Collateral Damage in America's War on Sex Crimes

Kat’s Story, Part 2

New to Kat’s story? Start with part 1.

Twenty-five years earlier when he was 21 and single, Phil had been convicted of a sex offense involving a child.

Though the alleged victim changed his story several times, at trial it came down to his word against Phil’s. Phil’s court-appointed defense attorney called no witnesses and simply denied the charges—he told Phil that he thought the DA had no case and that an aggressive defense that attempted to shoot holes in the boy’s story might just anger the jury. It was, says Phil, a “very passive defense.”

The jury found him guilty, explaining that they didn’t think a child would make such an accusation without a reason. Phil was sentenced to 3 years in prison, followed by 6 years of parole.

Phil began serving his sentence in 1987 and was released 22 months later in 1989, serving parole until 1995. But he’d also gone to college, and by 1997, he’d graduated with an engineering degree.

While in school, Phil had started corresponding with Kendra, a Russian medical student. Soon they were talking of marriage, and Kendra moved to California so they could live together. In 1997 they got married. They had Kat the following year.

Seeking to move on with his life, Phil applied for a certificate of rehabilitation. That would allow him to be removed from California’s registry, which requires offenders to register for life.

Getting the certificate is no cakewalk—it’s given only to offenders determined to be low risk. Among other steps, it involves a police detective investigating the applicant at home and at work, getting three letters of recommendation from people who are of good reputation themselves, and having a forensic psychiatrist examine the applicant in person. The detective then makes a recommendation. A judge uses all of that material to render a decision about awarding the certificate.

In Phil’s case, a forensic psychiatrist recommended that Phil be given the certificate. “His behavior in the last 16 years demonstrates a pro-social attitude and a lack of pedophilic disorder,” reads the psychiatrist’s report. “He has remained free of sexually inappropriate behavior with minor(s) for about sixteen years. There is no history of substance abuse. No sexual deviations since 1982 are reported. He has graduated from a university and has obtained gainful employment. His social interactions are free of major conflicts.”

The judge concurred with both the detective and psychiatrists’ recommendations. Phil had his certificate and applied to be taken off of the registry.

Then the worst happened–in 2003, California changed its law, disallowing all offenders from being removed. Certificate or no, Phil was now on the registry for life.

Phil and Kendra decided they had to leave the state.

New York, where they had relatives, seemed like a good possibility—in that state, low-risk offenders didn’t appear on the registry.

They visited the upstate village that they thought they’d make their new home and talked to town police about Phil’s situation. The cops told him that so long as he stayed on the straight and narrow, they’d give him no problems. So the family packed up and moved in November 2003.

But town police couldn’t do anything about state policies. Under state law, registrants moving to New York are required to have a new risk assessment hearing in court to set their risk level. But the court hearing in 2004 turned into Phil’s nightmare–15 years of good behavior with no new charges or convictions and a certificate of rehabilitation awarded in California did him no good. Instead, the DA asked the judge to assess Phil as a violent sexual predator. The judge split the difference, labeling Phil a violent moderate risk. That meant he’d have to register for life.

When police first told Phil and Kendra in December 2006 about the pamphlet that was coming out, they went to the district school superintendent for help. They explained that it would make Kat a target. But he turned them down flat—his first responsibility was to all of the district’s children, he said—the impact on Kat wasn’t his problem.

Next: Fallout from the pamphlet

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