By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Albert Samaha
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
Before he was an adult, Scott Emerson Felix was a sexual predator. Before he was a sexual predator, Felix was a tremendously troubled young man who was institutionalized and who once tried suicide.
The long ruin of his life and the damage he did to others began in earnest, he says, when he was about 9 years old. In truth, though, his problems began the day he was born -- Feb. 12, 1961 -- to parents with a dissolving marriage.
Over the last month-and-a-half, Scott Felix has told me about a childhood and adolescence of considerable neglect. He called his mother "a fast-moving liberal lady" who ran in political circles, sang and worked at Glide Memorial Church, sought mystical enlightenment at the Esalen Institute -- briefly marrying its leader, the poet Michael Murphy -- and dated and lived with more men than she can recall. ("There was always men," his mother says wistfully today. "I was so beautiful then.")
According to Felix, "Her needs always came first."
Meanwhile, he was left to the wild winds of the world. As a child, he was packed off each morning at a Sausalito ferry landing -- alone -- to make the long multistep trip to his elementary school in San Francisco. On the ferry, the needy child ran and got beer for people. He also began to seek solace in the foamy brew.
Felix witnessed his mother being raped, according to court records and interviews with him and his mother. He also says he was beaten by some of her many, many boyfriends, one of whom was associated with the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang. He says he witnessed his mother being beaten by her boyfriends, too.
A few weeks ago, he dropped a bombshell on me: He said he was molested by two baby sitters, one a man, one a woman. He told a court-appointed psychiatrist the same thing last year.
He has been a roiling mass of emotional problems for most of his life.
From the hour of his birth until he was 17, when Felix committed his first rape, he was trapped in a chaotic childhood marked with violence and perversity; and, above all, a sense of powerlessness and inability to change his circumstances. It was this sense of impotence, a psychiatrist said later, that led Felix to become a sexual predator, a brute whose only moments of control came when he was raping.
Since he was 17 years old, Scott Felix has been locked up in prisons and jails, with only brief respites on parole. The mastery he sought through rape never came, of course. He merely lost all control over his life, becoming prisoner C30938.
Today, Felix is a 37-year-old adolescent. Emotionally, he is an odd combination of a con-wise criminal and a trembling, needy child. He has been diagnosed with numerous personality disorders.
Felix portrays himself as a man who has sufficiently dealt with his emotional problems; who is sorry as hell for raping and sexually assaulting several women two decades ago; and who is now ready, for the first time in his life, to fold himself peacefully into the rest of humanity, to respect the rights of others. He has told me repeatedly in formal interviews, rambling voice-mail messages, and late-night phone calls that all he wants for himself, now, is a clean and sober life; one that will let him go to Tower of Power shows, walk on the beach, lie on his couch, commanding the television with a remote control, or telephoning Pasquales on Irving for his evening meal. He feels he ought to be allowed to do this. He completed his prison sentence in 1993 and has not committed a sex crime since. He is ready to rebuild the ruins of his life.
The state of California does not want Scott Felix anywhere near the rest of civilized humanity. The state Legislature and the officials who run the penal and mental-health systems say that he's damaged goods, perhaps permanently damaged. They want him off the streets, in a locked psychiatric facility.
State officials say his past is a prologue. They claim he belongs to a special class of dangerous criminals who need to be locked up, even after their prison sentences are completed -- at least for a while, and perhaps forever. These officials are confident that they possess the scientific tools needed to predict that Felix will commit more rapes.
A new law, passed in 1996, allows the state to commit sex offenders to psychiatric institutions after they have finished their prison sentences, and to recommit them for as long as the state deems it proper. Though the law is heading for a challenge before the California Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legal framework for the law when it ruled on a nearly identical Kansas statute.
Felix is just one of several hundred convicted sex criminals who have been entangled in the Welfare and Institutions Code, Article 4, Sections 6600 through 6609.3, also known as the Sexually Violent Predator Act.
And he's as mad as a hornet about it. "When do I get to close up all the coffins?" he raged over the phone, late one night to me. "When do they stop digging up my graveyard?"
Today, Felix is sitting in San Francisco's County Jail No. 1, on the sixth floor of the Hall of Justice, awaiting his second court hearing under the sexually violent predator law.
