This case is the conviction and long, ongoing, incarceration of an innocent man, Jeffrey Modahl. Jeffrey Modahl was convicted of child abuse in Kern County in 1986 on the basis of scanty and contaminated evidence. Since his conviction the case against Jeffrey Modahl has collapsed entirely. Yet he remains in prison. Jeffrey Modahl was accused and convicted in the middle 1980's when Kern County authorities initiated an atmosphere of hysteria and a witch hunt of totally innocent persons while claiming they were uprooting sex rings of Satanist child abusers.
The case began in October 1984. On October 4 two Kern County officials, Sheriff's Deputy Conny Ericsson and social worker Velda Murillo interviewed two girls, Teresa and Carla Modahl, about an alleged episode of sexual child abuse involving one man, Anthony Cox. Later, on October 10, Ericsson and Murillo interviewed Carla Modahl and two other children, Carol Ann Bittner and Richard Shang Taylor, about alleged episodes of sexual abuse. At that time all of the four children were taken from their family and placed in Jamison Center, a county shelter for children who were presumed to be abused and in need of alternative homes. It is important to note the original accusations mentioned only two men as possible molesters, Anthony Cox and Leroy Cox. Originally Jeffrey Modahl was neither accused of any molestation nor placed on the scene of any alleged incident.
At that time Jeffrey Modahl worked as a mechanic and heavy equipment operator for Richard Cox, who managed a heavy equipment and construction company out of a ten acre ranch on South Cottonwood in Bakersfield, California. Through 1983, the company ran landfill operations at three county dumps in Taft, Delano, and Lebec. Both the Delano and Taft dumps were open seven days a week. Both Richard Cox and Jeffrey Modahl frequently worked 12 to 14 hours a day seven days a week.
The "ranch" in Bakersfield consisted of one large main house, six two-bedroom duplexes, and a large shop on the property. Richard Cox and his wife Joanne lived in the main house. Leroy Cox and girl-friend Jody Dugrenier, several of Richard's wife's relatives, and some of Richard's employees lived at the "ranch". Anthony Cox ran the dump in Taft where he lived with his wife Teresa Cox.
At the time Jeffrey Modahl lived with Ruth Taylor in the Villa Capri Apartments on Panchea Road in Bakersfield. With Jeffrey and Ruth lived Carla Jo Modahl (age 9) and Teresa Modahl (age 11), who were adopted. Carla's mother, the sister of Ruth Taylor, had died in an automobile accident in 1979. Also living with them were Ruth Taylor's children by previous marriages, Carol Ann Bittner (age 12) and Richard Shang Taylor (age 7). Ruth Taylor did house work on a part time basis for Joanne Cox at the main house at the ranch.
When placed in Jamison Center by Velda Murillo and Conny Ericsson, all four children were kept from access to friends and family. Instead county authorities such as Velda Murillo and Conny Ericsson often and repeatedly questioned the children about the alleged sexual abuse.
The original accusation written in the Kern County Sheriff's Department reports was that Anthony and Leroy Cox in several incidents tied up the girls with ropes to a bed in a bedroom at the main house of the Cox ranch in Bakersfield and sexually molested them. The accused molesters were said to have hammered a large nail to the wall in the back of the bed in order to fasten or hang the ropes binding the girls.
No physical evidence corroborated the accusations of Carla and Carol Ann. On the early morning of October 19, 1984, ten Sheriff's Deputies searched Richard Cox's home and the other buildings at the ranch for an hour and one half. No nail hole was found in the location where the victims alleged a large nail had been used to "hang" the ropes tying them up. No pictures of any sexual acts were found even though three cameras were seized.
However this dearth of evidence did not dissuade Velda Murillo and other county authorities from building a case involving a large "sex" ring. All four children were questioned repeatedly and suggestively. After ten days in Jamison Center, Carla named other persons who were present at the alleged incidents of sexual molestation on. These other persons included Richard Cox, his wife Joanne Cox, Jeffrey Modahl, Ruth Taylor, Teresa Cox, and Jody Dugrenier. Carla then claimed that Jeffrey Modahl, Richard Cox, Joanne Cox, Ruth Taylor, and Teresa Cox also molested the two girls. Teresa Cox and Jody Dugrenier were said to have taken pictures of this molest.
However, no pictures of the alleged molest were ever found. And despite repeated questioning and many inducements by Velda Murillo and other county officials, Carol Ann Bittner refused to place Richard Cox, Joanne, Jeffrey Modahl, Ruth Taylor, Teresa Cox, and Jody Dugrenier at the scene of the molest. And Teresa and Richard Shang later denied being molested at all.
