Cases of Abuse
- Leading to Murder:
- Rodriguez - Abused Boy Commits Suicide and Murder of Cult Leader
- Holland - Boy Wants Severance From Murderer Father
- Wesson - Father Kills His Family
- Robnson - Mother's Neglect Kills Two Children
- Damaged the victim for Life:
- Phillips - Abused as a child, he had everything else in the world to have a great life. But he was damaged beyond repair
Rodriguez - Fringe Group at Center of DeathsMurder-suicide by a former member brings unwanted attention to a Christian ministry known as the Family.
By Larry B. Stammer
Times Staff Writer
January 17, 2005
Almost 20 years after a fringe religious group renounced practices that included child sexual abuse and incest, a murder-suicide carried out in two states has brought the group's sordid past back to the fore.
Last week, Richard P. Rodriguez, 29, the disaffected son of Karen Zerby, current leader of the communal Christian ministry known as the Family, allegedly killed longtime group member Angela M. Smith, 51, in his Tucson, Ariz., apartment. Then, after driving to Blythe, he apparently took his own life.
In a videotape recorded a day before the deaths, Rodriguez described his desire to exact revenge for an isolated childhood in which he was routinely sexually abused.
Sitting at the kitchen table in his Tucson apartment and speaking directly to the camera, Rodriguez, who had been groomed since birth as the church's heir apparent, said he had been contemplating suicide ever since being forced as a young adolescent to participate in "teen training." In a posting on the Internet in 2002, he described how the training required him to have sex with different girls in the cult each day.
On the tape, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, Rodriguez said that after leaving the group in his mid-20s, he had decided that suicide would not be enough: He would take members of the group with him. Although he hoped Smith would lead him to his mother, who keeps her location secret, he made clear he would settle for what he could get.
In the video, he displays for the camera a variety of weapons before picking up a long knife. "This is my weapon of choice," he says. "I only want it for one purpose. That is for taking out the scum." Smith was stabbed multiple times, police said.
Now the Family, which claims a membership of nearly 8,000 living communally and ministries in 100 countries, is scrambling to shore up its reputation as a worldwide Christian evangelical ministry in the wake of a police investigation, national media interest and accusations from former group members who say that a childhood of sexual abuse growing up in the commune drove Rodriguez to murder and suicide.
The group has issued statements disavowing any responsibility for Rodriguez's actions, saying he was responsible for his choices in life. It also has gone on the attack, warning detractors that "the enemy will rue the day," in a message they said came from Jesus Christ, and calling them "vitriolic apostates."
"There are some people who are exploiting this tragedy and trying to use it to their own ends to hurt Mama and me and the Family, and tear down our work for the Lord," said a statement signed by the group's second-in-command, who uses the name Peter, on behalf of himself and Zerby. Peter also said that Smith was not a member of the group at the time of her death.
Originally known as the Children of God, the group began in the late 1960s, founded by David Berg, who preached the Gospel to the hippies of Southern California.
Like many other cults of the time — including the People's Temple, led by Jim Jones, who persuaded 900 followers to commit suicide in a mass ceremony in 1978 — the group promoted unorthodox practices and demanded absolute obedience from its followers. Berg preached an anti-Establishment, apocalyptic creed, and as his movement grew, he started spreading a bizarre collection of prophecies, such as that a comet would doom America. He called himself "Mo," short for Moses David.
But it was the free-love gospel, espoused by Berg and his followers in order to gather new converts, that made the group stand out — and later led to allegations of child abuse and prostitution in at least a half-dozen countries. Many former members of the group have described a lifestyle that included orgies involving adults and young children, as well as directed sex between teenagers.
Berg, who died in 1994, also established what he called "flirty fishing," in which female members used sex to become "hookers" for Jesus, a sexual variation on Jesus' telling his disciples to become "fishers of men," according to the Encyclopedia of American Religions.
Claire Borowik, a spokeswoman for the Family, told The Times that the group "came up out of the '60s with a high degree of liberality on the sexual side. When we began to have children, the degree of liberality continued in some cases in homes in which Ricky [Rodriguez] lived. This was banned in 1986."
She said stringent policies were put in place calling for excommunication of any adult found to have been in "inappropriate contact" with anyone younger than 21.
In 2000, Rodriguez left the group on good terms, according to Borowik. A missive he posted on the Internet in 2002, though, expressed anger about the church's abuse of children. The posting ended hopefully. He wrote of seeing twins in the park with their loving parents and realizing there was a different kind of childhood than the one he experienced. "It gives me hope," he concluded, "that one day [the Children of God leadership's] evil legacy will die with the Family, and it will be only a distant or, better yet, forgotten bad memory."
By August 2004, in another message he posted on the MovingOn.org website, Rodriguez seemed far more pessimistic. He wrote that at the time of the first posting, he had hoped that he would one day be able to move on with his life. "I know now that will never happen," he wrote in August. "I can't run away from my past, and no matter how much longer I live, the first 25 years of my life will always haunt me."
The August message ended chillingly: "Every day these people are alive and free is a slap in the face to the thousands of us who have been methodically molested, tortured, raped, and the many who they have as good as murdered by driving them to suicide. It would probably involve a great deal of sacrifice and would best be accomplished, I think, by people who have nothing to lose, such as myself…. I think there are others who feel this way, and I would really like to get in touch with them and exchange ideas."
In his final videotape, Rodriguez acknowledged that his August posting was an attempt to recruit others into his revenge scheme. "I was as clear in that as I could be without spelling it out," he said. But in the end, he said, he didn't regret that no one else had joined him. "I'm glad that others of us haven't gotten to the point that I've gotten to that we really don't have anything else to lose. I'm happy. What it tells me is that people still have hope."
The day before the deaths, Rodriguez spoke of his own hopelessness. "I really don't have anything to lose, I think," he said on the videotape. "I don't want to go through my life the way it is now. I've tried for four years…. If it had just gotten a little better — a little better even emotionally — it would have given me hope. But it's gotten worse."
