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.

He had to move out of his parents' place because his younger siblings lived there. He couldn't watch his younger brothers play football, because minors were present at football games. He couldn't go to a public park, a playground or a pool. He had to go to sex offender therapy. But worst of all, he couldn't have contact with his girlfriend, Nikki, until she turned 17.

For a year, Frank did nothing, just stayed in the trailer behind his parents' house, his new home. Just stayed there and thought about what he did to deserve this and whether Nikki still loved him. He says today he can relate to William wanting to escape. "I could see why the person would want to get away, to find an out," Frank says. "For a year, I didn't want to do nothing. Just hide from the world."

Frank lost 100 pounds during his time without Nikki. What pulled him through was a high school buddy, an old football teammate, who stopped Frank in the grocery story one night to say, "Nikki says 'Hi.'"

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.

"What?" Frank said.

"Nikki said to tell you hi."

Frank didn't know what to say. He couldn't say enough.

"Tell her I love her and I miss her and I can't wait to see her."

And that's how Frank and Nikki communicated for the remaining three months of Nikki's 16th year: through friends.

On Nikki's 17th birthday she moved in with Frank. Two years later, and with four years of probation left for Frank, they married.

Both the Brandhubers and Rodriguezes say they'd like to move out of Caldwell now. But a move's out of the question because of the registry, because of their fear of vigilantism on the part of new neighbors, who don't want to listen to their stories, who want only to assume. In Caldwell, "everybody knows our situation," Frank says. It's for this reason, reluctantly, that the Rodriguezes will stay. It's for the same reason that the Brandhubers will, too.


The outrage rises, then plateaus, then rises again. For five hours and 50 minutes, these 15 mothers and fathers wait to testify before the Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence in Austin. As they wait, there seems to be nothing else to talk about but the fate of their sons, sex offenders all.

On the agenda today, April 19, is an unlikely bill from a conservative freshman representative. House Bill 1641 by Representative Jim Jackson would allow a jury trial for a sex offender if he is led to believe the minor (in most cases, the girl) is 17.

"This isn't the sort of bill I would normally carry," he would later say, but "there's got to be some equity" in the law.

He's concerned a high school senior could become a sex offender by dating a sophomore. Yet the larger concern is that the senior wouldn't know he did anything illegal until he was charged.

Indeed, Suzanne Marchman, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, says Planned Parenthood can get permission to hand out condoms across the street from a high school, but as far as she knows, no school's discussed the repercussions of teenagers having sex if more than 36 months separate the two. "I think it's something that hasn't been broached yet," she says.

Phil Taylor, the licensed sex offender treatment provider in Dallas, says, "It just amazes the fool out of me that more high school seniors aren't arrested."

Amazes Kristina Winkelman, too. She's a 20-year-old who's already graduated from Baylor and is serving as an aide to state Representative Jerry Madden of Plano before starting law school. She wrote most of Madden's House Bill 2385, which says a guy charged with sexual assault of a minor has a defense if he's under 20 and the girl's 14 or older.

She's an advocate of women's rights but wrote this bill because "it's normal for a 19-year-old to date a 15-year-old," she says. It's "normal" for those two to have sex.

Madden's bill is heard tonight but left pending in committee.

Rosemary speaks on behalf of Jackson's bill. So does lawyer Arch McColl, who hands to committee members a transcript from a 2002 Dallas County District Court hearing of his, in which he represented a 19-year-old who met what he thought to be another 19-year-old in a chat room.

The girl's user name was "WildNCrazy19." She described how "I love to go to parties and clubs." She listed her hobbies of interest as "parties" and "guys."

She wrote McColl's client sexually toned e-mails. The two got together; the girl's mother came home as they were having sex. The girl told McColl's client, who was still naked, to hide in her bedroom closet. The girl's mother found him there. The girl was 13.

In the transcript from the hearing, I.C. Hale, a Garland Police Department detective assigned to the case, said it can be difficult to tell the physical difference between a 13-year-old girl and a 17-year-old woman.

State District Judge F. Harold Entz Jr. concluded the hearing by saying, "Perhaps as a matter of public policy we should invite the Legislature to evaluate whether or not conduct of an underage female under these circumstances should be made a juvenile offense."

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