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CONVICTION WITHOUT EVIDENCE

MAN GETS 48 YEARS IN KERN COUNTY HYSTERIA

Obsessed "investigators" coerce children into making provably false stories.

Children who refuse to go along are not allowed to testify.

Older kids who recant earlier childhood testimony are ignored.

Officials lie to conceal tape recordings


How it began

This case concerns the conviction and long, ongoing, incarceration of an innocent person, 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.

The case began on October 10, 1984. On this date two Kern County officers, Sheriff's Deputy Conny Ericsson and Velda Murillo interviewed two girls at the Plantation School about an alleged incident of sexual abuse that had been reported. This episode supposedly occurred on June 9, 1983, the last day of school for the 1982 to 1983 school year. The interview took place over 16 months after the alleged episode and lasted about any hour. The girls, Carla Modahl and Carol Ann Bittner mentioned only two persons as possible molesters, Anthony and Leroy Cox. Jeffrey Modahl was neither accused of any molestation nor placed on the scene of the alleged incident.

At that time Jeffrey Modahl worked as a mechanic 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. Richard 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.

Velda Murillo and Conny Ericsson took both girls to the Jamison Center, a county shelter for children who were presumed to be abused and in need of alternative homes. In this center were other children whom county authorities considered to be abused. In this shelter Carla and Carol Ann 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.

Physical evidence refutes stories

The original accusation made was that Anthony and Leroy Cox on the afternoon of June 9, 1983, 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 victim alleged a large nail had been used to "hang" the ropes tying her 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. Velda Murillo seized the other children living with Jeffrey Modahl and Ruth Taylor, Teresa and Richard Shang, and placed them in the Jamison Center. All these children were questioned repeatedly and suggestively. After ten days in Jamison Center, Carla named over persons who were present at the alleged incident of sexual molestation on June 9, 1983. 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 molestation.

However, no pictures of the alleged molestation 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 denied being molested at all.

Children bullied and deceived by "investigators"

It is worth describing in some detail the inducements Velda Murillo and other authority figures used at Jamison Center used to get the children to testify against the accused. Specifically:

1) The children were frequently told they were held at Jamison Center and interrogated because their parents/relatives had abused them and other children. Authorities made these allegations to each child whether or not the child had had agreed their parents/relatives had abused them.

2) The children were asked leading questions, told what other children had said about being abused, detailed numerous sexual acts and told these same acts had taken place with them. The children were encouraged to tell about being touched, hung from hooks, and tied with ropes, while adults performed various sexual acts with them and told them not to tell anyone.

3) Sometimes, if the children refused to state their parents abused them, they were told without their testimony the parents could not get "help", and without this help the children would never see their parents again.

4) The children were threatened that if they did not provide "good" testimony (not "true" testimony) they would not be returned to their parents.

5) The children were told that if they refused to relate the alleged sexual molestation incidents occurred and the authorities found pictures of such incidents, the children would be in serious trouble for lying and withholding evidence.

6) The children were inappropriately praised for giving testimony against those accused by Kern County authorities. At one of the trials of the alleged participants of the so designed Cox Sex Ring, Carla stated: "Craig and Velda thinks I am a star up here."

7) The children were kept away from their families, pastor, relatives, family friends, and grandparents, who were not allowed to visit them. The parents were not told where their children were being kept.

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. The Kern County authorities did not keep any audio or visual recordings of the numerous children's interviews in this case.

Proceedings in the "justice" system

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 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 stepdaughter 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 Carol Ann 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 brother, 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 and sentenced him to 48 years in prison.

Witch hunt atmosphere in Kern County

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.

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.

State investigates Kern "investigators". Serious flaws found; no action taken

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 interviews of the children were not tape recorded. Moreover, children were interviewed many times when P.O.S.T. guidelines stated that if 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.

Injustices specific to the Jeffrey Modahl case

The report, the deficiencies in the interrogation of the alleged child victims by the Kern County authorities detailed above certainly demonstrate the case against Jeffrey Modahl was weak and insufficient. However there are over 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 testified that she and Carol Ann were molested on the last day of school of 1983. However Carla's aunt Terry Perry testified she picked Carla up at school on this last day of school. Carla's sister Teresa Modahl also testified that her aunt Terry Perry picked herself and Carla up at school.

Third, Carla also 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, that 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.

Moreover, 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 Condling. 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. 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.

New Evidence of Official Perjury

First there is the perjury and deceit of Velda Murillo. Murillo directly testified that no tape recordings were made of her interviews with the children. In the trial of Teresa Cox, who was accused of molesting the group of children along with Jeffrey Modahl, sworn court testimony was given as follows:

Q (Mr. Sullivan, defense lawyer): "None of the other children ever named Teresa Cox, in any of their interviews, did they?"

A (Velda Murillo): "No, they did not."

Q: "Now, were any of these interviews tape recorded?"

A: "No."

(Reporter's Transcript of Testimony and Proceedings, People v. Teresa Cox, Kern County Superior Court, Dept. 11, No. 28275, February 25, 26, and 28, 1985, Bakersfield California, RT 165).

Yet in the fall of 1997 a recorded taped interview with the other daughter of Jeffrey Modahl was recovered. Thus Murillo is caught providing perjury, or false testimony under oath, which is a felony. This evidence clearly demonstrates Murillo is the law breaker.

Moreover, Murillo was also deceitful concerning her interviews with the children. Murillo at the same trial denied she or Connie Ericsson, the other interviewer, ever told a child would what to say or ever suggested that any person not yet mentioned by the child could be a molester.

However, the found tape directly contradicts her. On this tape Murillo and Ericsson did most of the talking while the child witness, the other daughter of Jeffrey Modahl, mostly answered un-huh to questions. It was unclear as to what the child witness was agreeing to.

