What Is The Longest Criminal Trial In The United States?

The United States guarantees defendants the right to a fair and speedy trial — on paper, but not always in practice. This is none more obvious than in the McMartin preschool trial, which resembled the hysteria of the Salem Witch trials in modern-day fashion. During the ‘80s and ‘90s, there was hysteria over possible Satanic ritual abuse (and this was long before QAnon even existed!). 

Just so you know we’re not joking, accusations included seeing witches fly, being abused by Chuck Norris, being abused in secret tunnels, or having been taken and abused in a hot-air balloon. There were allegations of car-wash orgies, being flushed down toilets, and a game called “naked movie star.”

These allegations were made against members of a Manhattan Beach family who operated their own preschool. A number of people were eventually charged with a combined hundreds of counts of abuse. 

But the “popularity” of the impending trial was how long it took, and how many resources were spent. The first accusations were made in 1983, but it took another year for the investigation to begin — and that took an additional four years. The trials took another three years after that until charges were dropped in 1990.

Part of the reason it took so long was the fact that the first trial was deadlocked. The judge had no choice but to move for a retrial, which itself resulted in another deadlock. All charges against those who had not been successfully prosecuted were therefore dropped. Ray Buckey had spent five years of his life in prison — but was never convicted.

Years later, one of the children who had made the whimsical allegations said: “Never did anyone do anything to me, and I never saw them doing anything. I said a lot of things that didn’t happen. I lied. … Anytime I would give them an answer that they didn’t like, they would ask again and encourage me to give them the answer they were looking for. … I felt uncomfortable and a little ashamed that I was being dishonest.”