Paroled rapist isolated, but citizens still angry

March 20, 1994|By Knight-Ridder News Service

ALTURAS, CALIF — ALTURAS, Calif. -- Whether anyone in this tiny ranching town likes it or not, Melvin Carter appears to be here to stay.

But conditions the state has attached to the parole of the "College Terrace rapist" may make the man who has confessed to raping more than 100 women something of a prisoner all over again.

Carter was whisked -- hidden in the trunk of a car sometime Thursday -- into the Devil's Garden conservation camp, deep in a juniper tree forest, five miles outside of town. On Friday, some of the stringent parole conditions he agreed to became widely known: Carter cannot leave the camp grounds for the next three years without the permission of his parole officer, according to state officials, and he must undergo regular psychiatric counseling.

But local officials worry that since the closest parole agents are 155 miles away in Redding -- the state has sent two to stay with Carter for one week -- and there are no specially trained therapists in the county who can provide the kind of help he needs, Carter could still be allowed to travel alone to neighboring counties.

"It's the Department of Corrections' responsibility to see he complies with meeting with his parole officer or making his therapy appointments by having those folks going to him as opposed to having him come into another county," said Shasta County District Attorney Dennis Sheehy, who has sharply criticized the state's parole policies.

If Carter is found off Devil's Garden land without permission, he could be sent back to prison for parole violation.

That may be small comfort to the people of Modoc County, who lost a bid to overturn the state's decision to send Carter there when the 3rd District Court of Appeal blocked a temporary restraining order issued Thursday by Modoc County Judge Guy Martin.

The Corrections Department argued that the state had taken more than adequate precautions to ensure the safety of people in Modoc County, and in court papers, it concluded: "The fundamental issue at stake in this case is the supremacy of the state's laws over local opposition."

In filing for the restraining order, Modoc County District Attorney Ruth Sorensen had argued that the state did not follow its own laws when it sent Carter to this remote northeastern county. According to state law, prisoners must be paroled to the county where they were sentenced unless there are extenuating circumstances.

Ms. Sorensen said her office would respond to the appellate court's ruling in "a timely fashion."

In Alturas, meanwhile, people decided to take their anger on the road, with plans for a bus caravan to Sacramento tomorrow to protest Carter's parole in front of the governor -- and television cameras. Two busloads of junior and senior high school girls will ride along with local leaders, followed by carloads of "plain, concerned citizens" for a rally on the Capitol steps.

"In the absence of a local pool of college-age victims, our high school girls will become potential prey," said Carol J. Harbaugh, Modoc County's superintendent of schools and director of the Modoc Rape Crisis Center.

"Does the governor really believe that this repeat offender won't adapt to the available selection of potential victims?"

The Regional Council of Rural Counties, representing 23 counties in the state, adopted a resolution late Friday afternoon calling for Gov. Pete Wilson and the Corrections Department to rescind their decision to send Carter to Modoc County "or any other rural county because of the county's inability to adequately protect their citizens from the increased violent nature of the parolee."

"We've got 13 sheriff's deputies to cover a county the size of Connecticut," said Bill Bixby, county administrative officer of neighboring Lassen County. "What we have to stop is the state picking out a small county and saying we don't have enough votes to count. We need to band together."

Meanwhile, the growing fuss has prisoners' rights advocates worried about what effect the extra pressures are having on Carter.

"The isolation will be a really dangerous thing for him," said Laura Magnani, program coordinator for the Criminal Justice Program of the American Friends Service Committee, based in Oakland.

"It will compound the problems he already has."

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