Felix completed his prison sentence in 1993, having served 11 years on a 19-year, four-month sentence for rape and forced oral copulation in 1982. He was on parole, doing fine, relatively speaking. Then, he relapsed, violating terms of his parole that forbade him from drinking. Arrested for being drunk in public in March of 1996, his parole was revoked and he went to San Quentin for nine months. The sexually violent predator law went into effect just three months before he violated his parole.
Two state psychologists visited him in prison to make evaluations under the new law's guidelines. Applying an amalgam of actuarial studies, textbook psychology, and their own clinical judgment, both deemed Scott Felix to be a sexually violent predator, even though he had not committed a sex crime for 16 years.
Under the new law, their findings and testimony, along with other evidence, were presented to a 12-person jury. That jury was unable to reach agreement, hanging 8-to-4 in favor of committing Felix to a mental institution. The San Francisco District Attorney's Office has decided to submit the matter to another jury. By the time this story hits the stands, Felix will be in the middle of his new trial.
If the new jury agrees with the state, Felix will be confined to Atascadero State Mental Hospital for two years. There, he will be given the opportunity to undergo therapy with sexually violent predators from all over the state, child molesters included. Every year after his commitment, the state will conduct a new evaluation. If Felix is not deemed "cured" of his predatory condition, he will, by his choice, face either a judge or another jury, which will determine if he is to be committed for two more years. And so on. There is no guaranteed date of exit from the state's mental wards once you are locked in under the Sexually Violent Predator Act.
On many levels, the system is rigged in favor of continued incarceration, and is against the possibility that any of the so-called sexual predators will ever be declared cured. One small example: If the two psychiatrists who are sent to evaluate an alleged predator cannot agree -- if only one says the convict is OK for release, for example -- the state gets to pick two more shrinks, and keep on picking until it gets two psychiatrists who agree with each other.
The law also raises difficult civil liberty issues. In ways, it seems to mirror some of the worst aspects of the Soviet penal system. But it's not easy to dismiss the Sexually Violent Predator Act as just another ill-thought-out, tough-on-crime initiative. There are predators in Atascadero right now who probably need to stay there for the unforeseeable future. And Scott Felix isn't the perfect candidate for ACLU sainthood.
In fact, he is the embodiment of the uncertainties and paradoxes inherent in a law that requires human beings to predict the long-term behavior of other human beings.
Felix did terrible things in 1978 and 1982. He was a monster, a hulking bear of a man, fueled by a panoply of narcotics and unresolved anger, prowling the dusky pre-dawn streets of San Francisco looking to violently violate women -- and occasionally succeeding.
Compared to others, though -- compared to some of the truly sick garbage currently doing time in state prison-- Scott Felix is a Boy Scout.
Still, he is at serious risk of prolonged, even permanent incarceration, at Atascadero. "If he goes in," his lawyer, Randy Knox, says somewhat dramatically, "he ain't coming out." And there is no way to be certain that putting him in, or letting him out, is the right thing to do.
Felix saw his first victim before he raped her, but she never saw him. She lived behind his Uncle Mike's house on 48th Avenue in the Sunset.
In the early morning hours of July 21, 1978, Felix broke into her house and raped her. He says he was in a state of drug-induced psychosis. He says it was the PCP, not him so much, that raped the woman. "All I remember is being at Juvenile Hall, being charged with the crime," Felix says. Whatever it was, Felix or the PCP -- or whatever organic combination of the two -- he went back for more, several weeks later. That time, the act was aborted.
Felix was arrested, charged, and found guilty. But at that time he was a juvenile, and was sent to the California Youth Authority, where he spent more than a year.
But by the time he committed his first rape, Felix was already a practiced criminal. He was widely known as a wild Sunset kid. He ran with the ever-expanding and always-metamorphosing gangs that terrorized the neighborhood. After a while, Felix says, the groups devolved into two camps: the soft- and the hard-core. One group just smoked dope and did petty crimes. The other drank, drugged hard, and took its crimes to new heights -- or depths, depending on your perspective. The latter group was more Clockwork Orange-esque, and that's where Felix ended up.
"First it was the 46th Avenue Boys," Felix says. "Then it was the Ninth & Judah Boys, and then it was the West Portal Boys. As time went on it was all just SDI, Sunset District Incorporated. We would get into fights on the beach. We'd sell drugs: pot, coke, PCP, Quaaludes."