Moreover, Murillo did mention the names of other people as possible molesters before the child witness mentioned them. On pages 1 and 2 of the tape recording transcript there is the following exchange:

Murillo: "Okay. I don't know -- I keep getting the same feeling about Leroy that I did about Tony that (unintelligible) and some more things, and more recently than that. What made him stop?"

Witness: "I don't know."

Murillo: "I know, I know. Okay. But he would hold you down so that -- that Tony could do that stuff to you, huh? Okay. And then -- well, we can talk about Grandpa some more later on. I -- I'm still kind of worried about Grandpa and Grandma, and then they -- they got a lot of problems. It sounds like from what you tell me and what Ruth tells me they (unintelligible) tying her up and stuff like that, which means they got a lot of problems.

"And like I said, the -- the boys -- all of them, your dad and Tony and Leroy, all have got a lot of problems, and they got them from somewhere. And I just feel that, you know, there's a pretty good chance that they could have done something to -- to -- and we would need to talk about that, too. All right? So I need to know about that -- about your grandparents, too. You're doing real good about telling me about the other two. We need to know about them, too."

Witness: "They haven't done anything to me."

Sheriff's Deputy Connie Ericsson also provided deceitful and misleading testimony. He testified that Velda Murillo did not have a tape recorder at any of these interviews. He also stated that he never suggested anyone could be a molester before the child named the person herself. However it has been demonstrated that Velda Murillo used this very interview tactic.

Moreover, Velda Murillo and Craig Phillips, in failing to disclose the tape, violated a court order. On January 17, 1985, lawyers for Jeffrey Modahl filed a discovery motion that included "all tape recordings made of statements or conversations of witnesses". Judge Gary Friedman granted the discovery motion on January 18. Yet Phillips violated this court order. Grave prosecution misconduct occurred.

Withholding Medical Evidence

Then there is the evidence withheld by Kern County Deputy District Attorney Craig Phillips, who prosecuted the case against Jeffrey Modahl, Teresa Cox, and the rest of the alleged members of the so-called Cox sex ring. At various trials including that of Anthony and Leroy Cox, defense lawyers requested medical exams of the child witnesses. This request Craig Phillips stoutly and successfully resisted. He insisted that medical exams would be intrusive and invasive of the privacy of the child witnesses. Even though the medical exams requested by the defense were merely routine examinations done by all OB/GYN physicians, the court denied the defense request.

However what Phillips did not mention was the examinations had already been done. On October 22, 1984, Velda Murillo signed both Carla Modahl and her sister out of the county home to go to the Kern Medical Center for medical exams by Dr. Jesse Diamond to check for possible sexual abuse. The existence and results of these medical examinations were kept from the defense. Only recently have these examinations been found. And for both girls the results of the medical exams demonstrated no sexual molestation.

Thus Craig Phillips deliberately withheld exculpatory medical evidence from the defense lawyers. Withholding of evidence is serious misconduct for a prosecution lawyer. The entire mission of the courts to seek the truth is gravely and fatally compromised and thwarted when evidence that could exonerate a defendant is kept unavailable to him and his lawyers. Yet Phillips deliberately committed this violation.

What Kern County prosecutors routinely did in the witch hunt sexual child abuse cases of the mid 1980s was to send alleged child victims to the Kern Medical Center for examinations for sexual abuse. However the medical center was told to send the results of the examination to the District Attorney's Office only if the results were incriminating. If the exams helped exonerate the defendants the results would supposedly never be in the hands of the District Attorney. Therefore, supposedly, the District Attorney would not be obligated to provide the existence and the results of such medical evidence to the defense lawyers.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared such conduct illegal and a violation of the constitutional right to a fair trial by the U.S. Supreme Court. In Kyles v. Whitney, 514 U.S., the Supreme Court declared the prosecutor must review the evidence asked for by the defense. To claim no obligation to disclose evidence because it exists elsewhere would essentially mean the police would try the case. Thus the truth seeking function of the courts would be negated. Other decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts support the Kyles v. Whitney decision.

The effect of the medical examinations on the prosecution case is readily apparent. On October 12, 1984, the first mention of alleged sexual penetration by members of the so-called sex ring occurred in an interview with a child witness who later refused to testify for the prosecution. On October 16, Carla Modahl named many participants that included Jeffrey Modahl to have sexually penetrated her in the alleged incident in 1983. She also was led to allege that vibrators, dildos and other sexual objects were used in this sexual penetration.

On October 22 Carla and her sister were taken to the Kern Medical Center for medical exams. From then on her allegations changed. At the preliminary hearing for Teresa Cox on November 2 and at the preliminary hearing for Jeffrey Modahl on November 22 she never mentioned sexual penetration or such sexual objects as dildos. She mentions only sexual touchings.

Conclusion

The evidence described above demonstrates that the Kern County prosecutors in their attempt to win convictions have perjured themselves, withheld important evidence, tampered with witnesses, and in general irretrievably corrupted the legal and justice system. In summary their egregious conduct is an outrage that demands correction. Yet some of the innocent are still in prison while the officials who were the real lawbreakers remain unpunished. The system is broken.

To correct abuses of the police and restore credibility to the justice system federal and state prosecutors prosecuted Stacy Koon and other policeman in Los Angeles. This is not enough. The injustices in Kern County must all be reversed. And official lawbreakers such as Velda Murillo must face the legal consequences of their misconduct. Only by doing this will the justice system become something other than a sick joke.

Support:
Jeffrey Modahl
B.N. 1330851, E-111
17635 Industrial Farm Road
Bakersfield, California, 93308

Story submitted by:
NPETERS55@aol.com

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