[Hpn] Sex molester sentenced to Bismarck's homeless shelter

media@ccsi.com media@ccsi.com
Wed, 13 Jun 2001 22:31:50 -0500

Wednesday, June 13, 2001

Sex molester sentenced to Bismarck's homeless shelter

Fred Roberts, a 53-year-old former school janitor accused of sexually
molesting a 5-year-old boy last year, was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years,
six suspended. 

But not to prison. To Bismarck's homeless shelter.

South Central District Judge Benny Graff sentenced Roberts to the Ruth
Meiers Hospitality House. And it's the first time that's been done.

But Tammy King, Ruth Meiers' director of client services, said that
although it's the first time someone has been sentenced to the shelter,
it's not the first time that sexual offenders have lived at the shelter.
She said Roberts, like any other sexual offender, will have to leave the
premises whenever a child is there -- which is usually during the noon soup
line -- or risk eviction.

Dennis Larkin, a sex offender counselor, testified prior to Graff's
sentencing that because of Roberts' need for one-on-one supervision, that
the penitentiary is the only adequate facility for Roberts.

"I'm very concerned about his impulsivity," he said. 

Roberts sustained a severe brain injury years ago that resulted in his
having poor impulse control, according to information provided to the court.

"He doesn't think before he acts," Larkin said.

But Graff chose another facility.

Graff, before sentencing Roberts, told him that it's only because of
Roberts' unique situation -- his brain injury -- that Graff was considering
other options besides the penitentiary.

Roberts, because of the injury, thinks at the level of an 11- or
12-year-old, said his attorney Timothy Purdon. Purdon expressed concern
that Roberts would be "especially vulnerable in a penitentiary setting."

But Graff told Roberts "this is a zero tolerance policy," and if he
violates any conditions he'll be sent to the pen.

In February, Roberts pleaded guilty to gross sexual imposition. According
to a Bismarck police report, Roberts, who lived in an apartment at Rita
Murphy Elementary school where he was employed, put his hand into the
victim's pants and fondled him while the child was playing Nintendo.

Roberts had been a custodian at various Bismarck public schools for 24
years until his February 2000 arrest. 

When Graff asked him Tuesday if he had anything to say, Roberts said, "I'm

Burleigh County State's Attorney Richard Riha said later Tuesday he's
"disappointed that the judge sentenced him to Ruth Meiers instead of the pen."

"Now he's in the position to victimize other children. He can't be
supervised all the time there."

King said Roberts, who checked into the facility Tuesday, does meet the
criteria to live at the facility because he is considered homeless and
because the facility doesn't discriminate against anyone, including those
with mental illness or those who have committed a sexual offense.

She said Roberts will first live in the emergency housing for 30 days,
which means he'll live in a room with up to seven other men.

The other men who live in emergency housing have the freedom to come and
go, except that they have to check in by 10 p.m.

Roberts, because of Graff's orders, will have to let staff members know
where he is at all times. He will have to sign out in writing and also talk
to a staff member before leaving the facility and upon returning.

However, it will be up to Roberts' probation officer to check on his
whereabouts when Roberts, who is employed, is gone from the shelter, King

After 30 days of emergency housing, he could possibly get another 30-day
extension for emergency housing. But King said if Roberts' probation
officer thinks he's ready, Roberts could move into transitional housing,
which also is located at the facility. In transitional housing, residents
pay 30 percent of their income for a room, and have the freedom to come and
go. If Roberts' probation officer wants Roberts' comings and goings
monitored, the shelter will have to consider a policy change, she said.

Transitional housing is available for only two years. After that, if it's
determined he's ready, he could rent an efficiency apartment at Ruth
Meiers' apartment facility, Horizons, located at 305 N. 23rd St. She said a
couple of sex offenders live there, now. 

King said she is concerned about the public's reaction to the shelter's
allowing Roberts to live there, but her response to anyon concerned who
calls her will be that the shelter can't discriminate against anyone. And
she said she hopes concerned people will also consider that people like
Roberts are more closely monitored at Ruth Meiers than they would be if
they lived in the concerned people's neighborhoods. 

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