Local News

Prosecutors Drop Remaining Charges in Little...

Posted May 23, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— Charges against the two remaining defendants in the Little Rascals sex abuse case will be dropped, prosecutors said today.

Prosecutors are dropping the 99 pending charges against Little Rascals Day Care owner Robert F. Kelly Jr. and seven charges against Kathryn Dawn Wilson, the center's former cook.

Twenty parents and relatives stood on the front steps of the Chowan County courthouse while District Attorney Frank Parrish and assistant District Attorney Nancy Lamb made the announcement.

Lamb said the charges were dropped after a review and with the advice of the parents of the 12 victims. Parents were reluctant to have their children testify again, she said.

The decision was made to ``allow wounds to heal'' and did not mean that the state had a weak case against Kelly and Wilson, said Lamb, sometimes pausing to contain her emotions.

``I'm at peace with the decision. I don't feel like the system has let me down,'' said Susan Small, whose two children were among the alleged victims. ``I can't say enough good things about the way the state prosecuted the case.''

Seven people were charged in 1989 with sexually abusing children at the Edenton day care center operated by Kelly and his wife, Elizabeth.

Only Kelly and Wilson had charges pending against them.

Kelly was convicted in 1992 after the longest and most expensive trial in state history. It lasted nine months and cost more than a $1 million. Wilson was convicted in 1993. Both were sentenced to life in prison.

Their sentences were overturned by the state Court of Appeals in 1995. Part of the court's decision in Kelly's case was based on the inadmissible testimony of Chris Bean. Bean was Kelly's original attorney. He quit after learning his child was one of the alleged victims.

Bean said today a new trial would be too much for the children.

``They never talk about it. What they're concerned about is winning that soccer game and doing well in school. And thank God for that,'' Bean said.

Kelly was charged last year with eight new counts of sexual abuse against a girl who did not attend Little Rascals. She was 9 years old at the time of the alleged abuse in 1987.

He will be tried on those charges, prosecutors said.

Kelly's defense attorney said prosecutors may have grown too close to the alleged victims and their parents.

``I do have some concern that prosecutorial decisions are made by people who are so obviously emotionally entwined with the case.'' Gerald Beaver said. ``If justice is going to be served by dismissal of this, then justice would be served by dismissing all of them.''

The Kellys opened Little Rascals in July 1986. A criminal investigation began in January 1989 after the mother of one child talked to a local police officer. The state ordered the day care closed three months later.

The seven defendants were charged in 1989 with 429 counts of sexually abusing 29 children.

Critics of the prosecution said Kelly and the others were railroaded by hysterical parents in a town of 5,200 in rural, northeastern North Carolina.

A defense psychologist for Kelly testified that therapists hired by the parents planted ideas of abuse in the children's minds.

Children testified about specific acts of sexual abuse. Some also testified about a magic key, spaceships, a boat trip and swimming with sharks.

Parents and prosecutors said the case was solid and the children who testified against Kelly and Wilson told the truth in their own words.

The Little Rascals case joins other sensational trials of the 1980s built on lurid allegations of mass child-molestation at day-care centers which have fallen apart.

In 1984, seven people were indicted in California after children at the McMartin Preschool claimed they were forced to participate in nude games and other sexual activities. The defendants eventually were found not guilty or had the charges dismissed - but only after some of them had been jailed for years.

In 1988, New Jersey preschool teacher Margaret Kelly Michaels was convicted of more than 100 counts of abusing 19 children while others at the school allegedly looked the other way. Her conviction was overturned, but she spent five years in jail.

Prosecutors last year dismissed charges against against three other defendants in the Little Rascals case after meeting with parents.

Shelley Alyce Stone faced 13 counts of sexual abuse. Robin Boles Byrum was charged with 23 crimes. Darlene Harris Bunch was charged with three counts, even though she never worked at the center.

Elizabeth Kelly pleaded no contest to 30 felonies and served 30 months before being released in 1994.

An acquaintance of Kelly, Willard Scott Privott, pleaded no contest to taking indecent liberties with a minor in 1995.

Privott spent 3-1/2 years in jail awaiting trial.

By ESTES THOMPSON,Associated Press Writer Copyright ©1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed.