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The Exonerated: Kelly Michaels

Kelly Michaels
Kelly Michaels

Case Overview

By Bruce Fischer

Kelly Michaels spent seven years of her life in prison for a crime she didn’t commit. She was twenty-three years old at the time of her arrest. In this case there were no actual victims of any crime. The only victim was Kelly Michaels. Michaels worked at a daycare center in New Jersey. Her nightmare began when one of the children from her daycare class made a visit to his doctor. The doctor was taking the boy’s temperature rectally and the boy told the doctor that his teacher did it the same way. The doctor was suspicious as to why a teacher, in this case Michaels, would take a child’s temperature rectally at school. The doctor’s suspicion led to a criminal investigation.

Investigators interviewed the children at the daycare center who ranged from three to four years of age. The tactics investigators used on these children was beyond disturbing. Investigators made suggestions to the children that they had been sexually molested. These children were coached to say what the investigators wanted to hear. Children who at first repeatedly denied they were abused eventually changed their stories and said that they had been. It is very common for children to try hard to find answers that please adults. Some of the answers given indicated that the children were not being truthful. They were simply trying to give the right answer. One child said that Michaels played the piano naked in class, another said that “she put a sword in my rectum,” and another made the wild claim that Michaels “made us eat boiled babies.” After the investigation was finished, horrendous claims of abuse were announced. Michaels was accused of violating the children sexually using forks and knives, forcing them to perform sexual acts on her, and forcing them to eat feces and drink urine.

As would be expected, there was overwhelming support for the children. Our society rightfully despises wrongdoing to children. The accusations were so vile that any decent human being would demand swift justice. Parents wore shirts and buttons to court saying, “Believe the Children.” The media made Michaels out to be an evil creature that preyed on innocent children.

Even though Michaels had strongly professed her innocence and also passed a polygraph, she didn’t stand a chance. Michaels was convicted in August, 1988, of 115 counts of sexual abuse against twenty children and was sentenced to 47 years in prison.

In the eyes of the public, justice was served. The problem was, Michaels hadn’t committed a crime. The children were not victims of sexual abuse. The entire case was fabricated by investigators based on a doctor’s cautious inquiry. The children became the victims of the investigation. They were subjected to graphic details of abuse that no child should ever have to deal with.

The truth would eventually prevail. Michaels was released in 1993 after a successful appeal. The appellate court ruled that she hadn’t received a fair trial. She would spend another year and a half awaiting the prosecutors’ decision on whether to retry her. When they declined, all charges were dropped and Michaels was fully exonerated.