After the McMartin Trials: Some Reflections From the Buckeys

Peggy Buckey, Ray Buckey, and Peggy Ann Buckey

EDITOR'S NOTE: Peggy Buckey and her son and daughter, Ray and Peggy Ann Buckey, spoke to the NASVO (National Association of State Vocal Organizations) conference in California in October, 1990.  The Buckeys were the defendants in the McMartin case which alleged extensive and extreme sexual abuse of children at the McMartin day care center in Manhattan Beach, CA.  The NASVO conference was the first time the Buckeys had said anything publicly since Ray Buckey's second trial ended.

This was the longest and most costly criminal trial in United States history.  There were over six years of legal proceedings and more than $15 million in public costs.  The preliminary hearing continued for over two years and the first trial lasted 33 months.  The second trial of Ray Buckey lasted only two months.  Peggy Buckey, whose mother founded the school, spent almost two years in jail.  Peggy Ann Buckey also spent close to two years in jail.  Ray Buckey spent over five years in jail before being permitted to post $3 million in property as bond.

This trial, more than any other, presents a puzzling and disturbing picture of how we respond to allegations of child sexual abuse.  To those who believe the Buckeys are innocent, this trial shows the extent to which the system can go in oppressing and destroying families.  To those who believe they are guilty the trial represents a gross failure of the system to protect wronged and violated children. What follows are excerpts from their presentations.

Ray Buckey: Reflections on How I Got Through It

People come up to me all the time and say, "Congratulations, I never believed it for a minute," "I hope you sue somebody," and "How did you get through it?"

If you had asked me before the case started if I could have gotten through everything that happened, I would have told you no.  I was an average southern California boy who didn't make waves.  I was coasting through life and I was just happy.  Then the case started. I felt disbelief, shock, anger, and finally fear when I realized this wasn't going to end.  People were not going to step back and see what they were doing.

My whole family went through a two-year preliminary hearing, going into court daily from 9:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.  We listened to people lie and watched a system we had thought worked bent on destroying our family.  Then I went back to the jail cell and walked through a system where people were trying to kill me, or would kill me if they could.  I watched the news media smear my family, smear my name, and drag me across the coals with allegations so absurd that they were beyond comprehension.  I watched my family being ripped apart, their houses taken, and all their savings gone.

As the case kept growing, I kept seeing things that were outrageous.  Society was turning against a family that had been there for three generations.  I just watched that being destroyed until one day, which I will remember my whole life, we were all arrested.

I was fortunate enough to have a religious background and to have a lawyer who had a metaphysical outlook on life.  He put it this way to me the first time I met him: All men have to face a dragon along their path of life and it is not so much whether you bite the dragon or the dragon bites you.  How you handle yourself facing the dragon is how you are going to be the rest of your life that is the person you are going to be.

You have to live one day at a time, you have to learn to find happiness no matter where you are, and you have to learn to compartmentalize the moments in your life where you can find happiness and hold them in.  There are still times when I don't know how I got through what I got through but I can give credit to two main things: One was my family and friends, and the other was a faith in what might be called God, life, or a belief that life has meaning.  I held on to these and that got me through.

My lawyer taught me early on that the whole person goes through this type of experience the body, mind and soul.  I learned that exercise was the therapy for my body, that being very involved in my case was the therapy for my mind, but that for my soul, I had to find meaning in life.  I could never explain why we, or why anybody, goes through these cases other than for a spiritual experience of growth.  I got through five years of jail by the belief that it doesn't matter if I go to prison or not I know I am innocent and I know my friends and family know lam innocent so I can deal with prison.

I went to jail and had two parts to my life the courtroom and the jail.  I was happier in the jail than I was sitting in a courtroom watching a circus.  The courtroom was a joke.  It was watching people manipulate a system and watching the media pump out publicity that was so absurd I couldn't believe people accepted it.

I didn't have anything to escape with.  I didn't have drugs, I didn't have alcohol, I didn't have therapy, so what happened to me was that I turned inward.  It was the only place I had to go.  The whole world around me was saying I was a bad person, I was terrible, and I had done things that I knew I hadn't.  So I turned inward.