What Rodriguez said he wanted was justice for children he said were sexually and physically abused, and he drew a parallel with the war on terrorism.
"I feel like we're in a war here," he said. "I feel like everyone who has left [the Family] and in some way speaks out — in some way tries to help somebody, in some way tries to help ourselves — is a soldier in this war. It's a war on terror because these [expletives] are the real terrorists…. Terrorizing little kids, driving them to suicide. Isn't that like murdering them, basically?"
Borowik, the group's spokeswoman, said the organization believed there had been seven suicides of members and former members in the last 30 years. Former members place the number at 31.
She blamed Rodriguez's associates among other former members for his state of mind. She said they should have urged him to seek counseling. "I realize he had a lot of anger with his parents, but had he written and asked for help, they would have wanted him to have the help he needed," she said.
Former Family member Daniel Nathan Roselle, a full-time student who knew Rodriguez when they were both growing up in the group, said in an interview that he urged Rodriguez to consider legal recourse the last time they spoke, five months ago. "I said, look, I'm working this legal thing, and I think we're getting some traction here, and I think nobody's voice is more eloquent on what happened than yours," Roselle said.
At that time, Roselle said, Rodriguez never spoke of an actual plan. He said Rodriguez spoke of wanting to find out where Mama and Peter were.
"There was a lot of rage, but there were no specifics," Roselle said when asked whether he had thought of alerting authorities. "I have to be honest with you. In the 10 years I've talked to others of us, there's a lot of rage."
Roselle and other former Family members were quick to say they didn't condone murder. All said they mourned the death of Rodriguez and Smith.
"I wish it hadn't happened. I wish he hadn't died. It seems the only way anybody's listening is that Rick and Angela died," Roselle said. "It makes me cry."
Roselle said he was sad rather than angry about his experience. He recalled being sexually abused once in Panama by a 20-year-old woman when he was 7.
"I remember the house and looking around at the couch and looking at any number of naked couples going at it, and then having someone come up and get into bed with me in my little mattress on the floor," he said, fighting back tears. "We try to forget, and you can try to go on."
For Rodriguez, that apparently wasn't possible.
Times staff writer Cara Mia DiMassa contributed to this report.
Holland - Teen Wants to Sever Ties With His Mother's Killer: His Father
By Elizabeth Mehren
Times Staff Writer
April 27, 2004
SANDOWN, N.H. — Patrick Holland was only 8 when he found his mother dead on her bedroom floor. Elizabeth Holland had been shot eight times and beaten so savagely with the gun that its wooden handle shattered.
The killer was Patrick's father, Daniel Holland.
Now 14 years old, Patrick Holland is trying to cut off all ties — legal as well as emotional — with the man who murdered his mother.
"He is not my father anymore," Patrick said.
Today, a Massachusetts judge is to hear Patrick's petition to terminate his father's parental rights. State social service officials have joined with Patrick to ask the court to end Daniel Holland's role as a father.
Legal experts do not know of another case like this one.
A Florida teenager living with a foster family made headlines 10 years ago when he tried unsuccessfully to sever ties with his birth parents.
But the Holland case involves a child with only one living parent: a man who kept his legal status as a father despite being convicted of killing the boy's mother. Although he is serving a life sentence in a central Massachusetts prison, Daniel Holland remains Patrick's legal father and could try to influence his son's life.
That is exactly what happened three years ago, when Daniel Holland asked state authorities about his son's welfare. Months passed while Patrick's guardians tried in vain to block his involvement.
The episode caused Patrick "some emotional havoc," according to the Massachusetts Department of Social Services. Patrick wanted to sever his ties with his father as soon as possible. But his petition slogged through two years and five continuances before the upcoming hearing was scheduled.
"I would have done this a lot earlier if I could have," said Patrick, who hasn't seen his father since his mother died.
Patrick Holland's case stands out, according to USC law professor Tom Lyon, because "it is very unusual for a child to take this kind of action."
Lyon, an expert on family law, said courts occasionally terminate parental rights when a mother or father was killed by a spouse or lover. But these cases generally involve younger children, he said, and the action typically is brought by a social service agency on behalf of the child.
Many of the three or more women who are killed each day in this country by husbands or boyfriends leave children behind. When these men are imprisoned, they often fail to express interest in their children, Lyon said, causing "de facto termination of parental rights. The father is out of the child's life."
Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Bartholet, also a family law specialist, said some imprisoned fathers, however, "suddenly get very parental," believing that cleaning up their images may get them of prison.
"It makes them look like they have been rehabilitated," she said.
What's really unusual in this case, she said, "is for a kid to get standing to do anything. Normally, kids are considered not to have rights. I think what is really outrageous is that in this case there is no system in place to terminate parental rights."
Elizabeth McCrocklin and Daniel Holland met in Virginia in 1988. They married within months, and Patrick was born in December 1989. The family settled in Quincy, Mass., just south of Boston.
From the start, the union was troubled. On a website dedicated to his mother (www.lizhollandmemorial.com), Patrick writes that his father once locked him in a closet "for hours, with no food, water or bathroom," ignoring the boy's screams to be let out. Patrick said his father repeatedly abused him and his mother.
"My father would beat her all the time," Patrick recalls.
After nine years, Elizabeth Holland moved out with her son and started divorce proceedings. She also obtained a restraining order against Daniel Holland. As part of that order, Holland was not allowed to possess any weapons.
That order was in effect the night of Oct. 13, 1998. On the website, Patrick writes of "one of those dreams that started off like any other 8-year-old's dream, but this one started to get terrifying. The experts say that I woke up to the sound of the gunshots … [but] I don't remember anything except the long and complicated dream."
Daniel Holland broke into his wife's house in Quincy by throwing a bag of golf clubs through the living room window. He confronted Elizabeth, and when she fled to her bedroom and locked the door, he kicked it down.
