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CRIME. POLITICS. ACADEMIA. MEDIA.

What Do You Call A Sex Offender Free on the Streets of Tampa Bay? Doctor. Or Nurse. Or Fodder for St. Petersburg Times Columnist Daniel Ruth to Crack Sex Jokes.

Maybe I’m just touchy because this neck of the woods is not far from where my own rapist traipsed in and out of prison for twenty-plus years, but what precisely does it take to get sitting judges (not to mention certain journalists) in Tampa Bay to take the threat posed by sexual predators seriously?  

First there’s Dr. Rory P. Doyle, who fled the Tampa Bay area after a judge permitted him to go free on bail after being charged with two counts of child molestation.  Astonishingly, Doyle is being treated to similarly indulgent judicial scrutiny in Ireland, where he has again been released to the streets while awaiting extradition hearings.  Then there’s nurse Richard Chotiner, who was released on bail pending an appeal that could take months, or years, after being convicted of lewd and lascivious battery of a mentally-disabled 23-year old.  Chotiner was released without electronic monitoring by Hillsborough Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett.  Releasing Chiotiner without considering public safety is especially egregious when you consider the details of the crime for which the nurse was convicted:

The man police say Chotiner abused has the learning ability of a fourth- or fifth-grader and suffers from neurofibromatosis, a disorder of the nervous system that causes tumors, skin changes and bone deformities, sex-crimes Detective Mark Sutkoff said.

Chotiner struck up a conversation with him April 28 at Adventure Island by recognizing the man’s condition, Sutkoff said. The 23-year-old lives with his family in Hillsborough County but has tried very hard to be independent and was alone that day, Sutkoff said.

Chotiner’s roommate, Justin Fernandez, said Wednesday that he drove Chotiner to the water park on April 28 because Chotiner had been charged with driving under the influence in January. He remembered Chotiner starting a conversation with the disabled man. “When he took off his shirt, Richard started talking like, ‘Oh, you have sores. I’m a nurse. I can make it better,'” Fernandez said.

Chotiner suggested the man come home with them to apply lotion to the sores, but the man declined, Fernandez said. However, the 23-year-old said he would return to the water park the following day.

The next day, Chotiner, who lives near Adventure Island and Busch Gardens, saw the 23-year-old walking through the neighborhood. He told Fernandez to give the 23-year-old and him a ride to Adventure Island, where they spent the day and then returned to Chotiner’s home at 8910 N. 39[th] St.

There, Chotiner instructed the 23-year-old to shower, then offered to “put medicinal lotion” on his “cysts” in a bedroom, according to a criminal report affidavit. Chotiner held the other man down, fondled him and performed a sex act on him, the affidavit said.

Fernandez said he was outside at the time and did not know what occurred. Chotiner told him to drive the 23-year-old to a bus stop outside Tampa, where he could meet his mother and go home. As the 23-year-old left, Fernandez said, “Richard grabbed his right shoulder and gave him a kiss on the head.”

Sutkoff said the 23-year-old immediately reported what happened. He directed police to the area where Chotiner lived but could not pinpoint the house. Investigation through Adventure Island helped identify Chotiner, said Sutkoff, who did not elaborate.

Remember, Chotiner was convicted.  These aren’t “allegations.”

You have to wonder about a middle-aged man who goes trolling for young men at an amusement park, a man with a medical license who uses his status as a nurse to lure a mentally disabled person half his age back to his apartment.  Most people, I imagine, would look at this case and recoil at the thought that we have a criminal justice system that still permits people to walk free after being convicted of a crime like this.

Most people, but not everyone.  “Humor columnist” Daniel Ruth of the St. Petersburg Times looked at this case and found it, and the protests against releasing Chotiner — well, he found them amusing.  Funny stuff, forcing yourself sexually on a mentally handicapped person.  Ruth would probably whine that it wasn’t the actual sexual assault that he was targeting with the following “wit,” but merely the protests mounted by television host Bill O’Reilly of Fox News.  But that defense falls short when you read what Ruth actually committed to the page — a column filled with sexual innuendo and sexual punch-lines about a tragic sexual assault: 

O’Reilly . . . got his hoop skirt in a wad over a decision by Hillsborough Senior Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett to allow Richard Martin Chotiner, who was convicted of lewd and lascivious battery on a 23-year-old mentally challenged man, to remain free on $50,000 bail pending the outcome of an appeal. . .