Interrogation of Alleged Child Victims
It is worth describing in some detail the inducements Velda Murillo and other authority figures at Jamison Center used to get the children to testify against the accused. Specifically:
This information comes from the affidavits of children questioned in Jamison Center in this case and others many years later when they reached adult status. Late in 1997 an audio tape was discovered by the lawyer for Jeffrey Modahl which confirms the affidavits of the now adult children. The tape recording was of the interview of Teresa Modahl on October 4, 1984. Examination of the tape demonstrates that Murillo and Ericsson did most of the talking. Murillo told Teresa Modahl who she thought were abusers and what she thought happened. Teresa sometimes merely providing an assent in one or a few words.
At the time the Kern County authorities claimed they did not keep any audio or visual recordings of the numerous children's interviews in this case. Instead Deputy Conny Ericsson claimed to have taken notes from the audio recording and then reused the original tape. However examination of Ericsson's notes of the October 4 conversation indicates that Ericsson claimed Teresa made accusations that were actually a short assent by Teresa to prolonged narratives of Velda Murillo.
Dr. James M. Wood, a Ph.D. psychologist who is an expert on interrogations of child witnesses examined the taped interview. He found that Velda Murillo and Conny Ericsson made at least five major errors in the interrogation. Making these five errors vastly increases the likelihood that false accusations and testimony would be elicited from any child witness.
At age nine, Carla was the youngest of the three girls who were alleged to be victims. She was also under numbing medication. Thus she was the most vulnerable to the inducements of Murillo and Ericsson. Later she testified under oath that Murillo tricked her. Murillo had told her that unless she testified against all of the accused, Leroy and Anthony Cox would be free. Also Murillo had told her that only if she testified against all the accused, including Jeffrey Modahl, she would be able to go home again. Carla Modahl at the time was young enough to believe the Kern County authority figure Velda Murillo.
Adding to the inducements on Carla to provide prosecution desired testimony were gifts of clothes and meals from Assistant District Attorney Craig Phillips. These gifts are clearly an improper form of witness tampering.
Effects Of Medical Examinations
In interviews with Velda Murillo at Jamison Center, most notably the interview of October 16, Carla alleged multiple incidents of vaginal and anal rape and penetration involving all persons under investigation including Jeffrey Modahl.
On October 22 Velda Murillo signed out all four children from Jamison Center and took them to the Kern Medical Center for Medical examinations. All four examinations, including that of Carla Modahl, demonstrated no sexual molestation. To prevent these embarrassing medical exams from being admitted in court and thus provided to the defense attorneys, the District Attorney's office dropped all penetration charges against Jeffrey Modahl. The charges remaining were for oral sex and illicit touching. Thus the Kern County authorities changed their story to conceal evidence.
The testimony of Carla changed too. She no longer alleged vaginal rape but only the reduced charges now being prosecuted by the District Attorney's office. Meanwhile, the existence of these examinations were kept from the defense lawyers. Thus the defense attorney for Jeffrey Modahl could not use these examinations to cast doubt on the interviewing techniques of Velda Murillo in eliciting testimony about sexual abuse.
Mismedication Of And Tampering With Witness
Moreover, there is the deceitful and perverse medication of Carla Modahl prior to the trials. Carla was given medicine for what she was told was her gall bladder problem. Later she noticed the medicine made her feel stupid. In a telephone conversation with her grandmother and Jeffrey's mother, Ms. Blanche Modahl, she spelled out the name of the medicine she was taking. It was thorazine, a powerful psychiatric drug that effects the thought process. Yet no psychiatrist examined her and prescribed this drug. Clearly the county authorities improperly medicated Carla to influence her testimony. This action is definitely improper and most probably illegal.
Carla was taking the drug thorazine from late 1984, soon after she arrived in Jamison Center, to 1986. The medication was finally not renewed by Carla's foster mother Ms. Joyce Thompson. During the period Carla was taking thorazine, she was a major prosecution witness in several trials including that of Jeffrey Modahl. The drug thorazine is a sedative, causing in an individual lower volition or decision making, greater apathy, and cognitive dulling. A person taking this medication would be less assertive and more compliant. Thus the drug would definitely drastically ease the eliciting of prosecution desired testimony by Velda Murillo and other Kern County officials.
After Carla Modahl stopped taking thorazine, and the effects of the drug wore off, she recanted her testimony against Jeffrey Modahl to several people including her foster mother Ms. Joyce Thompson, Ms. Hix, and social worker Mr. Kerley.
The mismedication of Carla Modahl alone should be grounds to overturn the conviction of Jeffrey Modahl.
