Courts: Sexual abuse case collapsed in 1985 as children recanted. Juries awarded the pair millions in damages, but county appealed twice and may do so again.Los Angeles Times, Oct 11, 2000, page B-1
|The charges were quickly
dismissed as false. In January 1985, Tim O'Keefe, a law
student, Helen O'Keefe, a bank employee, Jose Valentin, a
bakery worker, and Myrna Malave, a nurse, filed suit
against Los Angeles County, charging false imprisonment,
civil rights violations, defamation and the negligent
infliction of emotional distress.
About two months ago, Valentin and Malave, who did not know the O'Keefes, settled for about $2 million each. On Friday, a Norwalk jury awarded the O'Keefes about $14 million. $18 million total.
The O'Keefes spent 22 days in jail, where guards and prisoners jeered, spit and threw urine on them, they said. Valentin and Malave were jailed for about a week.
Press-Telegram (Long Beach, CA), October 13, 2000
|Sixteen years have passed
since Tim and Helen O'Keefe and their onetime neighbors
Jose Valentin and Myrna Malave became embroiled in a
nightmare so horrendous that most of us could not even
begin to imagine it.
In the spring of 1984, just as the infamous McMartin Pre-School child molestation case was causing a national sensation, a group of children on Planter Street in Pico Rivera accused these four adults of similar crimes.
The children told their parents tales of ...
Neighborhood children accused Tim and Helen O'keefe of sex crimes in L.A. County, which appealed 2 previous verdictsContra Costa Times (Walnut Creek), October 15, 2000, page A26
|The nightmare began 16
years ago, when a group of children on Planter Street in
Pico Rivera accused four adults of child bondage and
molestation and of threatening that spiders would attack
if the children told. Then came the sheriff's deputies
with guns drawn, who took the two couples from their homes
in handcuffs to jail.
The charges were quickly dismissed as false. In January 1985, Tim O'Keefe, a law student, Helen O'Keefe, a bank employee, ...