Did he do anything with his hands
while you were rubbing up against his bum?
Yeah.... hitting us.
This article rebuts The Legend of Robert Halsey,
by Ross Cheit. Excerpts from the trial transcript and police reports
are quoted to dispute Cheits assertion that the accusations
brought against Robert Halsey, a Massachusetts school bus driver,
by five young children, were credible. Other statements
of fact made by Cheit are shown to be erroneous.
In The Legend of Robert Halsey, Ross E. Cheit argues
that Halsey, a school bus driver
convicted of sexually assaulting young children, is guilty as charged.
He thinks Halseys
defenders are guilty as well -- guilty of portraying Halsey as an
innocent victim of a witch
hunt. Those who contend for Halseys innocence, he says, have
failed to examine the case.
If Halsey has become a legend, it would come as a great
surprise to him, nor did he
benefit from the distinction. Hes been behind bars since his
arrest and his one publicly
funded appeal failed. He was in his sixties when convicted and had
driven a school bus for
twenty years, before that he worked in a factory, before that he
served in the Navy. He
and his wife had one daughter, and they were so poor that he collected
bottles and cans
from the side of the road to supplement their income. He had no
criminal record. He was
just an ordinary man -- until he was accused of being a monster.
His story is tragic; and for those who have studied the ritual abuse
trials, it is familiar.
The credibility of the child witnesses
At the heart of the case against Halsey are the allegations brought
by twin brothers, almost
nine years old at the time of the trial. Halseys defenders
have found these allegations to be
absurd on their face, but Cheit finds them credible.
Cheit contends that the children could not have been and were not
influenced by the adults
in their lives. The most common objections to child interviews,
(e.g. Ceci & Bruck, 1995)
simply do not apply in this case, Cheit writes. There
were no repeat interviews, the boys
disclosed significant details after the most open-ended questions,
and they were
interviewed almost immediately after disclosure.
The twins first accused Halsey almost a year after he had ceased
to be their bus driver. On
a Friday in January, 1993, Mr. W.1
took his sons to the hospital to see their mother, who
had just given birth to the couples third child. The father
was handing out cigars in
celebration.2 That triggered
a remark from B.W., one of the twins -- something about Mr.
Halsey.3 The scene calls for
our compassion, whatever actually happened. The mother,
lying in her hospital bed, holding her newborn infant and recovering
from her caesarian, is
suddenly flooded with the conviction that her children have been
molested. As she said in her victim impact statement: When
they disclosed in the hospital,
a part of my soul died which can never be revived. The sleepless
nights, the many tears I
have cried is a process of mourning which will never end.
However, well never know exactly what the children said,
or what was asked of them by
their anxious parents. Three days later, they were interviewed by
the school counselor,
with the towns police chief taking notes. The counselor, Jane
Satullo, later told the jury
that she avoided asking leading questions. (Perhaps this is what
Cheit relies on when he
says the children were asked the most open-ended questions.
The interviews were not
recorded.) Satullo also said that she saw it as her role to : open
the childs -- open the
child -- really, in some ways, opening their heart, feeling safe,
its okay, they can talk, they
can tell their story in their own words, (1279:14) In other
words, she comes from a
therapeutic, not a forensic, perspective.
In brief, the boys said that they had been tied up with rope and
tape, frequently hit and
threatened, and were sexually assaulted, and that Mr. Halsey had
also tied up other
children. They mentioned one gun and some knives.4
Later that day, the police searched
the Halseys home, confiscating knives, a .38, a pellet gun
and a starter pistol, a broken
BB gun, rope, duct tape and adult pornography.5
They noticed that the small rancher was
cluttered with, among other things, cardboard boxes.6
In the seven months before trial, the boys were in therapy, as
might be expected. During
this period, they developed further allegations: They added all
the guns found at Halseys
home to their allegations, as well as every knife, to their narratives.
They claimed Halsey made them eat urine, feces and vomit. He sprayed
them with a sleepy spray.7
He killed small animals. They also said that Halsey made
them hold up targets and he would shoot at them.
Cheit doesnt state how he knows that there were no repeat
interviews conducted with the
twins. In fact, at 1590:11 and 1640:11 the police chief confirms
that he spoke with the
boys on multiple occasions. All the allegations were somehow placed
into a kind of
narrative by the time of trial, which implies interaction between
the children and the
prosecutors office. Although the children were vague as to
times, dates and frequency of
the assaults, the prosecution were able to divine a pattern
in the alleged attacks.
Timothy Shugrue, the prosecutor, told the jury that the assaults
started in the fall of 90
with physical threats and animal torture (a reign of terror),
and didnt become sexual in
nature until the spring of 91. (521-2) It was Shugrue, not
the children, who insisted
throughout the trial that Halsey stored his guns, knives, tape,
rope, and baseball bats in the
back of the van, and not, as the children were wont to testify,
under the front seat or in the
Another late-arriving allegation was that Halsey threw the twins
in the lake. It raised the
obvious question: why didnt they arrive at school or home
sopping wet? The boys
answer incorporated the cardboard boxes into the narrative. They
explained that Halsey
sometimes took them to his house and stuck them in a box and made
them watch adult
pornographic videos while he dried and ironed their clothes. By
the way, Mrs. Halsey says
that if her husband knows how to do laundry, its news to her.