In jail they all wanted to kill me.  They hated me.  They thought I was a child molester.  In the courtroom I listened to lies and watched my family being raped.  I didn't have a world to go to for escape.  I lived in it 24 hours a day.  But I didn't want pity.  I realized that the only person who was going to get me out of this hell was myself.  So I learned to deal with what I was going through and this became my life.  I didn't think I was ever going to get out of jail, but I felt life was worth living for and that got me through a lot.

I went to the peak of happiness when I saw my family acquitted.  I cried for the first time in years.  But I was more afraid when the second trial started than I was for the first because, as any lawyer will tell you, a jury trial is a crapshoot.  I knew that if they focused on just a little part in the McMartin case, they couldn't see the whole story and understand what was really going on.  But part of my therapy at that time was being very involved in the case.  I took a co-counsel position and became like a second lawyer in the courtroom.  I saw myself growing.

The strange thing for me is that after the two trials were over, although everybody assumed my life would now be great, it's not.  Life doesn't begin again with the end of a trial.  Life still goes on.  Life has its ups and downs, it's still a rocky road.  But not having an axe wielded over my head makes a big difference.  I have learned that the things I learned in jail still hold true for me.  I still live one moment at a time.  I still find happiness in the moments that I can because life is still scary.  I don't know what is going to happen.

I have had to accept that society put us through the mill and spit us out and now has turned its back on us.  I don't look toward society to find my happiness.  I don't look toward them to find worth, to pick up my family's pieces.

I've learned to divide my time up, to find happiness and to work towards a new future.  I realize it could happen again to me, it could happen to anybody again.  But I have gone through it once to where I know my spirit is strong.  I could go through another McMartin case and I would survive it even if I went to prison for the rest of my life.  I believe the human spirit rises above everything if you give it a chance.

Ray Buckey: The Life Game of Monopoly

I want to tell about our flight on the plane this morning.  Besides being late and losing our luggage, the minor things in life that really don't irritate me anymore, I was looking through a magazine.  At the back, it had a horoscope and since I was a Gemini, I looked at the Gemini, and this is what it said for this month:

In the great life game of Monopoly, you have been lucky enough to draw a Get Out of Jail Free card.  You have proved to everyone that you can talk the lion out of chewing you up and at this point your near death experiences rate a mention in Guinness.  But there is good news, your name should be coming off the critical list and maybe then you can start regaining some security about the future.  Let's hope you won't be too bored when you life returns to normality.

Peggy Buckey: Two Years in Jail

What my son just said is true, when you are in prison, you learn to live a day at a time.  If you don't learn to live a day at a time, you will go out of your mind.

I was in jail for almost two years.  I was in high power, which is called a K10, and a high power is a person who is a high bail, or no bail, so I was put with child molesters, killers, well, you name it.  And the two years I was there, I got to know every type of person you could know.

I found out that the blacks and the Mexicans don't have a chance in jail.  I was just utterly horrified at the way they were treated.  The blacks and the Mexicans were physically and mentally abused.

They could not hit me but whenever I left my cell block, I would always be handcuffed from behind, always.  I was okay if the jailer liked me she would put my handcuffs on lightly.  But there were many who didn't like me and so they would louver them tight or fasten them so when I moved my arms they got tighter.  The result is that now I have arthritis in my arms.

That was the only way they could try to harm me because I was viewed too much, but I saw the backs of the other inmates.  I don't know what they were hit with.

Each time I left my cell, I was very frightened because I knew they (the other inmates) wanted to kill me or beat me up.  I asked God to give me something from the Bible that would calm me and I always took a little Bible with me to court.  When I left my cell block to go to breakfast, I always had to go by these inmates with my hands cuffed behind me.  The Bible statements I used were, "Forgive them for they know not what they do" and "I walk with love along the way, and it is a holy day."

