Faith Chapel Church ritual abuse case

The San Diego Church ritual abuse case was a case of a developmentally disabled individual charged with child sexual abuse in 1991 as part of the satanic ritual abuse moral panic. After a 9-month trial the accused was found not guilty by the jury.

Accusations and trial

Dale Akiki was born with Noonan syndrome, a rare genetic disorder which left him with a concave chest, club feet, drooping eyelids and ears.[1]

Akiki served with his wife as a volunteer baby-sitter with the a church in San Diego County, California. He was arrested and charged with 35 counts of child abuse and kidnapping in 1991, and held without bail for 30 months before trial.[2] The government filed its first case against Akiki on May 10, 1991, in San Diego Superior Court.[3] A second case was prosecuted against him on February 20, 1992.[4] The campaign against him was initiated by Jack and Mary Goodall, the former being the CEO of Jack in the Box, who stated that they found his physical appearance, coupled with his working contact with the children of the church in his capacity as a volunteer, "disturbing."

Prosecutor Mary Avery was the founder of the San Diego Child Abuse Prevention Foundation, to which Goodall was the largest financial contributor. She was brought in to prosecute at the Goodall's insistence after experienced child abuse prosecutors Harry Elias and Sally Penso found no grounds to charge Akiki with any crimes due to the coercive investigation and suggestivity used by parents and therapists in the case.

During the investigations, few records were kept of the interviews with children and Avery tried to ban the use of the term "ritual abuse" (a synonym for satanic ritual abuse), techniques which were useful in obtaining prosecutions in an environment that was increasingly skeptical of allegations of satanic ritual abuse.[5]

His trial started in the spring of 1993. The cases against him included no physical evidence, but allegations of satanic ritual abuse including testimony that he killed a giraffe and an elephant in front of the children, drank human blood in satanic rituals, and had abducted the children away from the church despite being unable to drive.[6]

His trial of 9 months (including 6 weeks of jury selection and 7 and a half months of evidence) was the longest in San Diego County history. The jury took seven hours to reach its "not guilty" verdict in November 1993.[7] He was represented by Deputy Public Defenders Kate Coyne and Sue Clemens who received numerous awards and accolades for their groundbreaking defense. This case represented the first trial level acquittal of a defendant charged with ritual abuse in the "satanic panic" of the 1980s, although a number of convictions were subsequently overturned on appeal.

Afterwards, the members of the jury would complain about the "overzealous prosecutors," "child sexual abuse syndrome," and "therapists on a witch-hunt."[8] Despite his acquittal, some of the parents involved remained convinced that he was guilty.[6] The deputy district attorney and lead prosecutor Mary Avery disputed the claims that the nine children were systematically brainwashed by parents and therapists, stating "the whole idea of contamination and suggestibility just does not account for the major behavior changes that occurred (in the children) while they were in Dale Akiki's (nursery school) class," referring to certain incidents like nightmares and bed-wetting.[9]

Subsequent investigations

The San Diego County Grand Jury reviewed the Akiki cases in 1994 and concluded in part that "There is no justification for the further pursuit of the theory of satanic ritual molestation in the investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases."[10]

On August 25, 1994, Akiki filed a suit against the County of San Diego, Church, and many others which was settled for $2 million.[11]

San Diego County Public Defenders Kathleen Coyne and Susan Clemens were awarded Public Defender of the Year by the California Public Defender's Association in 1994 for their work defending Akiki.


  1. Stoesz, David; Costin, Lela B.; Karger, Howard Jacob (1996). The Politics of Child Abuse in America (Child Welfare). Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. p. 15. ISBN 0-19-511668-2. Retrieved 2008-09-19.
  2. Mydans, S (1994-06-03). "Prosecutors Rebuked in Molestation Case". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-09-19.
  3. SDSC Case CR122381
  4. SDSC Case CR129395
  5. Snedeker, Michael R.; Nathan, Debbie (1995). Satan's silence: ritual abuse and the making of a modern American witch hunt. New York: Basic Books. pp. 79–80. ISBN 0-465-07181-3.
  6. 1 2 "Frontline: innocence lost: Other Well-Known Cases". Frontline. 1998. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
  7. Granberry, Michael (1993-11-20). "Los Angeles Times article on Dale Akiki case". Archived from the original on 2003-02-20.
  8. Kincaid, James R. (December 1998). Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child Molesting. Duke University Press. p. 263. ISBN 0-8223-2193-9.
  9. Granberry, Michael (1993-10-20). "Ex-School volunteer acquitted of child abuse charges". Los Angeles Times.
  10. Ceci, Stephen J. (July 1999). Jeopardy in the Courtroom: A Scientific Analysis of Children's Testimony. American Psychological Association. p. 28. ISBN 1-55798-632-0.
  11. SDSC Case 680174
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