In June 1985, police began investigating the East Valley YMCA day care center in El Paso, Texas after parents of a four-old child became concerned about a word their child uttered.
One of the parents of a child at the center was an FBI agent who managed to obtain the protocol of questions that were asked during the investigation of the McMartin pre-school child sex abuse investigation in Los Angeles, a case that would ultimately become a legal poster child for the use of coercive and suggestive questioning by law enforcement and state child care investigators to obtain false statements from children.
Ultimately, two teachers at the center, Michelle Noble, 34, and Gayle Stickler Dove, 40, were indicted on charges of sexual molestation and sexual assault of a child.
The two women were convicted at separate trials in 1986. In both cases, jurors heard the testimony of eight children on videotape.
The children told of being marched from the school to Noble’s home several blocks away where they were kissed and fondled by Noble as well as 12 foot tall monsters. The children said they were told they would be eaten if they told anyone.
In other testimony, the children said pennies were put on their “pee-pees,” they were forced to eat body parts, pencils and other objects were inserted into their rectums and they were forced to watch the killing of animals.
Dove was sentenced to three life sentences plus 60 years. Noble was sentenced to life in prison plus 311 years.
Dove's conviction was set aside in 1987 because evidence that had not been admitted at trial was viewed by the jury. She was convicted at a second trial in March 1987 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Noble’s conviction was reversed in November 1987. The court ruled allowing the children to testify by video tape violated Noble’s 6th Amendment right to confront witnesses.
At Noble's second trial an expert witness testified that the children had been brainwashed and that the method of interviewing and interrogating the children was suggestive, coercive and produced bizarre and false claims of abuse. Noble was acquitted on April 9, 1988.
Dove’s conviction was reversed on March 31, 1989. The Texas Court of Appeals for the Seventh District ruled that the prosecution had presented extensive hearsay and inadmissible evidence about uncharged allegations that tainted the trial.
In April 1990, the state dismissed the charges against Dove. Dove passed away in 2007.
– Maurice Possley
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.