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The Kern County child abuse cases started the day care sexual abuse hysteria of the 1980s in Kern County, California. The cases involved claims of pedophile-sex-ring-performed Satanic ritual abuse, with as many as 60 children testifying they had been abused. At least 36 people were convicted and most of them spent years imprisoned. Thirty-four convictions were overturned on appeal. The district attorney responsible for the convictions was Ed Jagels, who was sued by at least one of those whose conviction was overturned, and who remained in office until 2009. Two convicts died in prison, unable to clear their names.
In 1982, Alvin and Debbie McCuan's two daughters, coached by their step-grandmother Mary Ann Barbour, who had custody of them, alleged they had been abused by their parents, and accused them of being part of a sex ring that included Scott and Brenda Kniffen. The Kniffens' two sons also claimed to have been abused. No physical evidence was ever found. The McCuans and Kniffens were convicted in 1984 and given a combined sentence of over 1000 years in prison.
Six similar cases occurred throughout Kern County. For instance, the testimony of five young boys was the prosecution's key evidence in a trial in which four defendants were convicted, with John Stoll, a 41-year-old carpenter, receiving the longest sentence of the group: 40 years for 17 counts of lewd and lascivious conduct. "It never happened," Ed Sampley, one of the accusers, told a New York Times reporter in 2004. He claimed he had lied about Stoll.
Sampley and three other former accusers returned in 2004 to the courthouse where they had testified against Stoll, this time to say that Stoll never molested them. In their late 20s, each of them said he always knew the truth—that Stoll had never touched them. However, Stoll's son has "continued to say that he had been molested." In the case, the only defendant with a previous conviction of molestation was Grant Self, who rented Stoll's pool house briefly. John Stoll had to wait until 2004 for the reversal of his convictions, but was released on the new testimony. Self was sent to a mental hospital for sexual offenders because he had two prior convictions for child molestation. Self was freed in 2009. He was re-arrested in 2012 on suspicion of child molestation in Oregon.
A documentary titled Witch Hunt, which focused primarily on Stoll's case, was produced and released in 2007. MSNBC also did a documentary on John Stoll and the Kern County cases. In 2009, John Stoll sued Kern County and was awarded $5 million in compensation.
Prior to the start of the Kern County child abuse cases, several local social workers had attended a training seminar that foregrounded satanic ritual abuse as a major element in child sexual abuse, and had used the now-debunked memoir Michelle Remembers as training material.