Crime Film Documentaries

Instructor: James R. Elkins

"Witch Hunt" (2008)

[1 hr. 31 mins.] [film by Don Hardy Jr. & Dana Nachman]


"Executive produced and narrated by Sean Penn, this award winning documentary chronicles a miscarriage of justice where a dozen people [in Kern County, California] were falsely convicted of crimes committed against their own children and the long, legal process to exonerate them two decades after their incarceration."




Internet Movie Database

Background on the Case

Kern County, California child abuse cases

Who Was Abused?
Maggie Jones, New York Times, Sept. 19, 2004

John Stoll on NBC Dateline

District Attorney Ed Jagels & the Kern County
Sex Abuse Cases Fiasco

Mean Justice's Dirty Secrets
Kimberley Sevcik, Rolling Stone, 2005; an article providing insight into prosecuting
attorney, Ed Jagels

How Could It Happen?

Debbie Nathan & Michael Snedeker, Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt (iUniverse, 2001) (Michael Snedeker is an attorney who helped overturneighteen convictions of Bakersfield, California defendants in sex-ring cases).

Steven Grossman, Hot Crimes: A Study in Excess, 45 Creighton L. Rev. 33, 42 (2011) (Steven Grossman uses the Kern County sex abuse cases as an example of what he calls "hot crimes." In these hot crimes cases, what we find is: "Overly eager police with the help of overly eager "child therapy professionals" feed the results of their efforts to crusading prosecutors who charge criminal defendants b ased on evidence obtained in a highly suggestive manner and often not supported by physical or other evidence. Evidence that ponts to any conclusion short of child abuse is either ignored or covered up. The media plays up the cases in ever more horrifying ways, inciding the public and leading to even more questionable prosecutions. From such things, societal excess is born and nurtured.")

Edward Humes, Mean Justice (Pocket, 2003) (focusing on Bakersfield, California, a tough-on-crime community, viewed from the perspective of a high-school principal's effort to prove his innocence.]

Legal Cases That Focus on the Kern County Prosecutions

People v. Ricky Lynn Pitts, 223 Cal. App. 3d 606, 273 Cal. Rptr. 757 (Ct.App. Calif. 5th Dt., 1990)

People v. Stoll, 49 Cal. 3d 1136, 783 P.2d 698 (Sup.Ct. Calif., 1989)

Stoll v. County of Kern, Edward Jagels,, 2008 U.S.Dist. LEXIS 86535 (U.S.Dt.Ct. E.Dt. Calif., 2008)

Child Sexual Abuse Prosecutions: A Troublesome History

Day Care Sex Abuse Hysteria

Innocence Lost
PBS Frontline; child sexual abuse in day care settings, with commentary
on the McMartin Preschool case, Fells Acres Day School, Wee Care Nursery Country Walk,
Wenatche, The Bronx Five, and Dale Akiki

One Hundred Cases of Unfounded Child Sexual Abuse
LeRoy Schultz, professor of social work, West Virginia University

Case Studies

McMartin Case

Wenatchee, Washington Day Care Sex Abuse Case

[Wall Street Journal articles on the Wenatchee case] [The Witch Hunt of Wenatchee]

Fells Acres Day Care Center Preschool Trial

[Gerald Amirault—Wikipedia] [The Fells Acres Nightmare] [The Boston Press] [Visiting Gerald Amirault (1999)] [Judgment in Massachusetts — Dorothy Rabinowitz] [Parole Board recommends Amirault's commutation] [Wall Street Journal articles on the Amirault case] [16 Fells Acres families settled for $20M]

Wee Care Nursery School Case

Little Rascals Day Care Sexual Abuse Trial

["Innocence Lost: The Plea"—PBS Frontline, the Little Rascals Day Care case, Edenton, North Carolina] [Summary of the Case] [Chronology]

Cleveland Child Abuse Scandal

Satantic Ritual Child Abuse (or so alleged)

Satantic Ritual Abuse

The Satanic Cult Scare and Allegations of Ritual Child Abuse
Jeffrey S. Victor, professor sociology, Jamestown Community College, Jamestown, New York

Why Believe That for Which there Is No Good Evidence?
Robyn M. Dawes, Professor of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

"Occult Cop"
Randy Emon, law enforcement officer, Rialto, California

Satanic Ritual Abuse: How Real?
Terry L. Kern, police investigator, Sioux City, Iowa

Faith Chapel Church Ritual Abuse Case

Thurston County Ritual Abuse Case

Oak Hill Satanic Ritual Abuse Trial

The Social and Cultural Context of Satanic Ritual Abuse Allegations
Susan P. Robbins

Legal Defense of Alleged Abusers in Child Sex Abuse Cases

A Defense Attorney's Story
Zachary Bravos, attorney, Wheaton, Illinois

Defense Considerations in the Child as Witness in Allegations of Sexual Abuse
Louis Kiefer, attorney, Hartford, Connecticut Pt.II Pt.III

Cross-Examination of Child Witnesses
Joel Erik Thompson, attorney, Phoenix, Arizona

Cross Examination of the Medical Expert
Zachary M. Bravos, attorney, Wheaton, Illinois

Lawyers and Memory: Repressed Memory Allegations of Abuse in the Courtroom
Philip S. Simmons, attorney, Los Angeles, California

False Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse Defense
Zachary Bravos, attorney video, 2:45 mins.