Felix first did time as a juvenile for auto theft. It was February 1977, and he was 16. He was declared a ward of the court and made to participate in psychiatric therapy, according to Probation Department records. It was his second fleeting experience with counseling. After he saw his mother raped when he was 11 or 12 (Felix has a hard time remembering exact dates), he was placed in a children's psychiatric facility for several months. A short time later he had an aborted suicide attempt, according to what he told a court-appointed psychiatrist.
Felix was busted again in March 1977 for joy riding, and he served time at Log Cabin Ranch, a San Francisco juvenile facility in La Honda. A month after that, a burglary landed him in the San Francisco Boys Home. Four months went by, and then he was convicted of assault. Back he went to Log Cabin. In August 1977, he was released to his mother's custody, and for nearly a year Felix had no contact with law enforcement.
In July of 1978, at the age of 17, he raped his uncle's neighbor. After he'd finished his Youth Authority sentence for that rape, Felix was convicted again for burglary, in February 1981. An adult at the time, Felix went to state prison. He was paroled in April 1982.
Less than a month after his release, Felix attempted to rape a woman, according to a record of his crimes compiled by the Probation Department, which was provided to SF Weekly by Felix's lawyer. He grabbed the woman off the street and commanded her to "suck him off." She broke free and ran. He was not arrested.
In July Felix went back to prison, having violated his parole on the burglary conviction by using drugs. He was released on Sept. 18, 1982. Within a week, he began a wild, seven-day sex-assault spree. Now, 16 years later, the state believes Felix is not through accounting for those seven days of madness.
Law enforcement records pinpoint the exact moment Felix became a full-fledged sexual predator: At 5:45 a.m. on Sept. 24, 1982, on Judah between 23rd and 24th streets, Scott Felix ran up behind Amy Taggert, grabbed her, and put his hand over her mouth. Taggert started to scream, but Felix threw her to the ground. "Shut your mouth, bitch," he snarled. Felix decided to leave, zipping up his pants and fleeing west on Judah Street.
Less than 20 minutes later, Felix, cruising in his El Camino, spotted Mary Wong, walking along 27th Avenue on her way to a bus stop. Felix jumped out of his car and grabbed Wong, trying to clamp his hand over her mouth. He kept saying, "Be quiet. Be quiet." Wong did nothing of the sort. She broke free and ran screaming.
Six days later, Felix was cruising the aisles of 7-Eleven in the Sunset at 1 a.m., out of his mind, he says, on booze and PCP, and probably a host of other narcotics. Felix approached Ann Mackey, and in a strangely calm voice said, "I want to attack you." She ignored him and went outside with her groceries. Felix snatched them from her and put them in his car. Unwisely, Mackey went in after them, and Felix kidnapped her, driving to the beach with one hand on the wheel and another around Mackey.
At Ocean Beach, Mackey made a run for it. She didn't get far. Felix caught her, threw her on her back, got on top of her, and forced her to orally copulate him. Afterward, he hauled Mackey to his car and drove her to a caretaker's shed in Golden Gate Park, where he raped her repeatedly.
Felix then drove her home, and left her with this chilling thought: He lived nearby, he said, and he was coming back to see her the next night at the same time. Mackey immediately went to the police, but before they could catch him, Felix would strike two more times. And he was growing more violent.
Two days after he raped Mackey, Felix was out on the streets, prowling again in the early morning. This time he approached May Hussein at a bus stop at Second Avenue and Gonzales Drive, near San Francisco State University. He asked her the time. While Hussein was providing it, she realized that Felix's pants were down around his ankles. Felix grabbed Hussein by her long hair, threw her to the ground, and began beating her. He clutched her throat and told her he was going to kill her. He tried to take her to his car, but Hussein struggled too much. Felix then began ordering her to "jack him off" and "suck him." He placed her mouth on his penis, but did not penetrate it. As he was trying to consummate the rape of Hussein, a security guard from the nearby Park Merced apartments drove by. Felix pulled up his pants and escaped. Hussein was hospitalized with bruises and contusions.
Thirty minutes later, Felix came up behind Darlene Tom who was walking down Taraval Street and, using his hand to simulate having a gun in his pocket, said, "Don't scream." He grabbed her by the mouth and throat and attempted to drag her into his El Camino. A passing motorist began honking repeatedly. Felix let Tom go and fled. Two days later, after several of Felix's victims identified him in police photo spreads, he was arrested at his home.
While he awaited sentencing for his rape conviction, Felix acknowledged something was very wrong with him, unloading his fears to Probation Officer William Lloyd, who was preparing a recommendation on Felix's sentence.
"I have had problems in this area before," he told Lloyd. "I did not know all the way what caused me to hurt other people, or put myself in a place that hurt myself. I feel maybe it's because I don't feel good about myself, or it's because I get some sick thrill out of doing it, which I need to deal with. I think I have had a lot of hatred for women because of my father's leaving me at an early age, and being around my mother and other women. I have grown to think that women are out to get me. They want me, but it's only after I get drunk or hurt them. Other than that, I'm OK with women and people. I need help, and wish it for myself."
Felix's public defender ordered psychiatric tests after learning of his "bizarre" adolescence. Dr. Fred Rosenthal, a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, visited Felix in the county jail. Felix was close to tears during the interview. He was frightened by his own behavior. Rosenthal diagnosed Felix as having intermittent explosive disorder, a condition defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-- the psychiatric profession's bible of mental aberration -- as a failure to resist violent impulses where "the degree of aggressiveness expressed during an episode is grossly out of proportion to any provocation or precipitating psychosocial stressor."
Rosenthal described the root of Felix's criminal behavior this way: "The attacks on others represented in part his struggle to re-establish a sense of mastery, as well as being a mechanism for releasing some of his intense underlying anger. This anger was developed during his early life, when facing the tumultuous and violent episodes at home. He never felt in control of all the forces around him, and this resulted in feelings of rage, helplessness, and also guilt about having such strong destructive emotions. ... He also showed sincere regret and sadness over his emotional turmoil and its tragic consequences, which he cannot understand or control."
The psychiatrist recommended psychotherapy, predicting that Felix, because he was willing to accept counseling, would greatly benefit. More psychiatric tests also predicted Felix would do well in therapy. Even Lloyd, the probation officer, saw the wisdom in Felix participating in some kind of treatment, saying he should definitely get therapy in prison.
But Felix never got the therapy. Felix pled guilty to rape, forced oral copulation, and attempted rape, and it was off to prison for the 19-year, four-month sentence.
His prison experience was, truly, amazing.
For the first few years, he took drugs and drank excessively while running with the white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood. But in 1987, he gave up that life after falling in love with a female prison guard. He became a prison conspiracy theorist and frequent complaint filer, alleging all manner of subversive acts against his person, most of them overblown.
But after he learned a bit about the law, he also became the first California inmate in roughly 15 years to successfully sue the Corrections Department for brutality -- winning, with the help of the downtown law firm McCutchen Doyle Brown & Encino, a $2,500 judgment.
One thing you learn with Scott Felix: It is never all good or all bad. It's always a mixed bag.
These are the images that chill Vicki Baldocchi's blood: a carny hand leading a 3-year-old girl down to a riverbank, where the stranger rapes her and her little friend.
A pedophile building a massive collection of kiddie porn in a storage locker, and inviting little girls to the library "where they have all those nooks and crannies."
Another pedophile sitting at the bottom of a slide, catching little boys and fondling them. A sick Catcher in the Rye.
And the one thing she will never forget: Althor Cain's Charlie Manson eyes.
Baldocchi is one of the many sex crimes unit prosecutors who are fielding sexually violent predator cases in the San Francisco District Attorney's Office. She's the daughter of a prosecutor. And she's serious about her work. The above images are very real, too; they are all sexual predator cases her unit has tried in court.
I visited Baldocchi because I was disturbed by the civil liberties implications of the sexually violent predator law, curious about the ambiguities of the Felix case. I was looking for an explanation as to why the law might make sense. Were there people who really needed to be kept locked up, even after their sentences were done? Baldocchi then told me about Althor Cain, the son of a bottle collector from Lyndonville, N.Y.
"Crazy Cain," as he was latter dubbed in prison, committed his first rape in 1977, mere days before Felix committed his first. Cain followed a Korean immigrant from a bus stop to her home in Redwood City. He forced his way in and raped her. He went to prison the following year, but, for some reason, he was paroled in June of 1980. Like Felix, Cain could not stop.
The same month he was paroled, Cain forced his way into the house of a recent Vietnamese immigrant, and raped and forced oral sex on her. She was a virgin. Cain was convicted of that crime also, and was imprisoned for 29 years.
Althor Cain began his criminal career as a Peeping Tom and exhibitionist. His first recorded sex crime took place in 1965 in Lompoc. Between 1965 and 1977 he was arrested, and did time for, a string of sex crimes, including, but not limited to, breaking into a little girl's room to steal her underwear. He also proved himself to be violent, by savagely beating an elderly man with a club in 1976.
