Jailbait

Frank Rodriguez faces a lifetime on Texas’ sex offender registry for having sex with a 16-year-old—who is now his wife. He’s not alone.

Hardly, says Phil Taylor, a licensed sex offender treatment provider in Dallas. "We don't have an independent judiciary. We have politicians in black robes," he says. Adds Michele Esparza, an attorney from Bryan who represented Mike Brandhuber, "I have seen numerous cases where the parents allow the dating to go on and then there's a breakup, they have sex or there's a pregnancy...and the parents press charges," she says. "And the prosecutors accept these cases.

"The legislators have to address this problem. The application of the law is unfair."

And the registry, Esparza says, is "unconstitutional."

Frank and Nikki Rodriguez of Caldwell live a normal life--except that Frank must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. His crime: having sex with Nikki when she was 16 and he was 19. Though the sex was consensual, Texas considers him guilty of felony sexual assault of a child.
Mark Graham
Frank and Nikki Rodriguez of Caldwell live a normal life--except that Frank must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. His crime: having sex with Nikki when she was 16 and he was 19. Though the sex was consensual, Texas considers him guilty of felony sexual assault of a child.
The Rodriguezes have three daughters: Analissa, 4; Francesca, 3; and Layla, 1. When Frank was on probation, he had to move out of his parents' home--because his younger siblings lived there.
Mark Graham
The Rodriguezes have three daughters: Analissa, 4; Francesca, 3; and Layla, 1. When Frank was on probation, he had to move out of his parents' home--because his younger siblings lived there.


Diane Estell placed her lawn chair in the grass. Before her, playing soccer in a Plano park on that Labor Day weekend in 1993, was Brett, her 12-year-old. Behind her, playing on the jungle gym, was Ashley, Diane's 7-year-old. Diane later said she waved at Ashley; Ashley waved back; Diane returned her focus to Brett's game. Moments later, she turned back toward Ashley. But Ashley was gone.

Roughly 1,000 people looked for her; some searched well into the night. The next day, Ashley's body was found on a dirt road about six miles from the park. Days later, police arrested Michael Blair, a 23-year-old from Dallas with a history of pedophilia. According to newspaper reports from Blair's trial in Midland, it took jurors 27 minutes to find him guilty of capital murder--an hour and a half more to sentence him to death.

By 1997, state Senator Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) had pushed through perhaps the toughest sex offender registration laws in the nation. With each subsequent legislative session, Shapiro's "Ashley's Laws" became more stringent. Among their requirements: mandating sex offenders include their names, photos and home addresses in a registry that's posted online; lifetime registration for nearly all convicted or adjudicated adult sex offenders; requiring sex offenders to publish their whereabouts in a newspaper at their expense; requiring sex offenders, upon moving to a new city, to notify the neighbors through postcards with the postage at a sex offender's expense.

Pending in the state Senate is House Bill 867, which would require DNA samples from all sex offenders. It would also require high-risk offenders to mail postcards of their status to nearby businesses. Yet just as DNA evidence now casts doubt on the guilt of Michael Blair, HB 867 is a bill, more than anything, in response to critics--from conservatives to liberals, from those defending the accused to those protecting the victims--who say the registry is bloated with first-time offenders who pose no risk to the public, who say law enforcement agencies are stretched thin tracking them. So in addition to the rigors mentioned above, HB 867 would also apply a more dynamic set of testing to separate the pedophiles from the Frank Rodriguezes of Texas. Currently, "a sex offender is a sex offender is a sex offender," says Tim Bray, a criminologist at the University of Texas at Dallas. They aren't separated in the registry by the nature of their offenses. Only the offense itself is registered, making it impossible to know how many offenders were, in fact, participants in consensual sex.

"Five to 10 percent [of sex offenders] are predatory in nature," says Allison Taylor, the executive director of the Council on Sex Offender Treatment, which would oversee dynamic testing should 867 pass. "So why are you running around after the kid who had willing sex with his girlfriend?"

Taylor's giddy about 867. "This bill would allow the state to begin to research deregistration and the mechanisms to do it," she writes via e-mail.

Deregistration isn't an option yet for guys like Rodriguez--and may never be, not while Texas is tied to the Jacob Wetterling Act, a federal law that gives out grant money to states in exchange for stringent sex offender regulations. In 2004, Texas received $32 million in Wetterling money. If the state loosened its sex offender requirements, it could lose $3.2 million a year.

The irony here is that Texas exceeds the requirements of the Wetterling Act. The act says 10 years after he has finished probation, a sex offender doesn't have to register if he meets two conditions: 1) he took a deferred adjudication plea for the charge of his sexual offense; and 2) he's stayed out of trouble since then.

One could therefore make the argument that if Texas loosens its guidelines for guys like Rodriguez, it could still receive federal money. But the 2004 Select Interim Committee on Sex Offender Statutes doesn't think so. Or, at least, it doesn't want to take the chance applying the argument. The committee writes, "A general exemption from registration would likely cost the state $3.2 million."

Which is too bad for Frank Rodriguez. His oldest daughter's 5 now. Soon, she'll want to have sleepovers; Frank worries about the sleepovers. What if she invites girls whose parents don't know him? What if these parents check the registry? What if they come across Frank's name? What if the parents tell their daughters they can no longer play with Frank's daughter? What if Frank's daughter is ostracized? What if kids call her names on the playground for something her daddy did before she was born?

What if Frank's not the only one marked for life?

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