Local News

Monday, Mar 25 2013 11:15 PM

Kern County settles last of molestation conviction suits

BY LOIS HENRY Californian staff writer lhenry@bakersfield.com

The last of the notorious molestation ring cases from the 1980s was quietly closed last week with Grant Self receiving a $725,000 settlement from Kern County.

That settlement will stand even though Self had two prior convictions for child molestation and, since getting out of prison in 2009, has been arrested on suspicion of child molestation again in Oregon, according to Kern County Deputy District Attorney Melissa Allen.

And that is because the settlement is based on a molestation conviction from 1985 that was part of a larger "ring" case, which involved John Stoll, Marjorie Grafton and Timothy Palomo.

Much like the Los Angeles McMartin preschool molestation case of 1983, Kern's ring cases caused an uproar of fear and paranoia in the community.

Dozens of parents, their friends, family members and even pastors were hauled in and accused of heinous sex crimes against children, typically their own.

Many in the community worried that molesters were everywhere. But for family members of anyone accused, the fear was worse.

Jack and Jackie Cummings, related to people who'd been accused, actually packed up and took a year-long camping trip throughout the Pacific Northwest to keep their children out of the law's reach.

Ring cases often started with dozens of defendants. The infamous Pitts case resulted in seven convictions.

In the Self/Stoll case, Grafton and Palomo's cases were thrown out on appeal.

Stoll spent 20 years in prison before five of his six believed victims recanted, saying Kern County Sheriff's Office investigators and social workers coerced them into saying they'd been sexually abused by Stoll. Only Stoll's son didn't recant, but he also refused to testify against his father during the retrial.

Self, who was paroled in 2000 but kept in a state mental hospital as a sexually violent predator based on his 1976 and 1980 cases, filed the same writ to have the boys' now-recanted testimony thrown out and was released, Allen said.

There was a seventh victim who was specific to Self -- a relative of Self's then-girlfriend, Allen said. Allen tried to find that victim but wasn't able to in time to keep Self in custody.

He got out and filed his civil rights lawsuit against the county in 2011.

Then in October of last year, Allen received a call from a public defender that Self had been arrested on molestation charges again.

"He was working at the YMCA in Oregon doing the same thing he's always done," Allen said the defender told her. In his 1976 and 1980 cases, Self gained access to children through taekwondo classes, Allen said.

"I spent six years trying to keep this man in custody," she said.

Of all those convicted of engaging in molestation rings back in the 1980s, Stoll and Self served the longest terms. Stoll walked out of prison in 2004 after 20 years, and Self was in for 25.

Stoll received a $5.5 million settlement from the county in 2009. That was in addition to a $704,400 settlement from the state in 2006.

Nearly all of the molestation ring settlements have been paid by the county's insurance, not out of the general fund, Deputy County Counsel Mark Nations said.

The other nearly two dozen people who were caught up in the molestation craze spent between six and 12 years in prison before their cases were overturned also for improper questioning of the children or outright prosecutorial misconduct.

Following are some of those settlements:

* $275,000, Scott and Brenda Kniffen, who each served 12 years along with co-defendants Alvin and Deborah McCuan.

The McCuans lost their suit against the county, as did Marcella and Ricky Pitts, who spent about six years in prison before their cases were also tossed out.

* $4.25 million, Jeffrey Modahl, Theresa Cox, Ruth Ann Kroeker, Richard Cox, Jo Hanna Cox (who died in prison), George Leroy Cox and Anthony Louis Cox.

* $385,000, Howard Lee Weimer.

* $20,000, Kelly Leroy.

* $10,000, Betty Palko (her charges were dropped.)

* $40,000, Donna Sue Hubbard.

* $10,000 to $20,000 each, Brad Nokes, Mary Nokes, Kathy Scott, Cheryl Gonzales, Gerrardo Gonzales, Rev. Willard Thomas and Leroy Stowe. Eight others accused but not charged also received settlements.

Ultimately, 27 people in eight separate cases were convicted in those molestation ring trials.

Twenty-five of those have now been overturned. One person died in prison.

There were other improper convictions and settlements stemming from the "satanism" cases, which closely followed the molestation ring cases. But Nations couldn't immediately recall the defendants' names nor what they ultimately settled for.

Locals recall the era as tinged with hysteria.

The events were depicted in the 2009 Sean Penn film "Witch Hunt."

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