Protesting Modern Witchunts

Justice Committee/January 7, 1997
By Carol Lamb Hopkins, Executive Director

As the widely acclaimed film adaptation of Arthur Miller's The Crucible opens across the country, some 300 writers, scholars, scientists, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and concerned citizens, joined by individuals recently freed from wrongful imprisonment, will gather early next week in Salem, Massachusetts, for the first-ever national convocation on contemporary witch hunts.

The day-long event will address the reasons and remedies for the nationwide epidemic of spurious accusations and prosecutions; those based on testimony forced from children by flawed interviewing techniques in sexual abuse investigations." therapeutically created "recovered memories of supposed childhood incest, and those based on false confessions extracted by police interrogators.

On January 14, 1697, five years after the famous "witchcraft trials." the entire community of His Majesty's Province of the Massachusetts Bay, in obedience to a proclamation, took part in a day of fasting and remorse.

It was a rare and historic acknowledgment of the hysteria and judicial errors that had led to "great hardship brought upon innocent persons" --- including the 19 put to death.

On January 14, 1997, in an auditorium at Salem's Essex-Peabody Museum, the far more extensive parallels of the injustices of three centuries ago will be examined by a powerful lineup of experts on miscarriages of justice. They will describe the modern forms of "spectral evidence" used to condemn and incarcerate thousands of citizens for crimes they did not commit.

Videotaped commentaries by playwright Arthur Miller and author William Styron - prepared especially for the convocation, will set the stage for presentations by such figures as:

  • John Putnam Demos, Yale University history professor and descendent of Salem accuser Ann Putnam.

  • Alan Rubenstein. District Attorney Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and author of the 1990 report. "Investigation into Breezy Point Day School".

  • Elizabeth Loftus, University of Washington memory researcher and co-author of The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations Sexual Abuse.

  • Debbie Nathan, journalist, co-author of Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt.

  • Paul Noel Chretien, Counsel, U.S. Department of Justice.

  • Frederick Crews, University of California, Berkeley, Professor of English, historian of psychoanalysis; principal author of The Memory Wars.

  • Pamela Freyd, University of Pennsylvania researcher, founder of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation.

  • Donald Connery, former Time-Life correspondent; author of Guilty Until Proven Innocent and editor of Convicting the Innocent.

  • Moira Johnston, author of soon to be published Spectral Evidence on California's landmark Gary Ramona case.

  • Robert Perske, advocate for persons with mental disabilities, author of Unequal Justice? and Deadly Innocence?

  • Richard Leo, University of Colorado sociology professor; creator of the nation's first false confession data bank.

  • Tom Grant, KREM-TV reporter, winner of the 1996 George Polk Award, and finalist for this year's Columbia Dupont Award for his coverage of the Wenatchee, Washington witch hunts.

Among the falsely accused former defendants who will attend the convocation (and be available for interviews) will be:

  • Kelly Michaels, teacher's aide imprisoned for five years in New Jersey's Wee Care ritual abuse case before her 47-year sentence was overturned on appeal.

  • Peggy Ann Buckey and Ray Buckey, teachers accused and jailed in Ca1ifornia's landmark McMartin Preschool case--the longest, costliest trial in U.S.history.

  • Cheryl and Violet Amirault, mother and daughter convicted in the Massachusetts' Fells Acres Case: convictions recently overturned after 14 years imprisonment.

  • Bobby Fijnje l4 year-old Dutch citizen, a child-care worker tried for ritual abuse by Dade County, Florida prosecutor, Janet Reno, now U.S. Attorney General held without bail for over a year before his acquittal.

  • Pastor and Mrs. Roby Roberson, separated for years from their child, then tried and acquitted in the Wenatchee Washington "sex ring" scandal of false accusations.

  • Brenda and Scott Kniffen, sentenced to 240 years each in the Kern County, CA sex ring cases; convictions overturned this year.

"The analogy to Salem is by no means overstated." says Carol Hopkins principal convocation organizer and executive director of The Justice Committee in San Diego. "The witchcraft mentality is still with us" in the forced accusations and confessions and as we see hundreds of men and women languishing behind bars for such imagined crimes as torturing and sacrificing babies during Satanic rituals. Our message is "Enough".

These prosecutions must end and, just as importantly, we must release the falsely convicted and make reparations to them. The convocation will again echo the Justice Committee's demand for Congressional hearings into these cases."

The January 14 conference, not open to the public, will be held at theEssex-Peabody Museum, beginning at 8:30 a.m. On the previous day starting at 1 p.m., two forums of experts will discuss social science issues and legal and legislative remedies. On the night of the 13th, at 6 p.m., attendees will walk by candlelight to Salem's memorial to the witch trials victims and hold a vigil for today's prisoners of hysteria and recklessprosecution. The public is welcome to join in the vigil.

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