By Ann Earle
In 1992, Robert Kelly, Jr., co-owner along with his wife Betsy of the Little Rascals Day Care Center in Edenton, North Carolina, was convicted on 99 counts of child abuse and sentenced to twelve consecutive life sentences. Kelly, his wife, and five employees were charged with abusing 29 children in 1989. These charges led to the longest and most expensive trial in North Carolina history lasting nine months and costing $1.5 million dollars. It brought national attention to this small town and split its citizens down the middle with some choosing to believe the children and others claiming the childrenís stories with ritualistic overtones were "unbelievable" and the Kellyís were subjects of a "witchhunt."
Subsequent to Kelly'ís conviction, another employee, Don Wilson, was also convicted and Betsy Kelly plead "no contest."
In May of this year, the North Carolina Court of Appeals overturned the convictions on legal technicalities. In early September, the Supreme Court refused to review the Appeal Courtís decision and, on September 22nd, Kelly was released on $200,000 bond. It is now up to the Chowan County District Attorney whether to drop the charges or to retry the case. At the time of Kellyís release, the District Attorney stated his intention to retry. A new trial will probably feature the testimony of ten and eleven year old children who were only toddlers at the time they allegedly suffered the abuse.
Another consideration for the prosecutors and the child victims and their families is the growing influence on the legal system and public opinion currently enjoyed by The False Memory Syndrome Foundation. Despite these obstacles, at least one parent said he would assist the prosecution in a new trial.
Aside from the children and their parents, others are deeply disappointed by the Supreme Courtís decision not to consider the reversals of the Appeal Court. Superior Court Judge Marsh McLelland, who heard the Little Rascalís case the first time, wrote in a letter to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court: "Your refusal to review the Kelly and Wilson reversals by the Court of Appeals is legally and morally reprehensible." Judge McLelland has stated he will not hear the case again.
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