But Padgett didn’t release Chotiner because, well, he was feeling frisky that day . . .

Interestingly enough, while Bill O’Reilly was getting more lathered up than Old Yeller over Padgett’s reluctance to answer questions about his ruling, the Fluster News anchor has hardly been forthcoming in releasing details of his own 2004 sealed out-of-court settlement of a sexual harassment lawsuit brought against him by a former employee[,] Andrea Mackris.

The allegations included some pretty salacious stuff, including a claim by Mackris that in a woozy late-night phone call O’Reilly, who loves to promote himself as a family man, told her he wanted to do the “falafel” thing with her.

Hmmm, wanting to commit a sex act with a Middle Eastern concoction of fried chickpeas? How kinky, in a Jacques Pepin kind of way.

In a column about the sexual assault of a mentally disabled man, Ruth doesn’t see anything wrong with cracking jokes about food and sex.  In a state littered with the dead bodies of children killed by repeat offenders who were released thanks to profound flaws in our judicial system, Daniel Ruth only finds humor in the wounded outrage of people who are rising up to say “enough is enough.”  

What a proud day for journalism at the St. Petersburg Times.

***

Instead of publishing this sick drivel, imagine what it would look like if the Times used the space wasted on Ruth’s column to fairly consider the criticism of Judge Padgett’s decision to release Chotiner without electronic monitoring.  Here’s an article from 1981 that casts Judge Padgett and the Chotiner case in an interesting light.  Of course, it took me upwards of sixty seconds to find this on Google:

St. Petersburg Times, December 19, 1981

Tampa Library Foe Gets Jail Term on Sex Charge

John F. “Jack” Gregorio, former head of a group campaigning against sex education books in Tampa public libraries, was sentenced to a year in county jail and ten years probation Friday for sexually molesting two children.  Gregorio, 46, pleaded no contest Oct. 12 to charges of lewd and lascivious behavior on an 8-year-old girl and sexual battery of a 17-year old boy.  The plea was part of an agreement in which the state agreed to seek no more than one year in jail.  Gregorio has continued to maintain his innocence and Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett said Friday that [the refusal to admit guilt] contributed most to his decision to impose the maximum sentence. Padgett said he will require Gregorio to see a psychiatrist as a condition of his probation but said he doubted it would help. Gregorio was arrested seven days after he was pictured in a newspaper last April carrying a placard and leading an anti-book campaign.

Interesting stuff (once you set aside the Times’ focus on the book-banning, the crimes of a sexual predator being more significant than the hypocrisies of a sexual predator).  What you find in this article from 1981 is something not discussed much in newspapers today: an argument supporting the legal reforms that eventually enabled and mandated judges to send sex offenders away for more than token sentences, as well as a fascinating perspective on Judge Padgett himself.

In 1981, Padgett railed against the restraints placed on him when it came to dealing with this particular sexual offender.  He was moved to speak out against a sentence that he viewed as too short for the crimes. He accurately questioned the usefulness of therapeutic interventions in preventing sex crime.  

Between 1981 and today, state legislators revised the Code of Florida so that child molesters, and others, could no longer walk away with a slap on the wrist, because they were walking away with a slap on the wrist.  They passed “truth in sentencing” laws to slow revolving prison doors, because offenders were only serving a fraction of their sentences.  These improvements had to be written into the legal code because, as Daniel Ruth histrionically and self-righteously reminds us, judges are only the interpreters of law as it is written.  They also had to be written into the code because many judges did not follow the laws as written, but that’s another story.  

Today, the Times, and others (who should be covering both sides of the issue, but don’t) now beat the drums exclusively for rolling back the sentencing reforms of the last twenty years.  Ignoring the many lessons of the past contained in their own pages, they viewing sentencing narrowly through a prism of preconceptions, namely:

  • Minimum mandatory sentences are innately cruel and unusual, and we embarked on imposing them only because politicians wanted to appear tough on crime, not because crime and recidivism are problems. 
  • Minimum mandatory sentences are the cause of prison overcrowding, which places America tragically ahead of other countries in the numbers of incarcerated people, which is a terrible reflection on our society, far more terrible than the high crime rates which are the actual cause of every individual incarceration, which will go unmentioned in the reporting.  See, the Pew Report, et al.
  • In order to regain our stature in the eyes of the world, we must reduce our incarceration rates at any cost, including the cost of letting violent offenders go free to victimize more innocent people.
  • Alternative sentencing, like counseling, is the ideal solution for these problems.

It’s very much worth remembering Judge Padgett’s frustrated effort to protect the public from a sexual predator twenty-eight years ago, when he could only sentence him to one year behind bars.  What type of sentence would Richard Martin Chotiner have received back then, before minimum mandatories put some restrictions on such pleas?  Do we really want to go back to those days?        

 

Outrage of the Week: Just Not Putting the B******s Away

For years, I’ve kept a file inelegantly titled “Just Not Putting the B******s Away.”  Unfortunately, it is a thick file.  Here is the latest entry.

The St. Petersburg Times reported this morning that fugitive Tampa Bay area physician Rory P. Doyle has surfaced in Ireland, where he fled after being permitted to bail out on a double child-molestation charge in Florida in 2001.  Dr. Doyle somehow obtained permission to re-register to practice medicine in Ireland under his own name and then somehow received permission to change his name to Dr. David West.  In addition to the largesse demonstrated by these serial “benefits of the doubt,” an Irish judge now refuses to imprison him prior to his extradition to the United States.  

So judges in two countries have allowed Doyle to walk free despite his uncanny resemblance to the illustration accompanying the term “flight risk.”  Worse, when Doyle was brought up before the Irish Medical Board in October of last year on new charges of profession misconduct, it was discovered that he was a fugitive wanted for child molestation in the United States and had changed his name to conceal his crimes; yet the Board agreed to allow him to continue practicing medicine so long as he agreed “not to treat children in his practice and only to perform cosmetic surgery.”  As children are not big purchasers of Botox, this was hardly an onerous restriction (the Board roused from its slumbers and suspended Dr. Doyle’s license only last week). 

One must not treat Dr. Doyle/Dr. West too harshly, it is felt.  The Irish Times, in reporting this story, carefully characterizes Doyle’s flight to Ireland as an “alleged” event:

AN IRISH doctor who re- registered to practise medicine here just months before he allegedly jumped bail in Florida on child sex assault charges . . .

Even Doyle himself does not appear to be disputing that he is the Dr. Doyle who fled the United States, registered as Doyle with the Irish Medical Board, and then changed his name.  Yet one must never impugn the merely accused, even if the cost is impugning the victims.  The verbal tic of affixing the term “alleged” to the description of any person’s crime has spread to include those already convicted of crimes, and even to those who readily admit they are guilty.     

Disapproval, however mild, is apparently a far worse transgression than crime itself, as the Medical Board demonstrated in December when they deemed the standards of their profession flexible enough to embrace a known fugitive from the law and accused child molester who used the Irish courts to conceal his identity from people seeking medical care from him.  

The judge who is currently allowing Doyle to remain free pending extradition for the crime of fleeing the last time a judge let him remain free is similarly guilty of practicing a pathological approbation of the accused.  

Or perhaps I should say allegedly guilty, as no-one is ever truly guilty of anything anymore.

Tools for Activists: Good News From The Courts, For A Change

I’m not a glass-half-full type of person.  But this story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution really must be categorized as a half-full glass: thanks to a lawsuit by the indomitable organization, Children’s Rights, headed by Ira Lustbader, children in foster care in Fulton County, Georgia are now one tiny step closer to being accorded the type of legal representation we routinely subsidize for murderers and rapists: 

Fulton County has made significant progress in reforming its troubled legal services for children in foster care, according to a report by a court-appointed monitor of the system.

The county Child Advocate Attorney’s Office has expanded its staff and dramatically reduced caseloads for attorneys, largely meeting the demands of a 2006 court settlement.

