This case concerns John Stoll, Grant Self, Margie Grafton, and Tim Palomo. These people were accused of consisting a group of people ("sex ring" in the words of the Kern County District) that molested some children, namely a group of male children, over a period of several months in the middle 1980's. The alleged molestation occurred in Kern County, California, where the defendants lived. The trial took place in 1984, starting on September 24, 1984. In this trial the state evidence was almost invariably faulty, fallacious, or irrelevant. Yet this evidence was allowed to be presented in the court room. And the four defendants were convicted and sentenced to long prison terms.
Since that time two of the convictions, those of Margie Grafton and Tim Palomo, have been overturned. However the other two defendants, Stoll and Self, remain in prison today because of the contaminated, even fantastical, evidence.
The House And The Pool
At the time of his arrest, John Stoll was a gas plant foreman for the Jon William Bras Engineer Co. which owned and operated a natural gas plant. John Stoll also owned a small construction company which he had started and worked on after work and on weekends. Grant Self worked as a laborer for this company.
John Stoll was divorced from his wife, Ann Karlan, in 1980 after a very bitter divorce and custody fight. Stoll obtained joint custody of their son, herein denoted as JD. This joint custody was quite unusual in Kern County in the early 1980's. Stoll's former wife took the court result very badly. Later she and her pastor, who she was dating at the time, instigated the complaint against Stoll.
John Stoll owned a house in which he rented rooms. At the time the molestation case developed, he rented rooms in the house to Robin and Mandy Garrett.
This house included a big in ground pool. Stoll's son, JD, came over every weekend. Stoll also often had some friends at his home, namely Tim Palomo, Margie Grafton, and their two sons, DG and AG. DG was the same age as JD, or five. AG was seven. Because of the pool the house was a big summer attraction for some of the other neighborhood children. Two or three of these children would often come over. Also often present were Stoll's girlfriend and her daughter, aged ten.
At that time Tim Palomo was a long haul truck driver, driving propane in tankers. His girl friend, Margie Grafton, was a computer programmer for the Prudential Life Insurance Co.
The house also included a pool house, which Grant Self rented. Grant Self had a few prior troubles with the law and was forbidden by his parole conditions to be around children. After he started to rent the pool house, Grant Self moved to live with his girlfriend and her two children. Yet he continued to rent the pool house to comply in form with the terms of his parole. At the time none of the other defendants were aware of Grant Self's parole status.
The Complaint And The Hysteria
When JD left John Stoll to return to the home of his mother, both his mother, Ann Karlan, and her pastor boyfriend questioned him extensively about what occurred at John Stoll's house. At one time JD told them that Grant Self had touched DG and himself on the outside of their pants. With this information, Ann Karlan filed the original complaint.
When the complaint was filed, Kern County was in the midst of a hysteria over child abuse and child abuse "sex rings". Accusations about child abuse in sex groups or multi member groups of adults were spuriously directed against people without criminal records who held steady jobs and supported families. In these cases concocted and contrived evidence was all that was necessary to send men and women to prison with long sentences. In this case as in others the Kern County authorities acted to turn a simple complaint against one person into an accusation of a monstrous multi offender sex ring.
Kern County authorities accused John Stoll, Grant Self, Tim Palomo, and Margie Grafton of forming a so designated "sex ring" that molested children. The group of adults was accused of molesting five male children over a period of several months. Three of these children were JD, DG, and AG. The other children, CD and VM, had played in the pool.
At the trial beginning in September, 1984, the judge was John Jellitch. The prosecutor was Steve Tauser.
The Testimony of The Children And The Problems Thereof
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the trial was the testimony of the children. It is apparent that the minors learned they could lie while testifying under oath in criminal proceedings without any penalty or censure, and could even obtain the approval of parents, social workers, law enforcement officials, and public prosecutors. A cavalier attitude existed among the prosecutors and social workers toward the solemnity of their oath. Thus the entire testimony of the children was tainted.
After the trial JD and CD both made public statements that they lied during both the preliminary hearing and the trial. The testimony of the other three minors is extremely dubious.
Both AG and DG admitted they lied during the preliminary hearing on matters of substantial substance. Moreover, the minor AG failed to allow the defense lawyers any meaningful cross examination at the trial of the four defendants. To virtually every defense cross examination question asking for any specific information he replied "I don't know" or "I don't remember". Whether he did this by choice or by instruction is unknown.
The minor VM was clearly unqualified to testify. He clearly failed to understand the nature and obligation of the oath to answer truthfully all questions. When questioned by the attorney for John Stoll, Ron Jackson, VM stated that it is OK to lie, that he did not know what the oath was, and that it is OK to make a mistake in facts while testifying. Moreover VM in violation of court orders spoke to his mother and a prosecutor about his testimony when the court was in overnight recess. Prior to the overnight recess he denied any act of sodomy had occurred, but after the recess claimed several acts of sodomy took place.