Unlike Felix, Cain showed no remorse. Asked by Probation Officer William Lloyd for a statement, Cain simply said, "My needs weren't getting met."
Before his trial, police searched Cain's house and found a stack of approximately 30 sheets of paper containing detailed notes, outlining his research and surveillance on his intended victims.
Each of Cain's targets was Asian. He knew their names and ages. In some cases, he knew how long they had been in this country. He even knew the names and ages of his intended victims' children. He knew when they would be home alone. He knew their phone numbers. He would even bump into them on the street, and start a conversation in order to obtain clues as to their temperament.
"Separated from husband. Likes soft voice sex," one note reads.
"Has little boy. When I ask her if she would like little girl, she laughs. Husband works far away in San Osay [sic]. She doesn't work -- stay home all day," another reads.
Some of his notes contain thoughts and instructions to himself. And some are downright chilling. On one, he rehearses what he will say to his prey after he has completed raping her.
"Tell her: Keep it in your heart. It's your secret. You tell no one. Keep it in your heart."
Cain's commitment hearing last year was a slam-dunk. Testimony revealed that in prison, he would disrobe and masturbate whenever a female staff member walked by.
When it came to his courtroom demeanor, Cain was his own worst enemy. He would fix his eyes in a crazed glare on every female in the room, jurors included. His glare was comparable to Charlie Manson's. The jury very rapidly came to a unanimous conclusion: Atascadero.
It's hard to compare Cain and Felix. Except for the nature of some of their crimes, they are very different people. But the Sexually Violent Predator Act can obscure some of the differences between the Cains and the Felixes of this world. The law has three main qualifying features: For the act to be triggered, a convict must have committed crimes involving two or more victims. The convict must have a diagnosable mental disorder that relates to his offense. And the state's experts have to determine, scientifically, that the offender is more likely than not to commit new sex crimes.
The first two parts are fairly cut and dried. Either the convict has two or more victims, or he (so far, they have all been male) does not. And the psychiatric bible commonly known as the DSM defines pedophilia (sexual deviance involving non-consenting children younger than 14) and paraphilia (sexual deviance involving non-consenting adults) very simply: If a fantasy set or a behavioral set is deviant and lasts for more than six months, you have the disorder. So anyone who rapes or molests two victims at least six months apart is, by definition, a pedophile or a paraphiliac.
State experts are quick to reach the third criterion: predicting the future. Making such predictions might seem like a hard thing to do. But in the legal context, it has been made easy by the Canadian research team of R. Karl Hanson and Monique Bussiere.
Beginning in 1995, these researchers conducted what's called a meta-analysis of the predictors of re-offense for pedophiles and serial rapists. Working for the Solicitor General's Office of Canada -- the country's equivalent to our U.S. Department of Justice -- the two scientists combined the results of 61 different studies from six different countries, statistically isolating factors that, they believe, can predict the future criminal behavior of sex offenders, and in particular, the likelihood that such offenders will commit new sex crimes.
In all the sexual predator cases to come before San Francisco juries, the Hanson/Bussiere study has been cited by prosecutors and their experts. But it is not at all clear if this meta-study can be legitimately or accurately applied to individual offenders.
In the first cases tried under the sexual predator law, state experts emphasized their individual clinical judgments when making their determinations about who was likely to re-offend. But the prosecutors who put these experts forward soon learned that clinical judgment can easily be picked apart by savvy defense attorneys.
Now, clinical judgment tends to be used only as an introductory sweetener to citations from the Hanson/Bussiere meta-analysis. Factors the Canadian researchers say will predict if sex criminals will re-offend include, but are not limited to, the following:
* The age at which the crimes were committed. (If the crimes occurred before the perpetrator was 15, the study shows, he is likely to re-offend.)
* The marital status of the the subject. (A single perpetrator is likely to re-offend.)
* Whether the subject has a negative relationship with his mother. (If so, the perpetrator is likely to re-offend.)
* Whether the subject has numerous convictions for non-sexual crimes. (If so, the perpetrator is likely to re-offend.)
* And whether the subject has an anti-social personality disorder, as defined by the DSM. (If so, the perpetrator is likely to re-offend.)
