There's No Place Like Prison

Phillips families were already worried about the parolees next door. Then the headless corpse turned up.

Davis was not alone in his concern. Fran Mendenhall, who lives next door, noticed that there always seemed to be people hanging out in front of the house, drinking beer and dealing drugs. "It wasn't so much a problem because of the guys having been sex offenders," Mendenhall says. "It was a problem because the guys reverted to their criminal behavior."

Mendenhall and others say supervision at the property was practically nonexistent. Jessica Topp rents a room from Mendenhall and occasionally hung out next door with Darnell Smith and the other tenants. "There was lots of guys over there, lots of girls over there," recalls Topp. "The only therapy they were getting was their Hennessy bottles and their Newport cigarettes."

There had been problems at the duplex before Smith's arrival. On March 7 Ramsey County parole officer Derek Weinke paid an unannounced visit to resident James Noyer, a level-three sex offender who had twice been convicted of sexually assaulting children. According to a criminal complaint, when Weinke walked into Noyer's bedroom he discovered that the ex-convict had subscribed to WebTV, a violation of his parole. Weinke and another agent then conducted a search of the room and found a videotape in the closet.

"That was the tape I was hoping you would not find," Noyer told his parole officer. "That has child pornography on it. Hardcore child pornography. If you watch this you would want to shoot me in the head for it."

After Noyer was arrested, another level-three sex offender living at the duplex informed law-enforcement agents that there was additional pornography hidden under the kitchen sink. Officers eventually removed a computer, a videotape showing children being sexually abused, digital-video equipment, and Polaroid photos of a preschool-age girl taking off her clothes.

Noyer admitted to possessing child pornography but told authorities that the Polaroid photos were actually taken by Ernesto Longoria, a level-two sex offender also living at the duplex. Police then executed a search warrant on Longoria's room and, according to a separate criminal complaint, recovered at least ten photographs of children in sexual poses or acts, as well as two cameras, a telephoto lens, videotapes, and a photo album with pictures of girls taken from a distance. Also seized in the search was a flyer soliciting women over 18 to come to his home and pose for nude pictures. Longoria also had two previous convictions for sexually assaulting children, the most recent in Ramsey County.

Noyer pled guilty to three counts of possessing child pornography and, in July, was sentenced to three years in prison. Longoria pleaded guilty to one count of possessing child pornography and is expected to be sentenced to three years in prison later this month.

Four months after Noyer and Longoria were arrested, Bobby Holder was lured to 2609 13th Avenue and murdered. But Davis doesn't believe the incidents are at all related. He also argues that Noyer and Longoria's troubles did not mean the property needed closer supervision, since parole officers routinely visit the premises unannounced. "The properties are really monitored and supervised very closely. There's accountability all the time," he maintains. "I'm [open] to suggestions on what the hell else I should have done besides close the place down. We're gonna continue doing what we're doing. We're not gonna let one tragedy stop us from moving on."

 

On a Thursday night in mid-September, the gymnasium at Waite Park Elementary School is packed to overflowing. More than 200 agitated neighborhood residents have turned up to hear about a 46-year-old, level-three sex offender named Kerry Dean Stevenson, who is scheduled to move into the northeast Minneapolis neighborhood.

Stevenson has never been charged with a violent sexual offense, but on 27 different occasions he has been convicted of exposing himself in public. His modus operandi has been to approach a group of prepubescent girls, expose himself, and masturbate. Under the terms of his probation, Stevenson is prohibited from having contact with children or former victims, must be home by 10:30 p.m., and is required to complete a sex-offender rehabilitation program.

The law-enforcement officials who have come to the meeting emphasize the stipulations that have been put on Stevenson's release, then tell the crowd that their new neighbor is one of the least dangerous sex offenders to be the subject of a community-notification meeting. The assurances do little to assuage the outrage. Gasps and moans fill the gymnasium as the highlights of Stevenson's criminal résumé are read aloud. Neighbors trade exasperated glances when a police officer goes over a list of safety tips for kids: Scream "911" if someone assaults you; never go off with a stranger who wants to show you a puppy.

First come the questions: How can this man live so close to a school? Is he allowed to visit the park? How recent is the photo of him on the flyer? Is this the first time he's been through treatment? Then the accusations: One man charges that authorities failed to deliver flyers about the meeting to all of the neighbors. A woman declares that sex offenders such as Stevenson are impossible to rehabilitate. "Kids are bused into this community, and parents don't have any idea that this guy is half a block away," charges another neighbor. There is a chorus of amens.

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