Little Rascals day care sexual abuse trial

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The Little Rascals Day Care Center was a day care in Edenton, in the U.S. state of North Carolina run by Betsy and Bob Kelly that was involved in the day care sex abuse hysteria including allegations of satanic ritual abuse.

In January, 1989, allegations were made that Bob Kelly had sexually abused a child. After investigation by a police officer and social worker, the conclusion was the allegations were valid and parents were urged to have their children evaluated for abuse. A total of 90 children, after many therapy sessions (in some cases up to ten months' worth), also made allegations leading to accusations against dozens besides Kelly and charges against seven adults (Bob and Betsy Kelly, three workers at the day care, a worker at a local Head Start center and the son of a judge). The charges ultimately involved rape, sodomy and fellatio, while other bizarre allegations were also made, including the murder of babies, torture and being thrown into a school of sharks.

During the trial, children were asked to testify about events that had occurred three years previously, with memories "refreshed" in therapy sessions, meetings with the prosecution and repeated discussions with their parents. While the alleged abuse was occurring, no parents noticed anything unusual about their children's behavior to indicate abuse or torture. The eight-month trial against Bob Kelly was the most expensive in North Carolina history, ending in conviction on 99 of 100 charges and twelve consecutive life sentences, though on May 2, 1995 all convictions were reversed in the Court of Appeals. The remaining six defendants faced a mixture of charges ending in a variety of sentences from life imprisonment to seven years.[1][2]


The Little Rascals Day Care Center was run by Betsy Kelly, with help from her part-time plumber and golf pro husband, Bob. In January, 1989, a parent accused Bob Kelly of abusing her son at Little Rascals. The allegations were investigated by police officer Brenda Toppin and members of the Department of Social Services. In February, three additional children made accusations, and Kelly was arrested in April, 1989, charged with child sexual abuse. The police department suggested local parents have their children assessed for possible abuse, and provided a list of recommended therapists. After repeated questioning by police and their parents, a small number of children made disclosures of abuse; other children made disclosures only after long periods of therapy, some lasting up to ten months. Ultimately a total of 90 children made allegations of physical and sexual abuse, which was claimed to have occurred between September and December 1988. The allegations involved dozens of people in the town, but ultimately only seven were arrested: Bob Kelly in April and six others in September 1989. These included Betsy Kelly; the day care center's cook (Dawn Wilson) and two teachers (Robin Byrum and Shelly Stone); Scott Privott, the son of a local judge, owner of a video store and personal friend of Bob Kelly; and Darlene Harris who ran a nearby Head Start center.[1] The trial was moved 60 miles away from Edenton due to polarization in the town leading to difficulties in finding an unbiased jury. Defense attorneys claimed they were hampered in preparation of their case due to lack of access to files and the child witnesses, as well as the extensive preparation of the children by the prosecuting attorneys.[3]


The trial was originally moved from Edenton to Farmville due to local publicity. “The attention became national...May (1991) with the airing of a documentary, "Innocence Lost," on the PBS series Frontline, which took the position that abuse of the extent alleged by the state was impossible.” [4]

In March 1992, “Mr. Kelly, 43 years old, (was) facing 100 charges of sexually abusing a dozen children in 1988 and 1989 at the Little Rascals Day Care Center...Originally there were 248 charges involving 22 children, but the prosecution had withdrawn many charges while Judge D. Marsh McLelland...ha(d) dismissed others.” “The assistant district attorney said, "their reactions fit the pattern of a traumatized child. They are a consistent picture that paints abuse."[5]

Robert Kelly[edit]

Each defendant was tried separately, with Robert Kelly the first to go to trial. Testimony lasted nine months with 12 children providing descriptions of sexual and physical abuse: babies ritualistically killed, victims taken out on boats and thrown overboard, and inappropriate trips in hot air balloons. In April 1992, "Robert Kelly Jr. was convicted of 99 of 100 counts of rape and related crimes against children." One of the mothers of the 12 children that testified against Kelly stated that she felt “overwhelming relief.”[6] The six other defendants, including Kelly’s wife, would face trials later. The jury believed the children on the witness stand.[6] One juror stated "the children were convincing."[6] Kelly and his supporters believed he was innocent.[6] He was sentenced to 12 consecutive life terms in prison. The trial "included 83 prosecution witnesses and 60 defense witnesses." The children had testified that Kelly had forced them to have different types of sex.[4] The parents testified that the children exhibited abnormal behavior.[4] "Twelve children, between the ages of 4 and 7, testified, and the results of physical and psychological tests of them were presented as evidence."[4]

Dawn Wilson[edit]

She turned down all plea bargains. At trial, four children testified against her. After deliberation, the jury convicted her and she was sentenced to life in prison.

Betsy Kelly[edit]

In January 1994, Betsy Kelly, had by now been in prison for two years awaiting trial. She accepted a plea of "no contest," and a sentence of seven years in prison. She served an additional year in prison and was released.

Case overturned[edit]

Six months after Betsy's release, the North Carolina Court of Appeals overturned the convictions of both Robert Kelly and Dawn Wilson, stating that there were legal errors by the prosecution. On May 23, 1997, the prosecution dropped all charges related to the Little Rascals case against the two.

The others[edit]

The charges were dropped against Shelly Stone, Darlene Harris and Robin Byrum. Byrum had by now spent one year in prison awaiting trial. After serving three years in jail, Scott Privott had his bond reduced from $1 million to $50,000, and he was released on bond. Rather than face a trial Scott Privott accepted a "no contest" plea.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Ceci, SJ; Bruck M (1996). Jeopardy in the courtroom. American Psychological Association. pp. 9–11. ISBN 1-55798-282-1. 
  2. ^ "Day-Care Owner Is Convicted of Child Molesting". The New York Times. 1992-04-23. Retrieved 2007-10-24. 
  3. ^ Smothers, R (August 19, 1991). "Child-Abuse Case Is Ordeal for a Town". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-22. 
  4. ^ a b c d Rosenfeld, M. (April 23, 1992). "Child Abuse Conviction in Day Care Case;N.C. Man Was Subject of Sympathetic Documentary". Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-12-22. 
  5. ^ Smothers, R. (March 24, 1992). "Closing Arguments in Child-Abuse Trial". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-22. 
  6. ^ a b c d Mayfield, M. (April 23, 1992). "Man convicted in N.C. child sex abuse case". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2007-12-22.