Trials of Alleged Sex Ring
Kern County authorities prosecuted in four trials the alleged members of this "sex" ring. The first trial was of Teresa Lynne Cox (Anthony's wife), who was accused of the molestation of Carol Ann and Carla. Testifying against Teresa Cox were Carla and two jailhouse informants who claimed that Teresa told them she committed the molestation. Teresa Cox was convicted.
The second trial was of Anthony and Leroy Cox. Testifying against them were Carla and Carol Ann. They were convicted.
The third trial was of Richard Cox and Ruth Taylor. Carla testified she and Carol Ann were molested by Anthony Cox, Leroy Cox, Richard Cox, Jeffrey Modahl, Joanne Cox, and Ruth Taylor. The defense asked for a medical exam. However the prosecutor Craig Phillips, concealing the fact that such an exam had already occurred, argued stoutly that this medical exam "would be a wrongful invasion of the young victim's privacy". The judge ruled in favor of the prosecutor. Later Richard Cox and Ruth Taylor were convicted.
The fourth trial was of Jeffrey Modahl. The trial was held by a judge without a jury. The charges were numerous counts of molestation of his daughter Carla Modahl on June 9, 1983 at her grandma's bedroom in the main house at the ranch. Jeffrey Modahl was convicted on the testimony of one witness, Carla Modahl. Carla testified that Jeffrey Modahl molested her, Carol Ann Bittner, and Teresa Modahl. Carla's testimony was unsupported by any medical examination or physical evidence. No ropes, no nails, no nail hole in the wall, and no pictures were presented as evidence.
Moreover, Carla's testimony was contradicted by other witnesses. Carol Ann Bittner testified Jeffrey never molested her, nor had she ever seen Jeffrey molest Carla or Teresa as described by Carla. Teresa Modahl in her testimony openly accused Carla of lying and denied she had seen Jeffrey molest anyone.
Richard Shang Taylor, the seven year old son of Ruth Taylor, was not allowed to testify because he refused to state Jeffrey had done bad things to him.
Despite this clearly insufficient evidence, the Judge, Walter Condley convicted Jeffrey Modahl of ten counts, four of which were suspended. The judge then sentenced Jeffrey Modahl to eight years for each of the six counts, or to 48 years in prison. Judge Condley made his rulings in the witch hunting atmosphere prevalent in Kern County in the middle 1980's. During this period, county officials circulated the widely believed rumors that multi-generational satanic rings were operating in Kern County, and that children never lie about sexual abuse.
Atmosphere In Kern County
Between the years 1982 and 1985, dozens of people in Kern County were convicted of elaborate forms of large scale child molestation and pornography production, and sentenced to prison for decades, even centuries. These cases generally occurred in the small towns outside Bakersfield that are the law enforcement domain of the Kern County Sheriff. The same core of ambitious social workers, child abuse coordinators, deputy sheriffs, and district attorney investigated and prosecuted all these cases. This ambitious core of officials included Social Worker Velda Murillo and District Attorney Edward Jagels.
The enormous momentum of charges against anyone for violating defenseless children was so strong that the officials obtained convictions even where the evidence was very weak or originated by the investigators themselves. These successes emboldened the core of officials to try cases that seemed fantastic, even unbelievable. The Kern County officials' system of witness intimidation, along with the fear and titillation they spread through Kern County, allowed this core of officials to convict anybody of anything.
The officials overcame the handicap of having no tangible evidence by constructing cases from the suggested and coerced testimony of presumed child victims. Kern County Judges allowed this induced testimony to send bewildered people to prison for up to 400 years. Many of these convictions were overturned years later by Appellate Courts.
The hysteria over child molestation ran rampant in Kern County from 1982 to 1985. This Kern County hysteria was completely analogous to the atmosphere that led to the 1692 Witchcraft Trials in Salem, Massachusetts. Concern over the treatment of the alleged child victims, the methods used by law enforcement, the increasingly bizarre unsupported accusations being prompted from children, and the obvious absence of common sense prompted a Kern County Grand Jury to request an investigation by the California State Attorney General in 1985.
Attorney General's Report
This investigation was undertaken. In 1986 Attorney General John K. Van de Kamp released the results under the title "Report on the Kern County Child Abuse Investigation". The report was actually polite to the Kern County officials. The report only dwelled on the errors of the investigative techniques used by authorities, and did not state that the children were coached. Thus the report did not touch on the guilt or innocence of people already convicted of multi offender ring child abuse. Instead the report concerned only persons who had not yet been tried. However the Kern County authorities applied the same perverse methods of investigation to all the child abuse cases in the 1982 to 1985 period.
