During the 1980s, real people went to real prisons on the strength of children’s fantasies. Many of these were people who operated preschools and had devoted their lives to child care.
The 1987-90 McMartin Preschool trial, described as the most expensive criminal trial in American history, produced no convictions–but you can imagine the effect on the defendants’ lives.
The West Memphis Three were victims of the same prosecutorial hysteria over “satanism.”
The Amirault family trial in Massachusetts was another. To quote Dorothy Rabinowitz, author of No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Times:
The accusations against the Amiraults might well rank as the most astounding ever to be credited in an American courtroom, but for the fact that roughly the same charges were brought by eager prosecutors chasing a similar headline—making cases all across the country in the 1980s.
Those which the Amiraults’ prosecutors brought had nevertheless, unforgettable features: so much testimony, so madly preposterous, and so solemnly put forth by the state. The testimony had been extracted from children, cajoled and led by tireless interrogators.
It’s like Salem 1692 again: letting kids fantasize and treating those fantasies as evidence in court. “Spectral evidence.”
On Tuesday, voters in Massachusetts will select a replacement for Senator Edward Kennedy.
The Democrats are running Martha Coakley, a former district attorney and state attorney general, who still thinks the Amiraults’ case was handled correctly and who has fought to keep Gerald Amirault in prison because she thinks he is some kind of satanic mastermind.
She is a Democrat, I’m a Democrat. But I don’t care if she likes kittens and puppies and takes good care of her aged parents.
For that reason alone–for being the spiritual descendant of the Salem witch-hunters–if I lived in Massachusetts, I would not vote for Martha Coakley.
UPDATE: Civil-liberties writer Randy Balko examines Coakley’s record. It sounds like she believes that the cops are always right and the courts never make a mistake.