Patrick found his mother clutching a pillow in a futile attempt to ward off eight bullets from Daniel's .22-caliber rifle. The child ran screaming into the street.
Daniel Holland, 42, was convicted of murder in 2001 and sentenced to life in prison, with 40 to 60 years tacked on for armed home invasion. His Massachusetts attorney did not return several calls to her office for comment.
To escape her husband's abuse, Elizabeth Holland often took Patrick to stay with her best friends in this small town in southern New Hampshire. She loved the big, rambling Victorian home that Ron and Rita Lazisky lived in, and she welcomed the couple's comfort.
"It was her safe house," Ron Lazisky said.
A lawyer who knew the Laziskys urged them to file for custody of Patrick because Elizabeth Holland did not leave a will and failed to designate a guardian. The Laziskys successfully battled Patrick's maternal grandfather in Virginia for custody.
"We didn't think we'd stand a chance up here in New Hampshire," said Ron Lazisky, a 52-year-old chemical engineer. "But it was Patrick who wanted to be here."
So just as the Laziskys were sending the youngest of their four children off to college, Patrick filled their house with the noisy joy of a child at play.
Using the baseball skills his mother had taught him, Patrick became a catcher for the Sandown Little League. Elizabeth had taught her son to ride a bike too, and Patrick pedaled happily around this town of 6,000. He made friends at school.
He continues regular sessions with a psychotherapist. At home, Patrick refers to his guardians as Ron and Rita. But at school or with friends he calls them his dad and mom.
He said he wanted nothing to do with Daniel Holland, and was furious when his father contacted the Department of Social Services from prison in Shirley, Mass., asking to see his son's report cards. Daniel also wanted to know how Patrick was doing in psychotherapy. And he asked about the boy's baseball.
"He comes out of nowhere, and thinks he has the right to know those things, the right to be my father," Patrick said. "He lost that right six years ago when he killed my mother."
Ron Lazisky at first refused to provide the information. When the agency told him to comply, he wrote a terse letter.
"Patrick is doing great in school, wonderful in baseball and awesome in his counseling," Lazisky reported.
Lawyers for Patrick and the Laziskys, as well as the family court judge, would not discuss the case. But Denise Monteiro, a spokesperson for the Department of Social Services, said her agency supported Patrick's effort to end his legal relationship with his father.
"He has stated in no uncertain terms what he wanted, and we agree that this is in his best interest," Monteiro said, adding that her agency has filed its own petition with the court on behalf of Patrick.
Attorney Edward Fleming of Quincy, who was representing Elizabeth Holland in her effort to divorce Patrick's father, said: "She wanted to terminate the relationship with Daniel Holland, and in a way, Patrick is just following through with this. This is highly unusual, for a minor to institute this action. But I think this precedent would be an honor to Elizabeth."
Patrick said he thought every day about his mother, a woman who laughed easily and loved to help others. He said he hoped what he was doing would end up helping others, the way his mother did.
Most of all, said Patrick, "I think she would want this."< < Return to Top
Wesson - Suspect in Offspring's Deaths Faces New Charges
Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, Calif.: Apr 8, 2004
Prosecutors filed 33 additional charges Wednesday against a man accused of shooting nine of his children to death at their home last month. All the new charges involve long-term sexual abuse, some dating as far back as 1988.
The new charges against Marcus Wesson include multiple charges of continuous sexual abuse and forcible rape against females who lived with him, but the documents do not specify whether they were family members. Five of the six victims were under 14 when the alleged attacks occurred.
Wesson, 57, had already been charged with murdering a 25-year- old woman and eight children ranging in age from 1 to 17. Police said his 25-year-old daughter also was the mother of one of the slain children.
Wesson, who has pleaded not guilty to the murder charges and is being held in lieu of $9-million bail, could face the death penalty if convicted.
Judge Lawrence Jones rejected a bid Wednesday by public defender Pete Jones to put off Wesson's preliminary hearing until the end of the month, saying that Wesson had not waived his right to a speedy hearing.
Jones ordered the hearing to take place today.
Fresno police have not disclosed a motive, but said Wesson might have engaged in incest and polygamy.
Officers were called to the scene when several of the children's mothers were unable to take their children away from him.
Officials said Wesson appeared to wield absolute authority over his household and his large clan.
The women, dressed in dark robes, would walk dutifully behind him. They did not speak in his presence and apparently worked to support him. The children were home-schooled because he did not trust public education.
Over the years, he led his nomadic clan of women and offspring from a squatters' camp in the mountains to a dilapidated sailboat, and finally to inland California, where he hauled them around in an old school bus.
Wesson has been kept in isolation at the Fresno County Jail, unable to receive visits or phone calls from relatives. Officials based the decision on a phone call from a woman who told authorities the relatives would request his permission to commit suicide.
The victims were found piled one on top of another. Wesson was arrested after he emerged from the house with blood on his clothing.< < Return to Top
Robinson - Mother Arrested After 2 Babies Die of Malnutrition
From Associated Press
November 17, 2004
KENT, Wash. — A woman with a history of child neglect complaints was arrested after her two young boys were found dead in their apartment of malnutrition and dehydration, authorities said.
Police entered the apartment of Marie G. Robinson, 36, in the Seattle suburb of Kent after the children's paternal grandmother said she was unable to contact Robinson.
Officers found the bodies of Justice W. Robinson, 16 months, in a crib, and Raiden A. Robinson, 7 weeks, in a bassinet.
Their mother was passed out from alcohol intoxication, prosecutors said.
Another of Robinson's children, a 2-year-old boy, was hungry and thin, said Officer Paul A. Petersen. He was placed in his grandmother's care.
Robinson was held for investigation of child mistreatment and second-degree murder. A judge set her bail at $2 million
Tuesday. Prosecutors have until Thursday to file charges.
State records show Robinson was investigated on complaints of child neglect in October 2003 and February this year. Two complaints in September 2002 were not investigated.