Using this criteria, Scott Felix seems like a dead-bang repeater. But is predicting future criminality really that easy? Has the state, with the help of two Canadian scientists, discovered a magical method of protecting women and children from the ravages of rape and molestation? Or are we denying people a fundamental right to earned freedom, based on general correlations that have little meaning when applied to individual cases?
Dr. Fred Berlin is one of the nation's foremost researchers of deviant sexual behavior. He runs the Sex Disorders Clinic at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. In therapy, he has been known to make significant progress with the most heinous sex offenders and serial murderers.
He says applying the Hanson/Bussiere meta-analysis to individual offenders is simply bad science. Taking findings based on group behavior and applying them to predict the future acts of an individual is, he insists, utterly meaningless. And, he says, if psychiatrists are making determinations in that manner, they are acting improperly.
"I am very concerned about denying someone their rights and their freedom based on actuarial studies," Dr. Berlin said in a phone interview from his clinic. He says the Hanson/Bussiere study, with which he is very familiar, is a valuable tool in predicting what entire classes of criminals will do. "But in applying its findings to individuals, you can use it and be 100 percent wrong," he says.
Few know the status of research into the behavior of sex offenders better than Dr. Berlin. Asked if it's possible, given the state of current scientific knowledge, to predict recidivism, he is unequivocal.
"We simply can't, with a high enough degree of confidence, know whether someone is going to re-offend," he answers. "We can make guesses. Is that enough to make these determinations?"
He doesn't pause before answering his own question: "No."
Dr. Charlene Steen is an affable woman whom Scott Felix's attorney compares to Aunt Bea from the old Andy Griffith Show. She sits on a panel of psychologists and psychiatrists that the Department of Mental Health dispatches all over the state to evaluate convicted sex offenders under the sexually violent predator law. She is a true believer in Hanson/Bussiere. Confronted with Dr. Berlin's argument, she responds, "That doesn't make any sense. When you look at people in high-risk categories who have a lot of factors, common sense just tells you they are more risky ... we can't be positive they will re-offend. We can be sure they have a likelihood to re-offend."
And there it is. The reason actuarial data is allowed into proceedings that determine a sex offender's future involves the way the Sexually Violent Predator Act is written. Experts don't have to make a certain diagnosis of the future. All they need to do is make a determination of likelihood to re-offend.
But this determination of propensity -- how solid is it?
"It's imprecise," Steen says. "There is no way we can do a numerical thing." Studies are under way to devise a mathematical formula, which will attach a numerical value to the determination of likelihood to re-offend. But the science isn't there yet, Steen says.
Scott Felix first learned of the sexual predator law in August 1996, five months after he was arrested for being drunk in public and sent to prison for violating his parole. That's when he met Dr. Steen. Steen interviewed Felix for four hours and administered several standard psychiatric tests.
Her diagnosis: numerous personality disorders.
She felt Felix had traits common to several disorders, but he never quite matched all the criteria for any one. So she used a catch-all diagnostic category from the DSM called "Personality Disorder Not Otherwise Specified." In short, he had a little of everything: some anti-social characteristics, some histrionic characteristics, and some criteria that suggested negativistic and narcissistic disorders. In other words, he didn't respect the rights of others, he had to be the center of attention, and he couldn't handle stress, ambiguity, or frustration without acting out in an inappropriate manner. She also ruled that he was an alcoholic and a dyslexic, but those were easy determinations; Felix readily admits to both.
Most important to the prosecution, however, was her diagnosis that Felix had paraphilia not otherwise specified, based solely on his two rape convictions. She said it was in remission, but she said he had the mental disease that predisposes someone to rape.
Steen listed 19 reasons to buttress her opinion that Felix was more likely than not to re-offend, and therefore should face a court hearing under the sexual predator law. She mentioned her own clinical judgment, but relied heavily on actuarial factors from the Hanson/Bussiere study: Felix's age at the time of his offense; his number of offenses; the fact that he wasn't married; and his diagnosis of anti-social personality disorder, not otherwise specified.
She added everything up and said Scott Emerson Felix qualified as a sexually violent predator who was likely to re-offend.
Felix refused to assent to a second interview -- this one with a psychologist named Melvin Macomber. (Felix has a right under the law to make such a refusal.) Macomber read Felix's file and gave a diagnosis that was almost a carbon copy of Steen's.
The State Department of Mental Health sent a notice to the San Francisco District Attorney's Office, stating that a convict who committed qualifying sex crimes had been deemed a predator with a likelihood to re-offend. Once that paper hit the DA's desk, a course was quickly set.