I never knew if I was going to be killed or when I was going to be beat up because the worst thing you can be in jail is a child molester.  It's okay to kill, they actually look up to people that kill, but not to be a child molester.  They tried to set my daughter and me on fire and that was one of the most frightening things in the whole two years I was there.  After they tried to set us on fire, when I came back to jail, I called my husband and I was just panicking.  He called my attorney and my attorney called the judge and the judge saw to it that we never had to go on the bus again.  We went in a black and white car or a van.

All my life I helped the underdogs, or people who were less fortunate, and I had never been an underdog in my life.  And now I was the worst underdog one could be because of what they thought I was.  My husband tried to explain that it wasn't me they disliked, it was a child molester.  But they believed I was a child molester.  They tried to trip me and they spit on me.

There were times when the deputy deliberately left me alone with them.  When you are in K10, you are never, never to be left alone with other inmates.  The fear always was that they they would harm me.  One time the deputy left me to go stop a fight and I had hundreds of girls around me, so I got back in the corner and I closed my eyes and started crying.  All of a sudden the deputy came back and said, "What are you doing here, Buckey?  All these inmates around you want to kill you!"  She actually turned white when she saw me by myself.

One of the most dangerous things they can do to a child molester is to leave her alone.  One time when I was with a deputy with other inmates around us, I could see the deputy shaking and I felt that if it had not been for God they would have attacked him and me.  He was more afraid than I was.  Usually they would leave me in the elevator and go find my medication for me.

Peggy Ann Buckey: How I Survived

When you are involved in a case like this, first of all you're shocked. You can't believe that this has happened to you. When I was sitting in jail, I was saying, "God, why is this happening?"

I came to an analogy, a little story that I held or through the entire thing.  I rock climbed.  So I told myself that this is just like climbing a mountain.  I'm looking up and saying, "I don't want to do this. This is not my agenda of life.  I do not want to climb up this.  I want out."

Now you have no choice at this point.  You either climb up even though you don't want to and you did not do anything to deserve it, and it's not because of anything you didn't or did do.  Or you stay at the bottom and be crushed and die.  You have a choice to make.  Are you going to make the climb go up, or are you just going to let the thing crush you?

So you say, "I am going to fight this and I am go to make the climb up," and you start to climb up.  The hardest thing is that when you are in a case like this it is easy to say, "I didn't do anything! I am innocent!  Why is this happening to me?"  What helped me was realizing that this doesn't matter I am in the case; I have to survive.

The only thing you have control over is your attitude.  You do not have control over the DA.  You do not have control over the media. You have control over absolutely nothing except for yourself and your attitude.

Now, you can hold on to resentment, you can hold on to all sorts of things, and it is not going to do you any good.  I realized that my anger towards the people who caused this must be directed toward something else.  If you are angry and you hold all this resentment inside, it does nothing but set you up and tear you down.  It would give the people who caused the case joy to know you were suffering so why carry all this resentment and anger?

My suggestion is to redirect the anger towards something positive and towards making change, because the anger is not going to do anyone any good.  All it is going to do is hurt you.  So when you are climbing this mountain you didn't want to climb, when you get to the top, you are stronger than you were before.  If can get through this, you can get through anything.

There is nothing worse in life than getting through a case like this.  So if you decide, "I am going to get through this, I am going to fight it, and I am going to control my attitude because I can't control anybody else in the world," when you get through it you will be a stronger person.

Ray Buckey: Why I Refused to Plea Bargain

I went through one trial and my mother was acquitted fully but I was hung up on 13 counts.  The DA decided to refile on those 13 counts so that started the second trial.  But unbeknownst to the public, they were doing plea bargaining behind closed doors.  The DA came to my lawyer and said, "How about a plea bargain?  No time, no registration, no anything, other than he pleads no contest to a couple of counts."

That became a media event because I then went public.  I told the news media, unbeknownst to my lawyer, who later said to me, "We are not talking about that because the DA wants to stay behind closed doors."