The trial testimony
Cheit doesnt quote more than fragments from the childrens
accusations at trial, to bolster
his assertion that the children are credible.
The trial opened with A.W., who testified that the first strange
thing Halsey did, was to
detour onto a secluded dirt lane called Nobodys Road, and
make the twins hold up
targets that he shot at a la William Tell. From the transcript,
it appears that A.W. answers
readily, although he contradicts himself at times (For example,
he says he saw his brother
tied up (525:5), and later says he didnt. (576:2))
Cheit describes B.W., the youngest twin by five minutes, as being
timid. Its true that
when B.W. took the stand, Shugrue tried to get him to corroborate
testimony, but ran into difficulties. Shugrue introduces the target
shooting narrative with,
Could you tell me, at some point in time did things become
not okay with Bob (Halsey)?
Yes, answers B.W.
What was it that made it not okay with Bob?
He started hitting us and pulling down our pants.
Shugrue asks again for the first incident. B.W. responds: He
pulled down our pants and
stuck his penis into our butt. Shugrue repeats, Tell
me about that first, when did that
start, B.W. says, The second day of school, and
adds, He was hitting us and putting
our heads in the pond. Shugrue persists, What happened
at first?, B.W. says, First I
hit him because he said something to me, and then he started hitting
me, then dunked my
head in the pond.
And so through six more pages of testimony, Shugrue coaches and
hints, B.W. fails to
produce the desired testimony. Is he timid? Is he confused? Is he
just making stuff up? No
need for the jury to ask themselves this question, because Shugrue
provides the answer.
He asks, Do you feel uncomfortable today? A little nervous
being up here? Do you want
to tell me everything and get right off? Is that what youre
trying to do? Yeah, says
Shugrue tries three more times to elicit the target shooting story,
B.W. fails to answer
correctly, so finally Shugrue says, Do you remember seeing
any targets? To which B.W.
answers, He used to make us hold them up and shoot at them.
In this example, B.W. is supposed to answer that Halsey is trying
to get him to engage in a
Did he do anything with his hands while you were rubbing
up against his bum?
Yeah.... hitting us.
..... What was he trying to have you do?
Pee on his back.
And what was he grabbing for back there?
What part of you?
My hair (882:2-17)
B.W. isnt timid when he accuses Halsey of attempted murder,
but Shugrue completely
ignores what he says in favor of the established script:
Did you ever see him do anything with this gun with your
Tell the jurors...
Put it to his head and tried to shoot it.
Did you ever see him discharge it, fire it off in front
of your brother?
Yeah. (819:22 - 821:10)
On cross-examination, B.W. is asked four times if he was thrown
in the lake. He answers
no, no, sometimes and yeah.
Is this timidity, or something else?
Heres B.W. during cross-examination:
Did he put anything else inside you?
He might have, but I didnt see it.
Did you think that he ever put any light bulb inside you?
And make you sit down real hard?
And it broke?
It didnt break?
It did, but there wasnt any marks. (954:17-25)
(see below for link to next page)
1 Initials are used instead of names throughout
this article. Professor Cheit uses the
childrens first names, however, given that the girls have
fairly unusual names, I chose not
to repeat this practice.
2 Both father and mother testified that the children
disclosed at the hospital, not, as Cheit says, at home.
3 According to the police report, the family were together in the
hospital room and Mr. W.
pulled out a congratulatory cigar and one of the boys made the comment,
just like Bob
your (sic) going to puff, puff, puff. Mr. W. asked the boys
what that meant and B.W.
said, thats what Bob the bus driver would do light a
cigar and fill the van with smoke so
we couldnt see. As Mr. W. inquired about Bob the boys
began to tell him of what had
occurred to them over a year and a half period of time that Bob
was there (sic) bus driver.
Mr. W. jotted down some notes...
4 Some more excerpts: B.W. told us that he
and A.W. never talked about the incidents
that occurred with Bob, but he said that he did tell his pre-kindergarten
Jackson that Bob was hitting him."
5 Cheit says that the jury never heard the
evidence concerning the pornography in Halseys
house, which is incorrect. He more correctly states elsewhere,
These items were not
actually admitted into evidence at trial, but testimony concerning
the items was allowed.
6 Mrs. Halsey states she was saving boxes to cut
up to make starter fuel for the wood stove.
(personal communication to author)
7 from notes taken by the consulting pediatrician,
Dr. Matthew Sadof. The feces, vomit and
urine allegation and the sleepy spray allegation were
not presented at trial.
(Continue - the tickling incident)