"If you have information that he's more likely than not to re-offend," says Assistant District Attorney Elliot Beckelman, the prosecutor trying the Felix case, "what do you do? You have to file."
There is one unassailable truth about Scott Felix, and it doesn't come from the DSM: He is oftentimes his own worst enemy. In the opening moments of his trial in February, when the jurors had barely warmed their seats, he committed perjury, claiming under oath that a 1977 rape he had committed was consensual. Felix claimed he was wrongly sentenced to juvenile detention. Actually, he said, the women's husband found out she had had sex with Felix, and she cried rape to cover up her infidelity.
Felix thought the records of that 2-decade-old case had been destroyed. But Beckelman found the records. He also found the victim. Felix had to admit to his lie on the stand.
But this drama was incidental to the focus of the proceedings. The meat of Felix's 10-day trial was a battle of interpretations. Incidents involving Felix were presented to the jury as either innocent and the product of misunderstanding (the defense), or sinister and predatory (the prosecution). The trial became a contest of who could contextualize behavior more successfully -- defense attorney Randy Knox, or prosecutor Elliot Beckelman and his two psychiatrists. Scott Felix's case was indeed fought close to the margins of the Sexually Violent Predator Act.
Here are the things Scott Felix wanted the jury to know: During the time he was on parole -- the better part of 28 months -- he exhibited a lot of positive change and growth. He got a union card as a welder. He worked at other jobs, and only lost them when he went to prison on parole violations related to non-sexual matters. He made friends, some of whom came to testify on his behalf. When he did blow his parole big-time for being drunk in public, he was arrested because he decided to walk rather than drive home drunk. And the next day he reported the incident to his parole officer, and made appointments immediately for substance-abuse counseling. He had two monogamous relationships with women. He participated in anger-management therapy. He went to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. His most serious parole violation, a charge of assault, came when he was defending his girlfriend against the lewd advances of another man.
Most of all, Scott Felix wanted jurors to know this: He is not a sexual predator. He is a man who was damaged by a lousy childhood, who has taken responsibility for his "foul, foul acts," and who wants only the opportunity to prove himself.
The prosecution had other points to make. The first way of making them was the Patricia Davis story.
Davis was the supervisor of the Salinas parole office, to which Felix was initially assigned. Felix kept showing up after the parole office was closed -- but before his curfew -- asking for favors like food stamps. Davis perceived Felix as a threat, telling him repeatedly to restrict his visits to office hours. But Felix kept knocking on the parole office window after hours. Eventually, Davis came to feel she was being stalked. She filed a complaint, later downgrading it to harassment, and had Felix moved from her jurisdiction.
In court, prosecutors tried to make the Davis encounters appear predatory. Knox, meanwhile, employed a pain-in-the-ass defense. This wasn't predatory stalking, he said, it was just annoying behavior. He portrayed Felix as an irrepressible child, who sometimes had a hard time obeying orders when it meant that his needs weren't going to be met rapidly.
The next battle for context involved the alleged stalking of a woman named Adrian Griffin. As part of his rehabilitation, Felix needed a resume. He went to a Computer Learning Center and met Griffin, who helped him create a resume on one of the center's computers. She testified that Felix would stare at her and ask personal questions in a too-probing manner. He asked where she lived. He asked where she worked out. He said she reminded him of his mother. "It didn't feel like a friendly conversation," she said in court. "It felt invasive."
Later, when she found out about his past, she grew fearful.
After Griffin helped Felix with his resume, a year went by without any contact. Then, one day when she was riding her bike through Palo Alto, Felix drove up next to her in his car and said hello. She waved him off and kept riding. She said Felix followed her until she turned down a one-way street.
Felix said he thought her wave was one of greeting and explained that he was circling the block, on which he lived, looking for parking.
A year later, in August 1995, Griffin was on her bike again, and Felix followed her into a bank parking lot. "When I first saw him," she said on the witness stand, "he looked me dead in the eyes, locked eyes with me, and rode real slow ... made sure I saw him. He wasn't waving. He wasn't smiling. He wasn't saying hi."
She described the look in court as "predatory."
After Felix followed her into the bank parking lot and got out of his car, Griffin, for the first time, told Felix she didn't want anything to do with him and for him to leave her alone.