Well, the news media already knew about it because I had told them.  My lawyer denied it and I had just admitted it.  Later on, the DA was still negotiating with my lawyer and unbeknownst to one, or both sides, it was an audiotaped conversation.

So, my lawyer finally went public and said, "Yes, they did offer a no contest, no time served in the notorious McMartin case, where this person should be burned at the stake."  The DA was trying to walk away without doing anything.  Then the DA realized there was an audiotape of the conversation, so they tried to cover it up.  They tried to say, "Well, we did not offer to plea bargain.  Mr. Buckey's lawyer offered to plea bargain."  And from that, Ira Reiner went down hill, and I would like to think that the McMartin case had a little impact on Ira Reiner's political career because he lost, just like Philibosian lost, when they both used the McMartin case as a soap box.

I remember the first time my lawyer came to me and asked, "Would you like to do this?"  I knew what I was up against.  I was up against 12 people who I didn't know and who were going to decide my life, with children, who were the worst type of witness to accuse you, on the stand.  He said, "Think about it.  You possibly could go to jail for the rest of your life, or you could plead a no contest and possibly walk away."

I didn't have to think about it.  I told him right then and there, "No way.  I don't care if I go to jail for the rest of my life because I didn't do anything and I am not going to plead to something I didn't do, no contest or not."  Anybody knows that no contest in the system means that everybody assumes you're guilty.

So, I said, "No way," but I also realized that everybody is in a different situation when it comes to these types of cases.  They are scary because you don't know what is going to happen.  You are putting your life in the hands of 12 people who, in our case, didn't know the whole story and I knew that they were not going to know the whole story.

Therefore, the only advice I can give to people is that you have to soul search.  You have to find in yourself what is right for you.  If you are 70 years old and they are offering you no time as opposed to 20 years and there are child witnesses that are really convincing, I don't know what you should do.  But I can tell you that I didn't do it and I would have gone to prison with my innocence rather than plead guilty to something I didn't do.  You are going to have to deal with what you did for the rest of your life and I could never deal with admitting something I didn't do for the rest of my life.

Peggy Ann Buckey: Accountability and Immunity

I don't know of any other profession, occupation, any event in life where you are not held accountable, except in these cases.  In these cases, you can do anything you want.  The social workers, the police department, the DAs can do anything they want.  They are given a free ride to do whatever they want and then they are not held accountable.

After our case was over, people said, "Oh I am so happy it is over with.  Sue!"  Well, you can sue but suing is not going to get you anything.  Right now, the way the law reads, and there has been an appellate court decision, is that what they did was wrong, what the police did was wrong, what the CII (Children's Institute International) did was wrong, what all these institutions did was wrong, but they have complete immunity.  Sorry.  And that is where it stopped.

Why should these people just be given full immunity?  Shouldn't they be held accountable for ruining people's lives?  The court has said "No."  What they are doing is wrong, but we are giving them immunity.  This is an issue that the public doesn't realize.  People don't realize that the way the law reads now is that everyone is given complete immunity, regardless of what they did or didn't do.

If you are accused of a crime and go through a case life this, if you have any money at all, you have to pay for an attorney.  You go through a case and you are fully acquitted but you've lost everything.  They don't give you your money back, or your home, or anything.  If you are like Ray and me, you have a public defender that the tax payers pick up the tab for, but you lose everything and no one pays you back.  You've lost years of employment, you've lost everything, you don't get any money back.  The public thinks, well, you've gone through something terrible, but you can sue.  But you can't sue because everyone is given complete immunity.

I think the public should become aware that something needs to be set up, for any type of case, so that if a person is found not guilty, that person should not have to bear the expense and lose everything to prove her innocence.  Everyone has forgotten that you are innocent until proven guilty.  Why should I lose everything to prove that I am innocent and not be able to get something back?

Ray Buckey: Wrongful Incarceration

There is nothing you can do for being wrongfully incarcerated because no one wants to take credit for that or blame for it.  As far as taking jobs away, we could open another preschool if we wanted to.  That is the American right.  But why would we?  We can go on with our lives but there is no compensation.  The system is not set up for that.  The system is set up to convict people.  If you are found not guilty, there is nothing you can do about that other than claim your innocence and tell people you were innocent until proven guilty and you still are an innocent person.  That is all you can do.

