Wee Care Nursery School

Wee Care Nursery School

The Wee Care Nursery School was in Maplewood, New Jersey and was one of many day care child abuse cases that went to trial in the 1980s. [1] Though initially successful in its prosecution of Margaret Kelly Michaels, the decision was overturned after five years in prison, on the basis of improper and coercive interviewing of the children involved. They had been the sole witnesses, their testimony being offered as the only sources of evidence during the trial.



In April of 1985, a nurse took the temperature of a 4-year-old boy with a rectal thermometer and the boy said: "That's what my teacher does to me at nap time at school." The comment was reported to the local authorities, and all the children at the Wee Care Nursery School were questioned.[2] Margaret Kelly Michaels was indicted for 299 offenses in connection with the sexual assault of 33 children.[3] "Among the charges in two indictments were aggravated sexual assault, impairing the morals of minors and terroristic threats."[3] Michaels denied the charges.[4] Various accusations were heard from the children during questioning by social workers and therapists: that 23-year-old Margaret Kelly Michaels forced the children to lick peanut butter off her genitals, that she penetrated their rectums and vaginas with knives, forks and other objects, that she forced them to eat cakes made from excrement and that she made them play "Duck, Duck, Goose" in the nude. Testimonial evidence was collected from 51 students of the day care center. Physical evidence included a jar of peanut butter, found in the day care's kitchen, and the lyrics to Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" written in Michaels' attendance book.[2]


"The prosecution produced expert witnesses who said that almost all the children displayed symptoms of sexual abuse."[5]Prosecution witnesses testified that the children "had regressed into such behavior as bed-wetting and defecating in their clothing. The witnesses said the children became afraid to be left alone or to stay in the dark. They also testified that the children exhibited knowledge of sexual behavior far beyond their years."[5] Some of the other teachers testified against her.[5] "The defense argued that Miss Michaels did not have the time or opportunity to go to a location where all the activities could have taken place without someone seeing her."[5] In August of 1988, after eleven months of trial, [6] Michaels was sentenced to 47 years in the "sex case."[7] The judge "said the facts in the case were sordid, bizarre and demeaning to the children."[7] Michaels "told the judge that she was confident her conviction would be overturned on appeal."[7]


After five years in prison Michaels' appeal was successful and she was released. The New Jersey Supreme Court overturned the lower court's decision and declared "the interviews of the children were highly improper and utilized coercive and unduly suggestive methods." [8] A three judge panel ruled she had been denied a fair trial, because "the prosecution of the case had relied on testimony that should have been excluded because it improperly used an expert's theory, called the child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome, to establish guilt."[9] The original judge was also criticized "for the way in which he allowed the children to give televised testimony from his chambers."[9] In June 1993, the State Supreme Court refused to hear the prosecutor's appeal of the decision. [10] In February 1994, "the court heard arguments...about the admissibility of evidence." [11] In December 1994, the prosecution dropped its bid to retry the case "because too many obstacles had been placed in the way of a successful retrial."[12]The major hurdle was that "if the state decided to reprosecute Ms. Michaels, it must produce "clear and convincing evidence" that the statements and testimony elicited by the improper interview techniques are reliable enough to warrant admission."[12] "While the Supreme Court stopped short of instructing the prosecutor to drop the case, the court made it clear that it believed the children's testimony would not hold up." [12]

Interrogation methods

Interviews from the Wee Care Nursery School and McMartin preschool trials were examined as part of a research project on the testimony of children questioned in a highly suggestive manner. Compared with a set of interviews from Child Protective Services, the interviews from the two trials were "significantly more likely to (a) introduce new suggestive information into the interview, (b) provide praise, promises, and positive reinforcement, (c) express disapproval, disbelief, or disagreement with children, (d) exert conformity pressure, and (e) invite children to pretend or speculate about supposed events."[13]