Phillips - Abused as a child, is damaged for life
Behind an Athlete's Strange Spiral
Friends have trouble reconciling the ex-NFL player's behavior with the man they know.
By Valerie Reitman and Robin Fields
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
September 10, 2005
He strode into a Las Vegas secondhand shop at lunchtime early last year and offered to sell his ring for $20.
The owner of Steve's Buy & Sell needed only a brief glance to surmise the identity of the muscular man on the other side of his counter. The engraved "Nebraska Football," "Big 8 Championship," "13-0" and "L. Phillips" gave him away.
Steve Gibson stood face to face with Lawrence Phillips, one of the best running backs ever at the University of Nebraska, and one of the greatest busts in the National Football League.
"Dude, you don't want to sell your Big 8 championship ring," Gibson recalled telling Phillips, who was no longer playing for any team. "Let me just give you the $20."
Phillips' pride wouldn't let him take a handout. Gibson handed him $20, then sold the ring on EBay for $1,725 after a barrage of bids from folks with screen names such as "CornhuskerRed."
The athlete seemed well into a downward spiral, to be hawking such an important symbol of his past — for such a paltry sum.
Two weeks ago, he landed hard. Phillips was accused of driving onto a field across from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum into a crowd of teenagers with whom he had just played a pickup game. A witness said he seemed to snap after realizing that his wallet was missing and accused the teens of stealing it.
Phillips, 30, was already on the lam from San Diego police for allegedly battering his live-in girlfriend and stealing her car — the same one he is accused of using to ram the kids in Exposition Park.
Now he is in Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles, facing charges including assault with a deadly weapon and child abuse in the L.A. case. He has pleaded not guilty. He has declined to comment, and his attorney did not return repeated calls.
To many who follow football, this latest episode cemented Phillips' image as a man whose athletic prowess had won him chance after chance, while personal demons kept using them up.
Friends saw signs of despair in his public meltdown, irreconcilable with the often charming, smart and generous man they know.
"It sounds to me like he's hit rock bottom and he's asking to be disciplined," said Houston Texan quarterback Tony Banks, who played with Phillips on the St. Louis Rams.
Thomas Penegar Jr., Phillips' closest friend since they met as 12-year-olds at a West Covina group home, said a childhood tinged with neglect and abuse had left Phillips unable to tolerate even a hint of humiliation.
"When you grow up in a group home," Penegar said, "the last thing you want is for somebody to make fun of you."
Phillips was named Lawrence after a father he hardly knew, friends say. He spent his early years with his mother in South Los Angeles and Inglewood.
At 11 he entered the foster care system, after clashing with his mother's abusive live-in boyfriend, and stopped attending school, Penegar and a former school administrator said.
He skipped most of fifth grade and was shuttled from a foster home to a juvenile detention center and, finally, to the group home, said Ty Pagone, a former assistant principal at Baldwin Park High School.
At the home, Phillips and Penegar found discipline, structure, decent food and each other — in as close to a family-like environment as they'd ever get.
"We loved that place," Penegar said. " … We knew once we were emancipated from it, nobody was going to do anything for us."
Penegar read poorly before entering the home. Phillips helped him with homework and never ridiculed him for mispronouncing words, said Penegar, who eventually went on to earn a college degree.
The home's owners, two sisters, steered Phillips into sports, particularly football.
Tony Zane, then a coach at Baldwin Park High, took Phillips in hand as well, picking him up for school each day at 7:15 a.m.
"You could tell there were some issues from his past, but he didn't talk about them," Zane recalled. "He was a regular kid, a nice kid with a good work ethic."
Pagone said Phillips was well-mannered, smart and hard-working. Pagone and his wife, Christine, hosted at their home the many recruiters who came to woo him after he led Baldwin Park to the 1991 Southern Section Division IV championship.
Phillips landed in the storied University of Nebraska football program in Lincoln, where he got off to a rocky start. He missed the first game after being suspended for fighting with a teammate, according to some newspaper accounts.
But he soon became a breakout star and, heading into his junior season, a contender for the Heisman Trophy.
Hours after leading Nebraska to a 50-10 rout of Michigan State, however, Phillips was awakened by a phone call in the predawn hours of Sept. 10, 1995. A female friend told Phillips that his girlfriend was cheating on him with a teammate, a backup quarterback, according to Pagone's and Penegar's recollections of Phillips' account.
Enraged, Phillips rushed to the quarterback's apartment, climbed up to the third-floor balcony and entered through unlocked sliding glass doors to find the pair in bed, Pagone and Penegar said.
According to police, Phillips pulled the woman by the hair downstairs and bashed her head into a mailbox.
Phillips pleaded no contest to charges of trespassing and misdemeanor assault, generating national headlines. He was sentenced to one year's probation and received mandatory anger-management counseling and therapy.
He said little publicly beyond an apologetic university-issued statement until he called in unexpectedly to an Omaha radio show. "I reacted without thinking," he told listeners. "I'm here to pay my debt."
Friends said they believe Phillips was deeply humiliated not only by what he considered a betrayal, but by being publicly spurned in favor of a lesser player who was white (as was his girlfriend).
He also told them he did not smash her head, but rather his own hand, into the mailbox.
Pagone now wonders whether the incident — and Phillips' seeming inability to live it down — triggered the self-destructive behavior that followed.
"I don't excuse it," Pagone said. "But no one knows how they'll react when they walk in on a girlfriend, a wife or a spouse with someone else…. He cared for this girl, I can tell you that for a fact."
Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne initially dismissed Phillips from the team after the attack, then relented and meted out a six-game suspension — a decision that drew the ire of women's rights groups.
Katherine Redmond — then a student at Nebraska and later founder of the nonprofit National Coalition Against Violent Athletes — said Phillips and society would have been better served if he had been sacked entirely.
"They took a very troubled kid and gave him protection from accountability," she said.