Peggy Buckey: What We Lost

At the time this happened, we had two homes, completely paid for, my mother owned her home, completely paid for, we owned our school, completely paid for, we owned a home down south, and we had a bank account.  We paid all that to the attorney.  We were really set up very nicely since we owned everything clear but we have nothing now.  Each week we struggle.  We just make it at the end of the week.  And as Peggy Ann said, I think it is unfair.  I was in jail for two years, I was found not guilty.  I think there should be some way that I am compensated.  Ray was in for five years, I can't imagine five years, two years was like hell, but he lost everything.  All my suits were just recently turned down, every one of them.  Ray is going to file again, but I truthfully do not feel he will get anything.

Ray Buckey: The Child Witnesses

These families and children are victims just like us.  We were all victims.  We were sucked into the system and we were pawns just like the families were.  We would not attack those children and those families on the stand because we realize what they went through also and we can sympathize with them, but at the same time we had to show that what they said wasn't true.  No, we didn't attack them.  We have sympathy for them, but we don't want to see them.  We don't want to talk to them because they take a very strong stand on what they believe.  But no, we don't attack those people.

Ray Buckey: A Response to Rage

(A member of the audience made the following comment: I have served in the armed forces, special forces, in Vietnam.  I am presently involved with a veterans club.  The criterion for belonging to this veterans club is that you have to have been in special operations and you also have to have been unjustly accused of child sexual abuse, never been to trial, never convicted, and yet had your children taken away from you or denied access to you by the system.  For us who fought for the concepts of this nation, this is a terrible blow.  We are filled with a great deal of anger.  Included in our group are a couple of POWs who were pressured to compromise.  The lesson they learned and the lesson we seem to be learning is when dealing with a system like this there is absolutely no real chance of overcoming.  We feel we cannot compromise with these people because they are never sincere in the first place.  Now we are contemplating how far do we have to go.  We went out and we gave all and we did some very, very intense things for other people.  Now this is our flesh and blood and we are wrestling with the spiritual problem of how far do we take this ...)

(Ray Buckey responded to this comment.)

I don't know if I am so different than anybody else but I realize when my own heart is open, I can't hold anger.  I went through anger for a long time and it ate me up inside to where I understand the energy you are talking about.  But it is not anger.  It is definitely energy that I want to put in a positive mode.  For me, anger destroyed me inside so much that I don't want it.  I can understand the energy you have but anger is something we all have to go through.  I went through it.  But I realize the whole person, me, I am more than just emotions.  l am a body, mind, and soul and I had to work on all three of those parts of me to get through.

I am not the only person that went through the McMartin case.  My whole family went through it and a lot of friends went through it also.  l am speaking for a lot of people.  I am not speaking just for myself.

One thing I found was that I didn't want pity.  I didn't want someone to come up to me and say you poor person, you went through hell.  I realized I was the only person who was going to get me out of the hell I was in was myself.  I learned that I had to pull myself up from my own bootstraps.  Everyone has heard that in life.  But not until you have to put it in use does it become true.  Everyone can tell you and say you're a good person and this is wrong, this is wrong, but if you don't believe that in your heart and soul you will never accept it in life.  You have to accept that and realize in yourself that you are a good person.  That is what matters, not what anybody else says about you.

(Audience comment: I must say that having listened to you three wonderful people I can now go back and offer a side to my comrades that we hadn't seen before and I want to thank you very much.)

Well, I just want to add one thing about your situation.  We went through hell.  We survived it.  At times I do not know how.  But I do not know how I would like it if someone took my own children.  That is some type of thing I can't imagine, someone taking your own children and accusing you.  That seems worse even than the McMartin case, having your own children taken from you.

[Back to Volume 2, Number 4]  [Other Articles by these Authors]

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