In general the children were inconsistent in their descriptions of the alleged acts of sexual molestation -- inconsistent as to the time, location, adults involved, and children involved. Rarely did two children agree on the details of a single act of molestation. The acts of sexual molestation they described were incredible instances of anal intercourse that were often demonstrably impossible. All described acts were sexual activity in a highly unlikely fashion. The testimony of these children was not corroborated by any physical evidence.
One of the five children, VM, had never been in John Stoll's house. Yet at the trial he claimed he had been in the house five times and narrated improbable episodes of sexual molest that occurred in the house. Yet during cross examination this witness could not describe a single item in the house, and did not know the living room from the kitchen.
The interrogations of the children about the alleged sexual molestation by the police prior to accusation and trial were conducted by Deputy Conny Ericsson. Deputy Ericsson was and remained an ill trained police officer. The California Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training issued a book on guidelines, best known as the POST guidelines. Deputy Ericsson admitted that he never heard of and never read the POST guidelines. And he never took the training in the POST guidelines that many other California police officers have received. It later was found that by suggestive and leading questions, his examination of the minors fell into most of the traps the POST guidelines were designed to avoid. In essence he coached the minor witnesses on what to say regardless of the actual truth.
Also tampering with the testimony of the children were some of the parents. The mother of VM was mentioned above. Another such parent was Ann Karlan, the former wife of John Stoll. With partial custody of the son of John Stoll and herself, Ann Karlan had the opportunity and incentive to direct the testimony of JD against the defendants. This she did by improper directions and suggestions to her son. Moreover Ann Karlan was known to have mental and emotional difficulties. She often had the inability to separate reality from fantasy. She also had earlier been committed to a mental institution for a period. However the court allowed none of this evidence of the bias and delusions of Ann Karlan to reach the jury that judged the case against the defendants.
Because of the leading and unprofessional questioning of the minors by Deputy Ericsson, the admission of two of the minors about the falsity of their trial testimony, the adult tampering with the children's testimony, the grave inconsistencies and bizarre nature of the testimony, the inability of defense lawyers to genuinely cross examine AG, and the inability of VM to appreciate the necessity of truthful answers in court procedure, the testimony of the children must be considered worse than useless. Hence the main prosecution case against the defendants is of no value.
Lack Of Evidence And Prejudicial Evidence
Lack Of Evidence And Prejudicial Evidence
Moreover, the testimony of the children was not corroborated by any medical or psychological evidence. An adult can not rape a small child without hurting the child and leaving wounds. Yet such evidence was not found. The defense request for medical examinations of the children, even when offered with safeguards to protect the children from discomfort, inconvenience, embarrassment, and intrusion, was denied by the court. In this case the prosecution was clearly not interested in obtaining any medical evidence to support the incredible testimony of the children.
Corroborating physical evidence of multiple episodes of sexual molest was somehow lacking. During the trial the prosecutor made numerous references to photographs of the sexual molests. Yet no such photographs were ever found or produced into evidence. Mentioning such nonexistent evidence prejudiced the case against the defense.
Another very troubling feature about the trial of Stoll, Self, Grafton, and Palomo concerned the introduction of materials clearly irrelevant, but designed to turn the trial against the defendants. The prosecutors were allowed to question Sheila Harvey about her son's contact with John Stoll later than at the time of the alleged offenses. The prosecutor was clearly trying to create the impression that Stoll was continuing to lure minors. Yet Stoll and the other defendants were never charged with these offenses. Thus this testimony was clearly prejudicial against the defense.
Moreover, the prosecutor presented as evidence numerous girlie magazines such as Playboy, Penthouse, and Club the police had seized from the house of John Stoll after his arrest. Yet many of magazines had been seized from rooms John Stoll had rented to other adults. No witness mentioned these magazines as present during the alleged acts of molestation. Thus this evidence was clearly prejudicial. Moreover, by using the magazines a person possesses as evidence against them, the Kern County police and prosecutors have clearly violated our privacy and civil liberties. An individual should be able to purchase and read magazines of his own choosing without fear that the magazine will be used as irrelevant evidence against him or her in some court trial. Thus the trial and conviction of the defendants becomes a threat and an affront to our most sacred liberties.
Unfairness By Joint Trial
Another deficiency of the trial was the refusal to separate the case of John Stoll from Grant Self and the other defendants. As mentioned previously, Grant Self had a few prior troubles with and convictions from the court system. As a result he could not live with minor children. His girl friend had an apartment with her kids. But Grant could not legally live there. As a result he continued to rent a room from John Stoll, but actually lived with his girl friend.
However this evidence could not be presented at trial because the case against Self would be prejudiced by testimony about and records of his prior legal troubles and convictions. To refute some of the testimony of the children, John Stoll testified that Grant Self did not actually live on the property but only rented the pool house. Stoll was not permitted by the court or by his attorney to provide the reason Grant Self did not live at the pool house while renting it, namely the conditions of his parole. Yet the district attorney Tauser could and did on several occasions ask Stoll why Grant Self would pay rent on the poll house but not live there. He could also did hold up Stoll's testimony to ridicule and scorn in his final argument. Thus the prosecutor could discredit the testimony of Stoll without rebuttal.