Once reinstated, Phillips rushed for 165 yards and three touchdowns to help Nebraska win a national championship game.
The St. Louis Rams chose him as their first-round pick in the 1996 draft, sixth overall, despite a pre-draft psychological evaluation that concluded he had "maturity" issues.
Problems surfaced before Phillips even finalized his contract.
Driving home from a nightclub with friends, he was stopped on the Pomona Freeway for speeding, then charged with drunk driving.
His gold Mercedes was clocked going 78 mph in a 65-mph zone on a flat tire, and his blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit.
Before he could be handcuffed, Phillips pulled off his Nebraska championship ring and threw it in the dirt, apparently angry because he had violated his probation from the Nebraska assault. He spent 23 days in jail.
Phillips never fulfilled his promise with the Rams, or any other NFL team.
Unproductive on the field and disruptive off of it, he was cut by St. Louis in late 1997. He was then signed by the Miami Dolphins.
But not long after, he was charged with hitting a woman in a Florida nightclub.
Press accounts, including The Times', said Phillips punched the woman after she refused to dance with him. Penegar said Phillips told him that, while dancing, another man deliberately bumped into him and that when Phillips asked the man to stop, the woman got between them and taunted Phillips.
He pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery and received six months' probation. He was cut from the team.
Banks, his former teammate on the Rams, said he had seen people provoke Phillips in similar situations, perhaps because his volatility was "such an open book."
"He'd be challenged when he was out," Banks said. "I would let it roll off. Lawrence would respond differently. He would say something back."
Banks said he never saw Phillips become violent. When he read about incidents in the paper, he would think, "The Lawrence that is written about is not the Lawrence I know."
Phillips did have tremendous pride, however.
Penegar said Phillips believed that the only running back who was better than he was Detroit Lions Hall of Famer Barry Sanders.
Phillips "was a phenomenal talent, and he wanted to be treated that way," Banks said. "He felt he deserved a certain amount of respect when he hadn't necessarily earned it."
In 1999, there were signs that Phillips was turning his life around.
He went to NFL Europe to show that he could still play, winning offensive player of the year with the Barcelona Dragons.
He transformed himself, losing 30 pounds, becoming a vegetarian, giving up alcohol and committing himself to religion.
Impressed, the San Francisco 49ers signed him to a two-year, multimillion-dollar deal.
"What it boils down to: The NFL is a business," said former Miami Dolphin receiver Yatil Green, who grew close to Phillips when they were recovering from knee injuries together. "They don't go on charm…. They go on talent and potential."
Phillips showed some flashes of his former brilliance, but lasted just five months with the 49ers.
He reportedly ignored instruction from running backs coach Tom Rathman, a former Cornhusker himself, and refused to run practice plays as his playing time dwindled. And he missed a key block in a game that resulted in a sack that ended quarterback Steve Young's career.
Phillips had reveled in his initial taste of NFL wealth, but financial security proved elusive.
According to Penegar, Phillips lent money to friends and bought a house and car for his mother. He tipped big at restaurants and handed $20 bills to homeless people. He bought fine suits, his name sewn in the pockets, and plenty of shoes.
His behavior problems, however, were costly.
A legal settlement with his Nebraska girlfriend, as well as fines and a $1-million bonus he forfeited after being dumped by the 49ers, cut into his earnings.
By 2000, Phillips was at loose ends.
He moved to a Beverly Hills apartment with a girlfriend he had met in San Francisco. He told Penegar that she refused to move out after they broke up, that he removed her belongings from the apartment and that she became hysterical.
Phillips pleaded no contest to felony charges of assault and making a terrorist threat and was sentenced to six months in jail and three years' probation.
Even so, he again found work in his sport, playing two seasons in the Canadian Football League.
Although he became one of the league's premier running backs, he was released by Montreal for failing to meet "minimum behavioral standards" and cut by Calgary for disrupting practice and arguing with a coach.
"When we talk, it always seems like he's turning the corner," Banks said. "In Canada, it seemed like he turned the corner. He told me, 'I'm more a company man, a "yes sir, no sir" man, and then I'd read about something in the paper.' "
By the time Phillips sold his Nebraska championship ring, he was living in Las Vegas, working out and vowing to make another run at the NFL, Penegar said.
Last fall, Phillips joined the coaching staff at St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, N.C., as a volunteer assistant.
Green last saw Phillips at a party in San Diego in March and was struck anew by how much he enjoyed his presence.
"Very witty, lot of street sense, and that's why, to me, it's appalling that these incidents keep occurring," Green said.
Phillips was living in San Diego at least part time, staying with a girlfriend. He attacked her twice within two weeks in August, punching and choking her hard enough to leave bruises around her neck, said San Diego Police Sgt. Dan Cerar, leading to assault and other charges. Phillips has not entered a plea.
A week after the second alleged attack, he showed up at the park outside the Coliseum. At some point during the pickup football game with local teens, Phillips realized that his wallet and possibly his necklace were missing, according to Anthony Byooe, 14, who said he was there.
Phillips accused the boys of taking it. "He was cool till that happened," Byooe said. "My friends are kind of crafty, and they can get in your pockets without you knowing it."
Phillips became incensed. He retrieved his car from the lot next door, drove it up over the curb and straight for two of the youths, witnesses said.
After hitting them, the witnesses said, he drove straight for another, hitting him too. One of the teenagers was thrown onto the car's hood.
Terrified parents rounded up boys in a youth league playing nearby, fearful that Phillips was coming after them. Instead, he did a U-turn, drove straight back down the field and roared off.
Though the boys escaped major injury, Phillips' behavior has left his friends shaking their heads. "I definitely think he needs some help at this point." Zane said. "I don't know if it's anger or frustration, but he needs some help."
Pagone said he's so upset that he doesn't know if he'll visit Phillips in jail. "In my heart, it's going to be hard, because I don't condone what he did," Pagone said. "Are we going to keep making excuses for the guy or say this is where you're going to have to be for the next several years?"
