Molester is gone again, but warning signs remain

September 30, 1994|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,Sun Staff Writer

Motorists slow down and some even stop to look at the white, poster-size signs dominating the front of the three-story brick row house in Dundalk.

"Parents Beware, Child Molestor Living In Our Neighborhood." "Don't Let Your Innocent Child Be Next. We Weren't Warned. We Feel You Should Be!"

From the street, few people can see the grayish wooden playhouse and 6-foot wooden fence in Anthony and Mary Jo Taylor's back yard -- the playhouse where their 6-year-old son was sexually molested more than a year ago. The fence was erected last week as a barricade.

Since Monday, the Taylors have been on a quest "to protect our children" after they found out that their next-door neighbor, the man convicted of molesting their son, had been released from the Baltimore County Detention Center.

They said their first goal had been only to inform the neighbors, but since then the signs have attracted media attention from throughout the country and helped fuel a debate regarding whether notification should be required when convicted child molesters return to a community.

"We knew that the time was coming when he'd get out," said Mr. Taylor, 29, a county police officer. "I just finished the fence last week in anticipation of his future release. We just didn't know when and we thought someone would at least call."

That time came on Sept. 20 when Joe R. Driskell Jr., 20, who had pleaded guilty to third-degree sexual offenses against their son -- returned home to live with his mother after serving nearly 13 months in jail.

"I walked out back and we made eye-to-eye contact through the fence," said Mrs. Taylor, 38, a nursing technician. "I panicked . . . I couldn't believe he was home.

"When we called the state's attorney's office and found out there was nothing we could do about him moving back next door, I couldn't just stand by and do nothing. I went straight to the [store], bought poster paper and made the signs."

Despite claims by Driskell's mother that the signs are now inaccurate since her son moved out Monday, the Taylors are determined to keep them up.

"What if he returns?" Mr. Taylor said. "The signs will stay up to remind people of the danger and what happened to my own son."

Circuit Court records show that Driskell was charged Aug. 26, 1993, with 10 counts of sex-related crimes. In a report written by Detective Daniel G. Miller, the Taylors' son and a 3-year-old boy said they were molested by Driskell in the playhouse in incidents from June 1993 to August 1993.Driskell pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault and was given a six-year sentence with all but 18 months suspended and a stipulation that he would be released only under two conditions: "1. Psychiatric counseling. 2. No contact with any children."

"The only thing separating us is a brick wall and maybe 10 feet of space between our porches," Mr. Taylor said. "My son has been through six months of counseling, and he's been upset ever since he learned that Joe was home. What about the victim's rights?

"We weren't trying to get rid of him. If the courts say you can live wherever you want, there's nothing we can do about it. But, I would have liked to have been warned beforehand. It doesn't take that much to send us a letter, give us a call."

Mr. Taylor said he got a letter from the parole board a week after Driskell's release, telling him to call if Driskell tried to contact their son. "Too little, too late," he said.

Twenty-nine states have laws regarding prior notification when a child molester is released to the community. A Maryland bill requiring people convicted of crimes involving minors to register with the police after their release failed in the General Assembly this year.

The Taylors said they are trying to change that and are calling politicians to urge the passage of legislation to require notification.

"I'm a police officer and I did not know that I had to write the parole board to get notification of his release," Mr. Taylor said. "I .. think as the victim's family, I should have a right to know . . . I think the neighbors should have a right to know."

Marilyn Warren, Driskell's mother, said her son's rights have been forgotten.

"After the signs went up, my son moved out," Ms. Warren said in a phone interview. "He couldn't live like this. It's been very painful to see them out here and know that the signs are false because he's gone. Why won't they take them down? It's not fair, he's paid his debt to society. He's apologized to them. What more do they want?

"I know they're hurting, I feel sorry for them because I know how they feel. My son was also sexually abused when he was !B younger. They've seen the satisfaction of seeing him behind bars. . . . I guess their way of dealing with it is to cause more pain for my family."

Sitting at the kitchen table yesterday, Mrs. Taylor shook her head in disbelief at Ms. Warren's comments.

"To think, I used to sit here and watch as he played with the children," she said. "He used to jump the chain-link fence and sit in the little pool with my son. The signs were there; I just never knew it."

Her husband stared out the kitchen window at the playhouse.

C7 "I've often thought about taking it down," he said.

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