Background Readings: Police Investigation — Interviewing Children —
Prosecutorial Misconduct

Prosecution and Child Sexual Abuse
Hollida Wakefield & Ralph Underwager; psychologists,
Institute for Psychological Therapies, Minneapolis, Minnosota

The Phenomenon of Child Sexual Abuse Hysteria: Expert Testimony
Lawrence D. Spiegel, Parsippany, New Jersey

Investigative Procedures in Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse: The Initial Criminal Investigation
John C. Wideman, attorney, St. Albans, West Virginia Part II Part III Part IV Part V

Investigation and Interviews in Cases of Alleged Child Sexual: A Look at the Scientific Evidence
Judith K. Adams, clinical and forensic psychologist, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Suggestive Interviewing in the McMartin Preschool & Kelly Michaels Daycare Abuse Cases
article, in Social Influence, 2006

Interrogation of Children
Hollida Wakefield & Ralph Underwager; psychologists,
Institute for Psychological Therapies, Minneapolis, Minnosota

A New Jersey Supreme Court Prescription for the Rest of the Country
Karol L. Ross

Keys to Successful Defense of False Child Abuse Accusations
Eliot R. Clauss, attorney, New York City

Psychological Evaluation of an Alleged Abuse Victim by the Defense
Ralph Underwager & Hollida Wakefield, psychologists,
Institute for Psychological Therapies, Minneapolis, Minnosota

The Social Worker as an Expert Witness in Suspected Child Abuse Cases: A Primer for Beginners
LeRoy Schultz, professor of social work, West Virginia University

A Paradigm Shift for Expert Witnesses
Ralph Underwager & Hollida Wakefield, psychologists,
Institute for Psychological Therapies, Minneapolis, Minnosota

Child Witness: Cognitive and Social Factors Related to Memory and Testimony
Stephen J. Lepore, psychology professor, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Assessing Credibility in Children's Testimony in Ritual Abuse Allegations
Ralph Underwager & Hollida Wakefield, psychologists,
Institute for Psychological Therapies, Minneapolis, Minnosota

Prosecutorial Ethics
Mark S. Pollock, district attorney, California

Martha Coakley and Modern Witch Hunting
Stanton Peele, Addiction in Society, Blog

Implanting False Memories of Child Abuse into Children
Fredric L. Rice, The Skeptic Tank

False allegation of child sexual abuse

Mass Hysteria in Oude Pekela
Benjamin Rossen, Amsterdam, Holland

Law Review Articles: Cynthia Grant Bowman, The Legal System and Child Sex Abuse: Ross Cheit's The Witch Hunt Narrative: Politics, Psychology, and the Sexual Abuse of Children (Review Essay), 41 Law & Social Inquiry 267 ( 2016).

Bibliography: David Hechler, The Battle and the Backlash: The Child Sexual Abuse War (Lexington Books, 1988); Kathryn Lyon, Witch Hunt: A True Story of Social Hysteria and Abused Justice (Avon, First Thus ed.,1998); Dorothy Rabinowitz, No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Times (The Free Press/Wall Street Journal Book, 2003); Mark Pendergrast, Victims of Memory: Sex Abuse Accusations and Shattered Lives (Upper Access Books, 2nd ed., 1996); Paul Eberle, The Abuse of Innocence: The McMartin Preschool Trial (Prometheus Books, 1993); Mary De Young, The Day Care Ritual Abuse Moral Panic (McFarland & Company, 2004); D. Nathan & M. Snedeker, Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt (Basic Books, 1995); EW Butler, H. Fukurai, J. Dimitrius & R. Krooth, Anatomy of the McMartin Child Molestation Case (United Press of America, 2001); Debbie Nathan & Michael Snedeker, Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt (iUniverse, 2001); Dean Fong, Elusive Innocence: Survival Guide for the Falsely Accused (Huntington House Publishers, 2001); Stephen J. Ceci & Maggie Bruck, Jeopardy in the Courtroom: A Scientific Analysis of Children's Testimony (American Psychological Association, 1999); Stephen J. Ceci, Expert Witnesses in Child Abuse Cases (American Psychological Association, 2001); Debra A. Poole, Investigative Interviews of Children (American Psychological Association, 2003); Kathleen Coulborn Faller, Interviewing Children about Sexual Abuse: Controversies and Best Practices (Oxford University Press, 2007); Kathryn Kuehnle, The Evaluation of Child Sexual Abuse Allegations: A Comprehensive Guide to Assessment and Testimony (Wiley, 2008); Paul Stern, Preparing and Presenting Expert Testimony in Child Abuse Litigation: A Guide for Expert Witnesses and Attorneys (Sage Publications, 1997); Michael E. Lamb, Tell Me What Happened: Structured Investigative Interviews of Child Victims and Witnesses (Wiley, 2008); American Prosecutors Research Institute, Investigation and Prosecution of Child Abuse (Sage Publications, 3rd ed., 2003); M. Robin, Assessing Child Maltreatment Reports: The Problem of False Allegations (Haworth Press, 1991); Andrew Vachss, False Allegations (Vintage Books, 2001) (novel)