See also

  • Day care sexual abuse hysteria


  1. ^ "Nightmare at the Day Care: The Wee Care Case". Crime Magazine. Archived from the original on 2007-08-14. http://web.archive.org/web/20070814143530/http://www.crimemagazine.com/daycare.htm. Retrieved 2007-08-21. "Kelly Michaels never intended to become a preschool teacher -- she had taken fine arts and drama in college -- but she wanted to live near New York City and was looking for something to pay the rent when she applied at Wee Care Day Care in Maplewood, New Jersey. Although Kelly doubted if she had the qualifications, the director, Arlene Spector, had been encouraging and had persuaded her to give it a try. Once hired, Kelly was quickly promoted from teacher's aide to preschool teacher." 
  2. ^ a b "The Kelly Michaels Case". University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/mcmartin/michaelsevil.html. Retrieved 2007-08-26. "Kelly Michaels' nightmare began on April 30, 1985 when a four-year-old boy who was a student of hers at the Wee Care Day Nursery said, when a nurse put a thermometer in his rectum, "That's what my teacher does to me at nap time at school." When asked what he meant, the boy replied, "Her takes my temperature."" 
  3. ^ a b "Day Care Worker Held on Assault on Children." (in English). New York Times. December 8, 1985. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9400E6DE173BF93BA35751C1A963948260. Retrieved 2007-01-21. "An employee of a day-care center in Maplewood, N.J., has been indicted for 229 offenses in connection with the sexual assault of 33 children between 3 and 6 years of age over a 6-month period." 
  4. ^ Narvaez, A. (February 28, 1988). "Former Day-Care Teacher Denies Sexually Abusing Schoolchildren" (in English). New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DE6D61530F93BA15751C0A96E948260. Retrieved 2007-01-21. "A former day-care center teacher being tried on charges of sexually abusing 20 children in her care testified in her defense this week and denied ever having had sexual contact with the 3- 4- and 5-year-old youngsters." 
  5. ^ a b c d Narvaez, A. (March 29, 1988). "Legal Arguments End in Jersey Child-Abuse Trial" (in English). New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DE5DB1E3AF93AA15750C0A96E948260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=2. Retrieved 2007-01-21. "Legal arguments in the nine-month trial of a day-care teacher accused of sexually abusing 20 children at a center in Maplewood ended here today." 
  6. ^ "New Jersey vs. Margaret Kelly Michaels". Archived from the original on 2007-03-20. http://web.archive.org/web/20070320014744/http://www.falseallegations.com/mich-1fb.htm. Retrieved 2007-08-26. "The accounts of sexual abuse obtained through interviews of the children ranged from relatively minor accounts of touching to virtually incomprehensible heinous and bizarre acts. A common act alleged by both boy and girl students was that Kelly inserted knives, forks, and spoons into their "butts," penises, or vaginas" 
  7. ^ a b c Rangel, J. (August 3, 1988). "Ex-Preschool Teacher Sentenced To 47 Years in Sex Case in Jersey" (in English). New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DE1D71730F930A3575BC0A96E948260. Retrieved 2007-01-21. "A former preschool teacher was sentenced today to 47 years in prison for sexually assaulting 19 children and endangering the welfare of another child in a day-care center in Maplewood" 
  8. ^ Mydans, Seth (June 3, 1994). "Prosecutors Rebuked in Molestation Case". New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0CE1DD1E3BF930A35755C0A962958260&scp. Retrieved 2007-08-21. "In March 1993, a New Jersey appeals court overturned the conviction of Margaret Kelly Michaels, who began serving a 47-year sentence in 1988 after being convicted of abusing 19 children at the Wee Care Nursery School in Maplewood, New Jersey." 
  9. ^ a b Fiason, F. (March 27, 1993). "Child-Abuse Conviction Of Woman Is Overturned" (in English). New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0CEFD61230F934A15750C0A965958260. Retrieved 2007-01-21. "A New Jersey appeals court yesterday overturned the conviction of Margaret Kelly Michaels, who was accused of sexually abusing 19 children at a day-care center in Maplewood, and who was sentenced to 47 years in prison after a celebrated trial in 1988." 
  10. ^ "Court Rejects Bid to Restore Abuse Verdict.". New York Times. June 10, 1993. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0CE7D9173FF933A25755C0A965958260. Retrieved 2007-01-21. "The State Supreme Court today refused to hear the Essex County Prosecutor's appeal of a decision that overturned the child sex-abuse conviction of a former day-care center teacher, Margaret Kelly Michaels." 
  11. ^ Sullivan, J. (February 4, 1994). "In Retrying Abuse Case, A New Issue". New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE5DF1239F932A35751C0A962958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=1. Retrieved 2007-01-21. "Just how to prevent fantasy from being presented as fact in sex-abuse cases is facing the New Jersey Supreme Court in the wake of one of the most sensational of the spate of cases involving day-care workers during the 1980's. The court heard arguments today about the admissibility of evidence in the case of Margaret Kelly Michaels, who was convicted of sexually molesting 19 children, many of them 3- and 4-year-olds, during her seven-month employment at Wee Care Nursery in Maplewood. She served 5 years of a 47-year sentence before her conviction was overturned early last year." 
  12. ^ a b c Nieves, E. (December 3, 1994). "Prosecutors Drop Charges In Abuse Case From Mid-80's". New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9902E3D91F30F930A35751C1A962958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=1. Retrieved 2007-01-21. "Ending one of the most sensational child sex-abuse scandals in the nation, prosecutors today formally dropped their case against Margaret Kelly Michaels, the former day care teacher who spent five years in prison before her 1987 conviction was overturned on appeal last year." 
  13. ^ Schreiber, Nadja; Lisa Bellah, Yolanda Martinez, Kristin McLaurin, Renata Stok, Sena Garven and James Wood (2006). "Suggestive interviewing in the McMartin Preschool and Kelly Michaels daycare abuse cases: A case study". Social Influence (Psychology Press) 1 (1): 16–46. doi:10.1080/15534510500361739. http://digitalcommons.utep.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1014&context=james_wood. 

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