Specifically the report found that Deputy Conny Ericsson did not have the required training in the investigation of child abuse and exploitation and had not completed the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) training course. The Social Worker Velda Murillo stepped out of an appropriate role and assumed a leading role in the investigation. The report asserts she appeared to have inappropriately told children what other alleged victims had said. Contrary to P.O.S.T. guidelines the tape recordings of the interviews of the children were not kept. Moreover, children were interviewed many times when P.O.S.T. guidelines stated that if at all possible the alleged child victim be interviewed only once. The report also criticized conditions in Jamison Center where alleged child molest victims met each other and participated in group therapy together. These conditions created cross germination and contamination of the later testimony of the alleged victims.
The report also criticizes the inability of Kern County authorities to locate corroborative physical evidence and the refusal to provide medical examinations of alleged victims. The praise of child victims to solicit testimony was deemed inappropriate.
In short, the report criticizes the deficiencies of the Kern County investigation in the alleged Cox sex ring detailed above. Common sense indicates major miscarriages of justice occurred.
Absence Of A Prosecution Case
The deficiencies in the interrogation of the alleged child victims by the Kern County authorities, many of which detailed in the Van de Kamp report, the deliberate mismedication of Carla Modahl, and the medical exam of Carla which was negative for sexual molestation demonstrate the case against Jeffrey Modahl was weak and insufficient. However there are other reasons to discount the case against Jeffrey.
First is the total lack of physical evidence. Carla testified she was tied with ropes on a bed in grandma's bedroom at the ranch which were attached to a large nail in the wall about three feet above their heads. However pictures from that bedroom wall were introduced in court which showed no nail or nail hole. Moreover several searches of the ranch were unable to discover any ropes as described by Carla. Carla also testified that Teresa Cox and Joanne Cox took pictures of their abuse. However several searches by Kern County Sheriff's Deputies and Officers of the main building and other buildings of the ranch were unable to find any such pictures.
Second, Carla also originally testified of vaginal and anal penetration by adult men and mother and daughter incest. However, normal functional people do not engage in vaginal or anal penetration with young children. Such sexual activity would be excruciatingly painful for the child. It is unlikely Carla would have waited over a year to relate this occurrence. Discernible tissue damage would have most likely resulted, which would have been readily found in any medical examination. Moreover mother child incest is very rare and practically never occurs unless the mother is psychotic. Psychological evaluations of the accused in most of the cases during the period 1982 to 1985 show normal functioning persons who are not psychotic or even seriously disturbed. From an actuarial point of view, the statistical probability of having a great many people in one county engaging in extremely rare behaviors is such as to make the accusations completely unbelievable.
Third, the sex rings described in the Velda Murillo induced testimony are very similar in their modes of child abuse. The allegations are always that the children are bound with ropes that are tied to nails. While bound the children are always alleged to suffer from similar types of penetration by multiple molesters. It appears more logical to discount the possibilities of so many similar sex rings arising in one county at one time period and focus on the fantasies of a leading Social Worker.
However, Kern County authorities did not change their attitude toward persons previously convicted. On September 28, 1987, an evidentiary hearing was held in the Kern County Superior Court in the case of Jeffrey Modahl. The hearing was conducted by the same Judge who handled the previous trial, Walter Condley. In this hearing Carla Modahl recanted her previous testimony. Carla identified a typed statement taken from a recording which she made to her social worker on January 14, 1987, which completely recanted her testimony pointing to the guilt of Jeffrey Modahl. She also identified a letter postmarked January 29, 1987, in which she asserted she lied in court and that Jeffrey did not touch her. Carla also acknowledged she testified in the preliminary hearing of Jody Cox on April 3, 1987, that Jeffrey was not among those who molested her. On cross examination Carla testified her original accusation of Jeffrey was made because of the trickery of Social Worker Velda Murillo.
This the case against Jeffrey Modahl collapsed from insufficient to zero - no witnesses, no physical evidence, no medical evidence.
Yet Walter Condley refused to set aside the conviction. He refused to consider the report of Attorney General John K. Van de Kamp. As Walter Condley stated it "Look, I have no faith in his [Van de Kamp] report because I know what he said about deep pockets initiative and how he misrepresented the facts and he is a misrepresenter, in my opinion, so I am not putting any weight on that report. I haven't read it. I won't read it. I won't touch that report."
So today Jeffrey Modahl is still in prison. Thus the demented Kern County witch hunt continues. This long and continuing unjust incarceration makes a total mockery of the claims by both the State Of California and the United States of providing free and equal justice. The creditability of justice in both California and the United States will continue to be lost until Jeffrey Modahl is freed.