Penegar, who works in construction in Las Vegas, has put aside $3,000 for Phillips' legal defense and is asking other friends to contribute.
Phillips could face more than 13 years in prison if convicted in the Los Angeles case; he could face an additional 15 years on the San Diego charges. He appeared in court Aug. 23 in a prison-issue shirt and denim shorts, his hands shackled to his sides, and is being held in lieu of $350,000 bail. He is being represented by a public defender, because he apparently has no money for an attorney.
"He got all the chances a person could get," Penegar lamented. "But at the same time, he couldn't change who he was and his reactions to a situation. He wouldn't just walk away. You couldn't pay that man to walk away. That's the part that makes me cry."
Times staff writers Martin Henderson, Ann Simmons, Ben Bolch and Sam Farmer contributed to this report.< < Return to Top
Anderson - Victim's Resolve Brings Down a Star of Science
By Peter Y. Hong
Times Staff Writer
August 20, 2006
The girl set the showdown for the oak-shaded lawn in front of the South Pasadena public library, a lovely spot for an ugly encounter.
She was a high school student with a painful secret that surfaced on her wrists, scarred where she had cut herself.
He was William French Anderson, world-renowned scientist, the father of gene therapy and a martial arts expert with law enforcement connections from the FBI to the chief of his hometown police department in San Marino.
But he couldn't handle the girl.
"God damn it, you're like whining!" she barked.
He said he was sorry, again and again. "I will love you forever," he told her. He was 67; she was 17.
"I just did it — just something inside me was something just evil," he said.
"Why did you molest me?" she demanded. He said he didn't know.
The girl challenged him. "Are you guilty enough to turn yourself in, huh?"
No. That would damage, he said, "all the people who ironically look up to me as a model of the right way to live, people in Oklahoma [his native state]."
These words, captured by a police wire the girl wore during that 2004 encounter, were part of the evidence that helped convict Anderson on child molestation charges in July.
In her first media interview, the girl described how, after years of denial, she got herself to take on — and eventually take down — one of the biggest stars in medicine.
"I realized he could repeat what he did to me. He could do it to somebody else," the girl, now a college student, told a reporter last week in the office of her lawyer, Mary Fulginiti. She spoke on condition of anonymity.
She said she told herself, "If you can't find the strength to do it for yourself, then do it for someone else."
Anderson is in custody and could not be interviewed for this story. His lawyer, Barry Tarlow, said he would comply with the judge's order not to speak to the media about the case.
During his trial, Anderson testified that he might have emotionally abused the girl by pushing her too hard to do well in school and sports, but he said the sexual abuse claims were a vicious lie. He had cared deeply about her, he said. Defense lawyers argued that the girl's mother, Anderson's employee, wanted to usurp the scientist's position as chief of a gene therapy lab at USC.
Anderson had a difficult childhood, which in some ways paralleled that of the girl.
Born in Tulsa, Okla., to an engineer father and journalist mother, Anderson was an unpopular stutterer a year younger and inches shorter than his classmates, according to a 2003 biography by Bob Burke and Barry Epperson titled "W. French Anderson: Father of Gene Therapy."
As he recalled in the book, he obnoxiously pointed out his superior intelligence.
A few elders, including his grade school principal and the head of a summer boy's camp, helped him improve his speech and social skills. By high school, he was a top middle-distance runner and a star in debate and drama as well as academics.
He was admitted to Harvard, where he flourished. Only a pulled hamstring kept him from the 1960 Olympic trials as a runner, his biography states. Academically, he did well enough to win a university scholarship for graduate study at Cambridge, where he met Kathryn Dorothy Duncan, a British undergraduate, in an anatomy class. They married on her graduation day and moved on to Harvard for medical school.
Photographs from the period show a strikingly attractive young couple. Kathy looked like Grace Kelly playing a doctor; her charm offset French's lingering traces of awkwardness.
His wife called him "socially underdeveloped," according to his biography. When they entertained at their home, "French played in the pool with the children while the adults chatted," the book noted.
The Andersons told biographers they decided within a few years of their marriage to devote their lives to medicine instead of having children. Kathy became a pediatric surgeon, while Anderson, in 1965, joined the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.
Genetic engineering was in its infancy, and the thought of using it to cure human diseases was seen more as science fiction than as science by many.
Anderson nevertheless worked feverishly on first establishing its credibility, then making genetic therapy a reality. Each half day, he charted how he spent his time and gave himself a score: two points for research, one point for speeches and journal reading, zero points for administration or non-science.
In the late 1980s, Anderson and his collaborators performed an experimental implant of a harmless bacterial gene into a human. In their 1995 book "Altered Fates: Gene Therapy and the Retooling of Human Life," journalists Jeff Lyon and Peter Gorner compared that scientific achievement with jet airplanes breaking the sound barrier.
In September 1990, Anderson and two colleagues implanted a healthy gene to correct 4-year-old Ashanti DeSilva's defective immune system. Lyon and Gorner called the procedure "arguably the most audacious medical experiment in history, the first U.S. government-sponsored attempt to reprogram the genetic code of a living human being."
Whether the operation or later medical treatment saved DeSilva's life is now in dispute. The media then, however, hailed Anderson as the man who bested nature, the closest thing to playing God.
Critics, however, said he took too much credit for achievements in which other scientists shared.
In 1992, Anderson announced that he was leaving the NIH, his scientific home for 27 years. He was moving to Los Angeles, he said, for his wife.
Passed over for the chairmanship of the surgery department of the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., she accepted the surgery chair at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. She later settled a sex-discrimination lawsuit against her former employer.
Anderson founded the Gene Therapy Laboratories at USC. A year later, he hired a cardiologist from China who, according to Anderson's biography, "was awed by French's humility and his mission." She was the girl's mother.
"She told me he was a prominent person, a great person," the girl recalled in the interview. "My mom told me to be really polite to him."
