When Lila’s son Lorin joined them in South Carolina, she and her husband Steven were up against plenty of their own problems. They were taking care of Steven’s brother, who had terminal cancer and couldn’t walk—he stayed in a bed in their living room.
Keeping up with his medical needs turned into a full-time job for Lila. She’d do six loads of laundry a day just to keep up. Their water bill went from $70 a month to over $200, a big bite in the family budget. Lila’s Social Security check totals $554 a month, and Steven’s disability check is $538. With rent at $400 a month, they fell behind on their credit card.
Worst, Steven himself appears on the state sex offender registry. He was accused of molesting a seven-year-old nephew 25 years ago in 1990, a crime he claims he didn’t commit. The state offered a plea bargain–six weeks in county jail and a misdemeanor charge.
He turned it down, insisting he was innocent. During a two-day trial, he had three different court-appointed attorneys, two of whom didn’t talk to him before the proceedings, he says. His lawyers weren’t allowed to call his witnesses. On the basis of the child’s testimony, a jury found him guilty. He spent three years in prison, and his name and photo and the family’s address will appear on the sex offender registry the rest of his life.
Lila had met him after he got out of prison in 1993, and they’ve been married for 14 years.
With two members on the state registry, the family has hopscotched from house to house to avoid harassment and threats since Lorin moved in.
That’s no mean feat with large swaths of housing off limits–state rules ban them from living within a thousand feet of schools, daycares, or churches with nurseries, though no research has shown that such residency bans prevent sex crimes. In 2010, a friend of Lila’s rented them a house in the city of Chester that was just over a thousand feet from a church down the block after Lila explained their situation.
The place was more barn than house–the living room floor sat directly on the dirt below and there were weeds growing up around the edges. Under the clawfoot tub in the bathroom was a crack big enough for snakes to wriggle through. The hot water heater had fallen through the floor and didn’t work.
But they had no choice.
Then Lila’s friend died, and her daughter inherited the place. When she found out that two family members were on the registry, she demanded they leave.
So the family moved across town to a rough neighborhood that had no schools, daycares, or churches within shouting distance.
They’d been there two months when Steven decided one day to walk down the block after he’d had a few too many beers. On his way to the corner store, a police car passed, and Steven waved. He was weaving, and the cops could see he was drunk.
They followed him home and knocked on the family’s door. Neighbors came out to see what was going on. In a loud voice, one of them told Steven that he was living there illegally and wasn’t properly registered as a sex offender.
Lila knew the officer had gotten it wrong—Steven had been to the sheriff’s office to register his address three days earlier, and Lila told him so. “If you want to step into my living room for a minute I can show you that he has registered,” she said. “Well ma’am I don’t believe I want to do that,” the officer replied and walked away.
But the incident had done damage, painting a target on their house. Two days later, they had their own Kristallnacht when someone smashed two of the front windows. Three days after that, a neighbor—6’4 and muscular–showed up on the front porch and knocked. When Lila came out, he told her, “If any of you ever so much as look at any member of my family, I’ll kill every one of you.”
Then a car rolled by their house and they heard a man yell, “I’m going to kill all of the perverts who live there!”
Scared, they moved again. They gave up on town living and headed for the country, a few miles from Chester, and have been there ever since.
Lila was on an Internet website when she found the news about Charles and Gretchen Parker’s murder. When she read that Jeremy Moody planned to kill others on the registry, she felt herself turn cold, then went to the bathroom and was sick.
She wrote a letter to Governor Nikki Haley asking her to take the registry offline for a few months until things calmed down, so that copycats wouldn’t be inspired. “Governor, please, you have thousands of families in your state that are in danger, and they are innocent. Regardless of the fact whether there is a registrant who lives in that home, those families are innocent and deserve to be protected,” she pleaded.
She never got an answer.
Since the Parker slaying, she and the rest of family watch their surroundings every minute. When Lila walks to the backyard to hang her laundry, she takes her cell phone—she doesn’t’ want to get shot and not have a way to call for help. No one in the family dares walk to the end of their 450-foot driveway to get the mail—they drive.
Lorin’s move to South Carolina cost him—in Michigan, he could have gotten off of the registry in 25 years, but in South Carolina all registrants are on for life, regardless of circumstance or level of risk. They’ve thought about moving to a state where there’s no a lifetime registration requirement for Lorin’s sake but have no money to do it.
Lila doesn’t want to see a child hurt, sexually assaulted, or harassed. “I want the ones that need to be monitored to be monitored. But the ones that don’t need to be, let them have their lives,” she pleads.