KANSAS CITY — A Missouri prosecutor's stunning dismissal of all charges in a massive sex-crimes case ends a two-year ordeal for five men who were branded as child molesters by the claims of several young relatives. But it has enraged some of the accusers who feel robbed of their day in court.
Lafayette County prosecutor Kellie Wingate Campbell said she had no choice but drop dozens of rape and other sex charges Wednesday against Burrell Mohler Sr. and his four sons after one of the accusers backed out and others were rapidly losing faith in her office's willingness to take the case to trial.
"This is not a knee-jerk decision," Campbell said Thursday. "So many things can happen between the filing of a charge and its ultimate disposition."
A person close to the case told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that one of the accusers admitted in a recent sworn deposition that he had no memory any of the alleged abuses. Campbell declined to confirm that statement or whether it contributed to her decision to dismiss.
Since November 2009, Mohler and his middle-aged sons Burrell Jr., David, Jared and Roland have stood accused of ritually molesting several young relatives on a farm about 30 miles east of Kansas City in Lafayette County. The claims were based on memories the accusers say they had repressed for years.
Two of the men, including the 79-year-old patriarch, spent most of that time in jail because they couldn't afford to post bail. The other three, though free on bond, were dogged by the sickening allegations laid out in public court documents.
A sixth man who was facing charges, Burrell Sr.'s brother, Darrel, died in September at his home in Florida at the age of 74 while awaiting trial.
Julie A. Buck, a criminal justice professor at Weber State University who has researched repressed memory cases, said even if the abuse did not actually happen, the accusers were likely traumatized by memories strong enough to compel them to seek criminal charges.
"Certainly false memories can be very, very real and undistinguishable from true memories of events," Buck said. "It's an unfortunate situation regardless of the outcome for the alleged victims because they likely believed they were abused."
The case gained national attention when charges were first announced because of their unimaginable nature. Images of the shackled, scraggly bearded men in orange jail jumpsuits flashed across local news channels after any major development.
Court documents graphically described the siblings' claims. They told investigators that, starting in the early 1980s, they were repeatedly forced to have sex with their older relatives, in some cases when they were as young as 5 years old. They told of wedding ceremonies conducted so the relationships between adult men and young girls could be consummated in a chicken coop, and how they were made to rotate turns sleeping with some of the men.
Their allegations also included bestiality, abortions, murders and a strange girl living in their basement.
"This isn't the average sex abuse case," Campbell said. "What can you compare it to?"
Her decision didn't sit well with some of the accusers, who already were losing faith in the prosecutor's desire to take the case to trial.
"We asked for our day in court after 20 years of silence," one of the accusers said. "To have her put us through this three-ring circus over three years, to put us through all of the discovery ... and then say 'OK, now I'm done...' "
Because the claims involved acts that allegedly happened when the accusers were small children, defense attorneys had requested a lifetime of medical and mental health records from the accusers. The siblings, worried that deeply personal information would be made public, resisted requests until late last year when a special discovery judge was appointed to review the records.
The woman who spoke with the AP said she and her siblings had turned over hundreds of pages of health records, and a few days before Campbell dismissed the charges, had also provided hundreds of emails between the sisters. Included in the emails were increasingly critical exchanges about Campbell's handling of the case.
"She dropped the case just in time for those emails not getting to the public," the woman said. "Kellie was worried about saving her own reputation because she screwed up bad."
During a hearing last month, Clay County Circuit Judge Larry Harman noted the "extraordinary efforts" Campbell's office had put into getting the requested documents.
Buck, the criminal justice professor, said she wasn't surprised the case eventually fell apart.
"I think this case in a lot of ways is not untypical," she said. "It's such a complicated case, and the idea that you don't have a lot of evidence makes it hard to prosecute."