Moreover, for reasons explained later, Stoll's attorney, Ron Jackson, did not locate and enter into the trial the phone, light, and gas bills that proved Grant Self did not live at the pool house. Being unable to prove Self did not live at the pool house deprived John Stoll and the other defendants of an effective defense. The prosecutor made John Stoll seem deceitful, and the defense did not provide evidence to prove otherwise. Clearly, separate trials for Stoll and Self would have been necessary to enable the defendants to provide an adequate defense.
Prosecution Intimidation Of Witnesses
Another trial defect was the prosecution intimidation of possible defense witnesses. Robin and Mandy Garrett would not testify for the prosecution. The prosecutor then threatened to press molestation charges against Robin Garrett and put him in jail with the rest of the defendants. Robin and Mandy then fled to Denver to live with Mandy's brother until the trial was over. Due to prosecution intimidation the only witnesses who lived in the house and knew what did and did not occur in the house were not available to testify for John Stoll and the other defendants.
Ineffective Defense Counsel
There is moreover the matter of the ineffective counsel to the defendant John Stoll. The lawyer for John Stoll, Ronald Jackson, had begun to represent John Stoll only 24 days before the trial. The case against John Stoll involved the combination of two court cases. There were 70 felony counts to be considered, with numerous witnesses to locate, motions to be prepared and evidence to be examined. Ronald Jackson asked for more time to prepare his case. But the motion for an extension was denied. As a result the defense of John Stoll by Ronald Jackson suffered. Jackson was unable to locate possible defense witnesses Robin and Mandy Garrett. The utility records that could have supported some of the trial testimony of John Stoll were also not found and presented into evidence.
Later in the long trial, John Stoll was unable to pay for the services of Ronald Jackson. Jackson several times notified the court he either wished to be relieved as attorney, or be court appointed attorney of record. His motions were continuously denied. Thus Ronald Jackson was faced with representing Stoll without pay while maintaining his legal practice. It was clearly in the interest of Jackson to keep the trial as short as possible. Again the defense of John Stoll again suffered. The alleged minor victims of sexual assault were not recalled as witnesses despite a prior defense request to do so. The minors would have corroborated the testimony of his trips out of Bakersfield on many of the dates of the alleged molestations. Exculpatory utility records were not introduced.
Also during the trial the defense lawyers tried to call Dr. Roger Mitchell, a licensed clinical psychologist, to testify. Dr. Mitchell had conducted psychological exams of Margie Grafton and Tim Palomo. He was thus able to testify whether those defendants possessed the characteristics of sexual psychopaths. Thus Dr. Mitchell could be considered something of a character witness. Yet the Kern County Superior Court refused to allow his testimony. The defendants were denied a means to corroborate their not guilty pleas.
Later a California Appellate Court overturned the convictions of Grafton and Palomo because Dr. Mitchell was not allowed to testify. The court found the two defendants were denied the right to introduce exculpatory evidence that they were not sexual psychopaths. However the convictions of Stoll and Self were not overturned. These unfortunate defendants remain in prison. Yet the four defendants were accused by the prosecution of operating as a single group (or "sex ring" in the parlance of Kern County District Attorney Edward Jagels). Thus if two of the defendants are unlikely to commit the crime because they are not abnormal, is not the guilt of the other defendants not proven? The existence of the entire group or ring becomes extremely questionable and not proven in any legal sense.
More Mistakes By The Court
More possible defense evidence was withheld at the trial. The POST manual guidelines for interviewing children was not allowed to be presented to the jury. The District Attorney argued that the POST guidelines are optional. But in fact the POST guidelines are obligatory for any California law enforcement agency receiving state financial aid. This is certainly the case with the Kern County Sheriff's Department. Thus the POST manual was denied to the jury as defense evidence because of the false assertion of the District Attorney.
Moreover there was gross juror misconduct. Juror Babcock, a former Los Angeles Police Officer, informed the jury that from his knowledge of court procedure he knew the defendants were in custody despite their street clothing. The comments of Juror Babcock helped prejudice the panel against the defendants.
The trial events related above demonstrate that the trial of Stoll, Self, Grafton, and Palomo was a total and complete travesty of justice. The prosecution and other adult influencing, cajoling, and coercing the desired testimony from minor children, the absence of any physical evidence against the defendants and the total indifference and even hostility of the police and prosecution to gathering such evidence, the presentation of irrelevant evidence prejudicial to the defendants, the lack of effective counsel for John Stoll, the inability of the defense to present needed evidence, and juror misconduct make the trial and convictions of the defendants look like a sick joke.
Two of the defendants have been released because an Appellate Court ruling. They have not been retried. However two other defendants languish behind prison walls, doomed to serve long prison sentences. It is obvious that justice is left undone until John Stoll and Grant Self are released from prison. Their releases must be demanded by people who actually believe in justice.
Support: John Stoll CDC D15734 Avenal State Prison P.O. Box 9, 210-2-59L Avenal, California, 93204Another Kern County Witch Hunt Case: Jeffrey Modahl