When the watchdog group Children’s Rights brought the lawsuit in 2002, each attorney represented as many as 500 children in the foster care system. Many children never met the attorneys assigned to represent them in juvenile court hearings, at which critical decisions were made about their lives — including whether they would be returned to their parents or be placed up for adoption, Children’s Rights said. 

The county has increased the number of attorneys from four at the time of the lawsuit to 16, bringing down caseloads to a range of 47 to 91 children per attorney, according to the report filed Friday.

I’ve never understood why innocent children facing life-changing decisions in the courts — through no fault of their own — rarely inspire the type of armchair heroics that animate people whenever some spectacularly evil murderer is facing the chair.  And the way we spend money reflects this cognitive gap.  For decades, the foster care system in Fulton County was not only underfunded and awful, it was so underfunded and awful that I imagine some of the children who progressed from foster care to prison could tell you that they barely noticed the difference.

Yet, convincing the public that this level of neglect is a systematic denial of childrens’ legal rights was, and is, an uphill climb.  Consequently, we’ve got a system where accused rapist and convicted four-time murderer Brian Nichols arrives at the courtroom trailed by reporters and surrounded by a phalanx of silk-stocking attorneys who proceed to contend utterly meaningless claptrap for months at a time at thousands of (taxpayer) dollars an hour, while down the hall some grossly underpaid and over-worked child protection attorney stands alone before a judge, forced to argue a position in a case he had no time to prepare, the outcome of which will determine whether an abused five-year old will be returned to the people who put her in pediatric ICU or be shipped off to a foster home that might save her life, or end it.

In other words, if we treated prisoners the way we treat foster children, Europeans would spend even more of their 23-hour work-week bashing the American justice system. 

If you’re up for a muscular and distressing read, a woman named Ashley Rhodes-Courter has written a memoir that details her time in various child-protection courtrooms and foster care settings in Florida. Despite the title, Three Little Words, it is startlingly unsentimental.

In addition to extraordinary problems, Georgia is lucky to have some extraordinary foster care resources, including the best child protection legal clinic in the country, The Barton Clinic of Emory Law School, founded by Andy and Michelle Barclay and State Representative Mary Margaret Oliver; the One Child, One Lawyer program, and a strong state CASA.  So there’s a glass-half full for a change.

Burglary is Not a Non-Violent Crime, #2: A Lesson on DNA and Recidivism

In today’s St. Petersburg Times, on a double murder in Masaryktown, Florida:

The feet belonged to Patrick DePalma Sr., 84. He lay on his stomach, head and torso halfway into the den, a mess of blood by his head. He wore a blue sweat suit; his slippers were astray nearby.

Evelyn DePalma, 79, sat on the floor, upright against a twin bed and the wall of the southeast bedroom. She wore a red sweat suit and a pair of slippers. Blood stained her clothes, the bed, the wall, the door, the carpet and a pair of wooden shoes next to her.

They had been stabbed to death with a long-bladed knife.

The house was ravaged, as if someone had been looking for something. His blood appeared on a shower curtain; hers on the pantry — both far from where they eventually died.

Deputies retraced their steps and left. Yellow crime scene tape wrapped the house for two weeks.

The brutal murder of Evelyn and Patrick DePalma occurred in October, 2006, and the case went cold.  15 months later, Robert William Jardin was arrested on an unrelated burglary charge.  Luckily, he was found guilty, and found guilty in Florida, where all convicted felons, even those who receive probation for their crimes, are required to submit DNA samples to the state. 

Jardin was sentenced to probation and was forced to submit a DNA sample.  Six months later, in June 2008, his DNA was finally processed into the state database, and he was matched to the brutal double murder of the DePalmas.

What would have happened if the judge had decided to waive charges in the burglary case because it was “just a burglary,” or had let him plead down to a misdemeanor crime, or deferred prosecution entirely and allowed Jardin to enter a community-based treatment program instead?  

  •  Innocent people would remain under suspicion for the murder of the DePalmas.
  • A brutal murderer would still be walking the streets.
  • The DaPalma family would still be denied justice, and a double murder would go unsolved.