But gene therapy failed to meet the heightened expectations that followed Anderson's early success, and his lab at USC had lost most of its funding by 2003 and was set to close, even before he was accused of any crimes.
Since his early days at NIH, Anderson's chief diversion from intense lab work was an equally intense interest in taekwondo and other martial arts. He became a black belt and served as the U.S. taekwondo team's physician. News photographs showed him breaking boards with his fists. He later taught martial arts to children.
Without children of their own, the Andersons had long taken on what they called "surrogate children," guiding nine through college and in some cases medical school.
In Los Angeles, the girl became Anderson's next protege. Like him, she had early speech problems, talking only to her more outgoing twin sister in their own language.
The girl learned English in school but continued to let her twin speak for her. She had few friends and had been acting up at school.
Her mother believed that she would blossom under Anderson's guidance, and he agreed.
He began teaching her karate when she was 9 and later drove her to soccer and softball practice. He also arranged speech therapy for her and told her mother he would prepare her to possibly attend Harvard.
By all outward appearances, the girl was thriving in elementary and middle school. Asked in one school assignment to name five things that made her special, she said, "I know French Anderson personally."
Beneath the surface, however, Anderson was more of a buddy than mentor, the girl said during the interview. "He told me I could slack off in middle school because nobody would look at those grades [for college admission]," she said.
Anderson, who portrayed himself as never smoking or drinking, offered her alcohol and let her drive his car without a license, she testified during the molestation trial.
Anderson at trial said it never happened.
The girl was swinging playfully on a large hanging punching bag when he first touched her crotch, she testified.
Later, he would ask her to undress for "medical exams," weighing her and touching her private parts, she said from the witness stand.
The worst abuse happened in the summers, when Anderson would disrobe, have her undress to her underwear and lie on a towel on the bed, she testified. She told jurors she would read Garfield comics while he thrust against her until he ejaculated.
The abuse stopped in ninth grade, after she began resisting more strongly, she testified. But their close relationship continued.
The girl lived with her family in a simple hillside house in South Pasadena, a short drive from Anderson's much grander residence, a spacious Cape Cod on a row of mansions across from the Huntington library and gardens. The twins built a tree house in Anderson's backyard and had their friends over for get-togethers. Anderson bought the girl her prom dress.
During her sophomore year in high school, after the abuse had stopped, according to a police report, the girl took a friend to her basement and showed her a three-page letter describing the abuse. After the friend read it, the girl tore it up, the report said.
She swore the friend to secrecy and said she would "lie through her teeth" if police found out, the report added.
The girl later testified that she cared for Anderson and felt "he didn't understand the extent that he had hurt me. And, I mean, he was this well-respected man that so many people look up to."
Teammates and coaches, however, witnessed her angry outbreaks during practices. A teacher noticed her distress and sent the girl to the school counselor, according to court documents.
At first, she refused to detail her problem. Then she said a friend of hers had been molested. Finally, after several meetings, she told the counselor that she had been molested by her mother's boss but didn't want it reported, she testified.
The counselor, as required by state law, told police anyway.
When the mother arrived home to find her daughter speaking to police, she telephoned the family's most-trusted advisor: French Anderson.
At first, the girl told officers there was no molestation. The counselor was wrong. Eventually, she confided the abuse.
By this time, the girl had cut off personal contact with Anderson. He sent her e-mails begging to see her. She didn't have to talk to him or even acknowledge him, he wrote, he could just watch her at a soccer game.
"I would park in the back on Meridian, arrive just at the start, go up into the stands on the far right and sit by myself, never approach the field or make any contact, and leave right away at the end without talking to anybody," he pleaded in e-mails presented during the trial.
She testified that she sent him e-mails asking him why he had abused her and insisting that he admit what he had done.
Anderson, also testifying in court, said his e-mail replies addressed emotional, not sexual, abuse. In one e-mail, he wrote he was considering suicide:
"If I saw you and your whole family destroyed, and my whole career down the tubes, and all the thousands of people abandoned who would have been helped by cures your mother and I are developing, then I can understand what would drive a person to suicide…. For me, a powerful 9-millimeter bullet through the side of the head would be the way to go."
Directed by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies, who were given the case because of Anderson's connections to the San Marino police force, the girl demanded the library meeting the Thursday before the Fourth of July weekend in 2004.
Anderson testified in his trial that his statements at the library were not sincere, that he was trying to tell the girl what she wanted to hear so he could get away. Afterward, French and Kathryn Anderson signed a joint letter to the San Marino department, whose chief had sent his two young children to the Anderson home for karate lessons.
The 3 1/2 -page, single-spaced letter speculated that the girl might be preparing to extort them: "If she has also descended into street drug use, then she may need money…. How do we protect ourselves from an extortion attempt? What should we do?"
Four weeks later, Anderson was arrested and released on bail, then arrested six months later, when a Maryland man claimed that Anderson had molested him 20 years earlier. Anderson was charged then with abusing the boy, but Maryland prosecutors eventually dropped the case.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury on July 19 found Anderson guilty of four counts of continuous sex abuse and lewd acts toward a child under 14.
Anderson is undergoing psychological tests in prison in preparation for his Nov. 17 sentencing. Kathryn Anderson no longer lives in the house she had shared with her husband of 45 years. It was sold in May.
Anderson faces up to 22 years in prison, perhaps a life sentence for a man now 69 years old.
The girl says that her abuse could pain her forever. But the injury has also strengthened her sense of purpose. Powerfully built, she tells her story confidently. She is a soccer star at a prestigious college.
She says she wants to tell other victims to fight back, even against powerful people whom they may have cared for. "A lot of things were shattered," she said in her interview. She had to accept that "a person I had trusted my whole life was not a good person."
But she also found "so many people came to my side; they helped me realize the world's a good place."
