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The Kern County child abuse cases started the day care sexual abuse hysteria of the 1980s in Kern County, California.[1] The cases involved claims of satanic ritual abuse that were performed by pedophile sex rings with as many as 60 children testifying they had been abused. At least 36 people were convicted and most of them spent years imprisoned. 34 convictions were overturned on appeal. The district attorney responsible for the convictions was Ed Jagels,[2] who was sued by at least one of those whose conviction was overturned,[3] and who remained in office until 2009.[4] Two of the convicted died in prison and were unable to clear their names.


In 1982, Alvin and Debbie McCuan's two daughters, coached by their step-grandmother Mary Ann Barbour, who had custody of them, alleged they had been abused by their parents, and accused them of being part of a sex ring that included Scott Kniffen and Brenda Kniffen. The Kniffens' two sons also claimed to have been abused. No physical evidence was ever found. The McCuans and Kniffens were convicted in 1984 and given a combined sentence of over 1000 years in prison.[5]

The convictions of the McCuans and Kniffens were overturned in 1996 and the two couples were released. In 2001, a TV movie about the Kniffens titled Just Ask My Children was aired on Lifetime.[6]

Six similar cases occurred throughout Kern County. For instance, the testimony of five young boys was the prosecution's key evidence in a trial in which four defendants were convicted, with John Stoll, a 41-year-old carpenter, receiving the longest sentence of the group: 40 years for 17 counts of lewd and lascivious conduct. "It never happened," Ed Sampley, one of the accusers, told a New York Times reporter in 2004. He had lied about Stoll.

Sampley and three other former accusers returned in 2004 to the courthouse where they had testified against Stoll, this time to say that Stoll never molested them. In their late 20s, each of them said he always knew the truth—that Stoll had never touched them.[7] However, Stoll's son has "continued to say that he had been molested."[8] In the case, the only defendant with a previous conviction of molestation was Grant Self, who rented Stoll's pool house briefly. Self had a long record of sex crimes against children.[9] John Stoll had to wait until 2004 for the reversal of his convictions, but was released on the new testimony. Self was sent to a mental hospital for sexual offenders because he had a prior conviction for child molestation and had violated his parole by associating with children.

A documentary titled Witch Hunt, which focused primarily on Stoll's case, was produced and released in 2007. MSNBC also did a documentary on John Stoll and the Kern County cases. In 2009, John Stoll sued Kern County and was rewarded 5 million dollars in compensation.[10]

See also


  1. Jones, Maggie (September 19, 2004). "Who Was Abused?". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-21. "There are several ways to view the small white house on Center Street in Bakersfield, California. From one perspective it's just another low-slung home in a working-class neighborhood, with a front yard, brown carpeting, a TV in the living room."
  2. "Mean Justice's Dirty Secrets"
  4. Garance Burke (2009-11-14). "Crusading Calif. D.A. retires, leaves painful wake". Associated Press.
  5. "Kern County ritual abuse cases". Religious Tolerance. Retrieved 2007-08-26. "The triggering incident occurred in 1980 when Becky McCuan disclosed that her grandfather, Rod Phelps, had touched her inappropriately. The family doctor confirmed the abuse."
  6. Just Ask My Children (2001) (TV)
  7. The New York Times > Magazine > Who Was Abused?
  8. Logan, Jessica (2005-05-31). "Prosecutor's fire makes her either loved or loathed". The Bakersfield Californian. Retrieved 2008-07-11.[dead link]
  9. Branco, Shellie (2007-04-18). "Ruling puts man back in hospital". The Bakersfield Californian. Retrieved 2008-07-11.[dead link]

External links

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