Florida has a very good DNA database collection law, which you can see here.  But the law can only be enforced after judges take the step of finding suspects guilty of certain crimes.  

Georgia’s DNA database law was expanded in 2007 to include certain felony probationers, including burglars.  So a Robert William Jardin would have been subjected to DNA testing — right under the wire — in Georgia as well.

The 2007 revision of Georgia’s DNA law is one of the many innovations in DNA databasing that has Georgia and Florida ahead of most states, innovations that date back in Georgia to the tenure of then-Lt. Governor Mark Taylor, who championed the database for solving sex crimes against children and adults.  If Robert William Jardin had committed burglary and been sentenced to probation in most states, he would not have been required to provide a DNA sample, and the DaPalma’s murder would still be unsolved.  

But the law is only as good as the judges who sentence defendants.  

Here are the legislators who passed Georgia H.B. 314, the 2007 expansion of Georgia’s DNA database law. House members Jay Neal, David Ralston, Burke Day, Mike Coan, Barry Fleming, and Billy Mitchell.  And Senator Jeff Mullis.

Last August, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced that Georgia had reached the milestone of recording 1,000 “hits” on the database for unsolved crimes.  Their press release contains interesting information about the relationship between burglary convictions and unsolved rapes, highlighted below.  

GBI’s DNA Database Reaches 1000 Confirmed Hits

DECATUR –   The DNA Database at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) crime lab or CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) today reached 1000 hits to unsolved cases with the matching of DNA from an incarcerated state prisoner to DNA evidence from a 1987 rape of an 84-year-old Atlanta woman.  The offender is currently serving a life sentence at Hancock State Prison for the rapes of two elderly women in Atlanta.  At the request of the Atlanta Police Department, the GBI located the original biological evidence from the 1987 case and processed it for DNA for entering in the database.

GBI Director Vernon Keenan stated, “The 1000 hits on unsolved cases shows the value of DNA for Georgia law enforcement and for the public safety of all Georgia citizens by helping solve violent crimes that otherwise may have gone unsolved. We are grateful for the past support of the Georgia General Assembly in recognizing the importance of DNA in solving crimes.”

The GBI began DNA testing in 1991 and implemented CODIS in 1998.  At that time under state law, only those convicted and incarcerated for sex offenses were included in the database. For the next two years, the database solved 13 rapes and other sexual crimes by linking evidence to an incarcerated sex offender.  The current success of the program stemmed from the expansion of the offender law by the Georgia legislature in 2000 to include all incarcerated convicted felons. In the first year after expansion over 70 cases were solved. The majority of DNA hits since 2000 have been for rape cases but the primary crimes these offenders were incarcerated for are drug, burglary or robbery related.

In 2007, the legislature expanded the DNA database statute to include certain felony probationers.  There have been 12 DNA hits to probationers.

Currently, the GBI DNA database contains 162,390 samples. Of that total, 155,184 are offender samples and 7,206 are forensic or evidence samples. 

# # # # #

“The majority of DNA hits since 2000 have been for rape cases but the primary crimes these offenders were incarcerated for are drug, burglary or robbery related.”

For many decades, difficulties in prosecuting rape cases encouraged prosecutors to offer burglary pleas in some cases where the primary crime was actually rape.  Once DNA databasing was implemented and expanded to include burglars, robbers, and other felons, a startling number of men whose only prior records were for drug or burglary charges turned out to be rapists — including prolific, serial rapists.  Any time somebody chooses to break into a private residence, they have crossed a dangerous line.  When will the courts respond accordingly?

 

 

Burglary is Not a Non-Violent Crime, #1

From the Bradenton Herald, in Bradenton, Florida:

 

MANATEE — A Northwest Bradenton woman was pistol-whipped in a botched burglary Friday afternoon, according to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

The 84-year-old woman was taken to Blake Hospital after a man in his 20s came into her house, in the 8200 block of 19th Avenue Northwest, hitting her over the head with a pistol. The gun caused two lacerations to her head, according to authorities.

Just before 11 a.m., the woman was in her bedroom when the attacker ransacked two bedrooms first, before going into the victim’s bedroom and then attacking her.