Others should know, she says, "you do not have to be a victim forever."< < Return to Top
Olsen - Ontario Substitute Teacher, Tells Police He Abused ManyA substitute instructor says to officers that he molested from 100 to 200 girls. He has taught in at least 13 Southland districts
By Ashley Powers and Sara Lin
Times Staff Writers
August 5, 2006
A substitute teacher arrested on suspicion of molesting a 10-year-old girl at an Ontario school told police this week that he had molested 100 to 200 other female elementary school students while teaching in Riverside, San Bernardino and Kern counties during the last three years, authorities said Friday.
Eric Norman Olsen, 28, who has worked for at least 13 Southern California school districts, is expected to be charged with three counts of committing lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14, a felony, after telling detectives that he had inappropriately touched the girl in a class for students with learning disabilities, said San Bernardino County Deputy Dist. Atty. Jason Anderson.
Authorities are also investigating a report of a girl who said she was inappropriately touched by Olsen when she was 6 and a student in the Central School District in Rancho Cucamonga, but the Ontario student is the only confirmed victim, they said.
Several students at Berlyn Elementary School told investigators that, in June, Olsen had caressed the girl on the hand and reached under her shirt and touched her back when she walked to his desk with questions about her assignments, Anderson said.
Olsen also invited the student to sit on his lap during story time, said Ontario-Montclair School District officials.
When the girl said she didn't feel comfortable doing so, students said, Olsen lifted her into his lap anyway, said Supt. Sharon McGehee.
The teacher told investigators he had touched the girl to become sexually aroused, police said.
Students in a class described as a mix of fourth- to sixth-graders alerted another teacher to Olsen's alleged behavior.
Olsen, who lives alone at an Ontario apartment complex, is being held at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga in lieu of $2-million bail.
In what was at least Olsen's second interview with investigators, he made the claim about inappropriately touching other students, said Ontario Det. Diane Galindo.
Authorities have contacted schools and law enforcement agencies in other counties.
"I just don't know how that person would have that many opportunities over three years with most classrooms full of glass and windows," said Jim Varley, who is a spokesman for the Kern County Office of Education.
"I hope he was bragging," he added.
Outside Berlyn Elementary, in a residential neighborhood, parents gathered with their children to check their class schedules.
Someone had posted cardboard signs, one of which read, "He Must Die."
At least 13 school districts confirmed Friday that Olsen had worked for them, but none had received a similar complaint about him.
A principal at another school had spoken to Olsen at least once for having students stand too close to him, but there were no allegations regarding inappropriate touching, said McGehee.
At the Fontana Unified School District, where officials said Olsen taught 45 days last school year, educators were unnerved that he could pass the required fingerprinting and background checks.
"We're kind of in shock, to be very honest," said Supt. Jane Smith.
Olsen's former landlord, who considers him a friend, described the substitute teacher as a quiet man who wanted to become a commercial pilot and get married.
"I would have put my hand in the fire for him. He was that good, that nice…. Maybe he's making it up," said Marge Simon, 83, who rented her renovated garage to Olsen for two years.
Olsen considered teaching a way to pay the rent while he trained to be a pilot, she said.
Records show he was certified to fly private planes.
Olsen, who was raised in Bakersfield, was fluent in Spanish and had studied music, Simon said.
He longed for close friends and to get married, becoming distraught a year or so ago when one girlfriend ended their relationship, she said.
Olsen wanted children, Simon said.
He was childlike in demeanor, she said, pointing to his frequent trips to Disneyland and to his bed, covered in children's sheets with starfish.
"I said, 'Aren't you too old for that?' " Simon recalled.
"He said, 'I like it.' He was in his own dream world — he saw everything as good and bright."
Ontario police are asking anyone with information to call (909) 395-2764.< < Return to Top
Peterson - High School Coach pleads guilty to four felonies including rape
Update on HS Coach Sex Scandal #76 - Last week this just looked like another interesting story. Now, after extensive work by the Detroit Free Press comes a much clearer, and creepier, story of former Tecumseh High School (Michigan) track coach Matthew Peterson, a top candidate for our "Bad Coach of the Year Award." As you may have already read, "Coach Pete" as he liked to have the kids call him (or his hip-hop name of "the Dizzle"), is now in jail after he was able to cut a deal with authorities where he plead guilty to four felonies, including distributing pornography to children. Originally Peterson, 33, faced a whopping 32 charges related to sex parties that were held at his house, including accessory to rape. You really need to read the full article to understand all of this,
- but among the things he's accused of are:
- - Grooming leaders (his "Face Men") and buying their loyalty with the use of his car and the keys to his house and its fully stocked basement bar and outside hot tub.
- - Encouraging and then videotaping the sexual exploits of his "Face Men" the top male jocks at the school.
- - Supplying boxing gloves during track practices, and encouraging the big kids to pummel smaller ones, sometimes until they bled.
- - Sneaking sophomores into a freshman-only race.
- - Offering $100 to a special education student to coax him into drinking a Gatorade bottle filled with urine. Fortunately, the boy refused.
- - Inviting a female student her to join their exclusive club -- and that all she had to do to get in was perform oral sex on him.
The worst part about all of this? According to the Free Press investigation, which was based on thousands of pages of police and court records, police evidence photos and dozens of interviews, school officials and some parents allegedly knew for months, even years, that Peterson was corrupting the teens. (Free Press)
Additional Fallout From This Story: Michigan State Football Player Sentenced for Related Sex Assault - One of Coach Peterson's prized "Face Men", MSU defensive back Cole Corey, was sentenced yesterday to prison for 2 to 10 years on a felony drug charge. The judge in the case, Harvey Koselka called the crime far worse by an accompanying assault that he labeled "a serious and horrific sex crime." Corey, who was just kicked off the Spartan football team on Thursday, and another male athlete at Tecumseh High, allegedly got a 17-year-old female student drunk and sexually assaulted her repeatedly after consuming large amounts of alcohol and the drug Ecstacy. (Free Press)