Handle With Care

Sex offender David Rivera was willing to do almost anything to stay out of jail. Except masturbate.

During his last session, on August 24, Strain and Rivera began debating whether the program was consistent with Christian beliefs, Rivera later testified. Rivera told Strain his treatment was ungodly--that it made him feel dirty and weak. Strain, seemingly out of patience, told Rivera he didn't want to harm him, so he was letting him out of the program and sending him on his way. When Rivera argued more, Strain refused to back down and ordered him off the property.

Looking back on Rivera's case, Strain says it was obvious that denial was the man's hang-up, not religion. "If he's saying he's in prison because he refused to masturbate, that's not the real story. You have people who admit to doing the offense, then later decide not to admit to it. They come up with all sorts of controversial things to hide behind."

Rivera certainly wasn't admitting much of anything to his new wife.
He didn't talk about his liaison with the underage girl for a long time after they met, Angela says. Once he did, she was convinced of his innocence. "I don't believe he did anything they said."

A waiflike woman with limp straight hair and a perpetual note of sadness in her voice, Angela says it's been tough being involved with a man of so many troubles. "I didn't plan this, it just happened...Maybe it's God's will."

Rivera talked during this time about sin and his treatment program with several counselors at Calvary Cathedral. They voiced concern about the masturbation therapy, but did not intervene. "He came in with his wife and, as I recall, he said he refused to be involved with that kind of treatment," says John Shelton, director of the church's prison outreach. "Personally, I wouldn't want anyone submitted to that."

On September 23, 1995, three weeks after he was officially bounced from the program, Rivera celebrated his 38th birthday at Angela's house in south Fort Worth. They went shopping at Venture, and she fixed his favorite meal--meat loaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans. Then they watched TV. According to the rules, he was forbidden from visiting, but she says, "It was hard to be married and have the state say we couldn't be together." Rivera was raking leaves in her front yard the following day when probation officials picked him up.

Before long, he was standing in front of state District Judge Sharen Wilson and accused of violating his probation by not attending treatment and falling behind in his fees. Around the Tarrant County courts, Wilson has a reputation for being as tough as stainless-steel tubing, and hardly shy about meting out punishment to sex offenders.

During the two-hour hearing, defense lawyer Ted Christopher did his best to highlight his client's religious objections to the treatment.

On the stand, Rivera said again and again that he believed the therapy was ungodly and harmful. "I came for positive training when you sentenced me, ma'am," Rivera told Wilson.

"Listen to me," she snapped. "All of the counseling is exactly the same. What are you going to do?"

"I just hope it's better than what I've been going through," he said. "It's all precisely the same. Everybody has plethysmographs. Everybody has polygraphs, even masturbation satiation...So what are you going to do?"

When Rivera continued to quibble, Wilson said, ominously, "Then there is an alternative."

Minutes later, prosecutor David Hagerman asked for the maximum: 20 years. Wilson gave Rivera 10. He was probably lucky she didn't boot him in his skinny butt as he was led to the jail door.

Asked about Rivera's case now, Wilson needs to be prompted with a few details before she can remember him. What finally sparks her memory is a recollection of hypocrisy. "Didn't he think it was ungodly to have sex with a 14-year-old? Doesn't that seem a little anomalous to you?"

Well, yes. But is it necessary to order people to masturbate?
"We realize this is sex treatment," she says. "But these are sex offenses...It's an extreme treatment for extremely dangerous people."

The idea of conservative Republican Bible Belt judges sentencing prisoners to mandatory masturbation may be more of a political matter than a scientific one. But, as with most things legal, there's more mischief in it than that. As Fort Worth defense attorney Ward Casey puts it, "Can the state of Texas make people jack off because they think this is gonna somehow change them? Or do they have to take their religious views into account and try some other way?"

Rivera's brother, Joel Rios, brought Casey into the picture a week or two after the sentencing, putting $2,500 down and agreeing to pay him $10,000 for his work. The deep-drawling Casey is perhaps best known for getting skinhead Christopher Brosky a probated sentence in 1992 for Brosky's role in the racially motivated slaying of an Arlington black man. (He dressed his heavily tattooed client in a preppy tennis sweater for the trial. The backlash at the sentence was so fierce--10,000 people marched down Main Street in Fort Worth--that prosecutors tried Brosky again on conspiracy charges, and a jury in Galveston gave him 40 years.)

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