Steen and Macomber relied on both incidents as evidence that Felix was likely to re-offend, that he had predatory traits and could not perceive the true nature of relationships. But Felix and his attorney stressed that the encounters were a year apart and entirely coincidental.
The prosecution seized on one more incident, which is detailed in San Jose police records.
In 1995, six months after his release from prison, Felix was at a pay phone on Market Street in San Jose when an attractive woman walked by. He said hi. He asked her name and she gave him a phony one.
"You have a nice body, and you smell good," Felix said. He asked her, "How much do you weigh?" She replied, "About 105 pounds." Felix asked her to turn sideways. She declined. Felix said, "You have a small body -- can I give you a hug?" She said sure.
He invited her back to his place, but a cop stopped the two a block away because the officer thought, incorrectly, he was witnessing Felix solicit a prostitute.
Steen testified that the incident showed Felix was prone to put himself in situations where he could relapse as a sex offender. Felix says he was just flirting, and doing well for himself. "Hey, if I can get a hug that quickly, I'm doing pretty good," he said in an interview.
Felix says his actions are being misinterpreted because of his past crimes. If he hadn't committed the rapes, he says, his behavior would seem perfectly normal.
Beckelman asked him if the mental conditions that predicated his rapes still existed. Felix said, "No, they do not."
Why not? the prosecutor asked.
"After 16 years of growing up, learning how to write, learning how to read, getting a welding license, going to AA meetings, going to NA meetings, going to therapy, having relationships with ladies, understanding about compassion, understanding about life itself, and growing up, losing people in my life." He described himself as the Felix of 1982 and the Felix of 1998 this way: the difference between a cocoon and a butterfly.
During deliberations, the jury sent notes to the judge asking whether Felix could receive mental treatment in the community. Despite his perjury, despite his history and the prosecutors' and psychologists' portrayal of his psyche, the jury deadlocked: eight for Atascadero, four for acquittal.
Linda Moore, an assistant district attorney in the sex crimes unit who was involved in the initial review of the Felix case, understands the jury's quandary. She says those in the unit felt the same uncertainty. "We all struggled with Felix," she says. "We all thought real hard about whether we should file it."
Ethical gyroscopes seem to go a little haywire when they encounter the Sexually Violent Predator Act. Those arguing against the law don't necessarily disagree with the notion that many sex offenders need to be confined for extremely long periods of time. They just think the confinement should come through criminal prosecution, rather than indefinite mental commitment.
Or, as Ira Barg, a defense attorney who has handled many sexual predator cases puts it: "You lock him up for the rest of his life. You enact an appropriate sentence from the first. Not this bullshit."
And it is what he calls "this bullshit" that has led Barg to take unusual legal postures.
Take, for example, former Barg client Kelvin George, a real hateful thug, and a violent and brutal rapist. At George's commitment trial, Barg looked the jurors dead in the eye and attempted to keep his client out of Atascadero with this general argument: "This is the most dangerous person you will ever meet. He will definitely commit new and violent crimes. He will probably kill someone. But the crimes will not be of a sexual nature."
Even Scott Felix has unexpected views on the Sexually Violent Predator Act.
I ask him: So what would you do, for example, with the neighbor who molested you as a child?
Felix can't answer any question simply. "I think if you gave me that scenario, it [the law] would make sense, if prior to him getting out of prison, he received extensive treatment, and after two years he still wasn't improved. Then, no, I wouldn't want him in the community."
So the law is appropriate for pedophiles? "Absolutely."
I present him with the profiles of truly extreme rapists, including Althor "Crazy" Cain, and ask for his thoughts. Again, nothing is clear and easy with Felix.
"Personally, myself, I am not a doctor. I think there is a big difference between child molesters and persons who rape. It's a catastrophic thing to be a victim of rape. I understand that. And I know a victim of rape would say, 'No way, you are wrong.' I think they are two different animals. One is sick in the brain, has a very demented train of thought, and the other person has a thought process that can be worked out."
Whether confinement under the sexually violent predator law is appropriate for Scott Felix is unclear. When it comes down to it, everyone will just have to wait and see. If a judge or jury decides to send him to Atascadero, everyone will have to wait and see if he receives proper treatment, or if the state lets him go, should he make progress with his mental problems.
And if he's let back into the world of remote-control TV and walks on the beach, everyone will still have to wait and see. Scientific studies show that the re-offense rate for rapists peaks at a point of 10 years after release from incarceration.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city