Mel's Angels

Powerhouse attorney Mel McDonald needed help to keep a relative from being charged with child molesting. The Phoenix and Gilbert police departments were only too happy to accommodate him.

Regardless of whom McDonald did or did not call, there is no doubt that Romley called Macias a few days after that meeting, and it wasn't to pat her on the back.

Macias wouldn't discuss for publication what Romley told her. She referred questions to Jim Keppel, her supervisor at the time.

"Dorothy was very mad and upset that Rick had called her," recalls Keppel, now a Maricopa County Superior Court judge. "She said he'd accused her of being rude to the [Brookses]. It felt like pressure to her. I told her to just to try to keep doing her job."

She did, apparently with no further direct feedback from Romley.
Chief deputy county attorney Paul Ahler says his boss's call wasn't designed to sway Macias, and that Romley told him he doesn't recall speaking to McDonald about the case.

"Rick approved this investigation from the start, and he never told anyone to do anything but seek the truth," Ahler says.

A call from the county attorney to a line prosecutor ordinarily wouldn't be a big deal. But Romley's call was another troubling chapter in a case riddled with improprieties and appearances of improprieties.

Mel McDonald was becoming desperate.
On April 9, 1996, McDonald went over Dorothy Macias' head with a 28-page, single-spaced missive addressed to Rick Romley, Paul Ahler, Barnett Lotstein and Jim Keppel.

In it he begged the honchos to halt the investigation.
"I will believe until the day I die that there was nothing wrong or sinister about either [police] department declining to make referrals to your office," McDonald wrote. "If there was something wrong with either decision, the departments and not [Patty] should be penalized for it. If someone needs to be blamed, blame the police departments or blame me or blame the parents, but don't hurt the children."

The county attorney's Incident Review Board met to discuss the Lake case. Composed of top prosecutors, the board discusses controversial, often high-profile cases, then makes recommendations.

Rick Romley normally makes the final decision, but Paul Ahler says the county attorney has recused himself in this politically delicate matter. Instead, Ahler says he's made the judgment calls.

Ahler confirms that some prosecutors still wanted to charge Patty. But legitimate questions about the fundamental fairness of an adult prosecution also arose.

The office routinely charges suspects over the age of 18 as adults, even if they allegedly committed the crimes as juveniles. However, cases in that category normally come to the attention of police at a belated date.

The Lake case was different: Two police departments had closed investigations of Patty Lake's crimes more than two years before prosecutors had ever heard of her.

Someone suggested a compromise: Why not have Patty undergo a "risk assessment."

The assessments are designed to predict, within reason, if someone poses a danger to repeat sex crimes. They're usually used as a plea-bargaining tool, and rarely offered at such an early stage of a case.

But the circumstances of the Lake case also are rare.
Last fall, the County Attorney's Office asked therapist Bob Emerick to assess Patty Lake.

What to Do
Risk assessments in sex cases are a crap shoot for the subject.
A favorable assessment often means a lifetime probation term with a felony record and registration as a sex offender. A bad one may mean vigorous prosecution and, potentially, years behind bars.

Last October 4, Bob Emerick met 19-year-old Patty Lake for the first time. He sought answers to three questions:

What risk did Patty pose to commit additional sex crimes?
What treatment was appropriate for the young woman?
What "criminal justice consequences" were appropriate?

Before he completed his report, however, Emerick arranged a polygraph test for Patty. The test often is seen as valuable as much for what happens before a subject is strapped to the box as after. That held true last November 30, when Patty's examiner conducted a pretest interview at his Tucson offices.

In her interview, Patty revealed other, previously undisclosed sexual episodes involving young children. This didn't surprise Emerick, based on extensive research he's done on the subject. He considered Patty's admissions a plus because she'd spoken up before showing deception on the test.

Patty said she and Tim Brooks had engaged in sexual intercourse for almost two years before his mother had caught them. She also admitted to having molested little Sharon Brooks. And there were others. All told, she listed four male and two female victims.

Of all Patty's pretest admissions, perhaps the most troubling concerned an incident that had occurred after her 16th birthday, and after two police departments had failed to refer her case for prosecution. Patty still was in counseling at CASA at the time.

Patty said she'd allowed a clothed 6-year-old girl to put her genital area in her face. "She believed this child was sexualized," the polygraph examiner wrote, "because while playing, the child would straddle her leg and rub her genitals against her. . . . She stated this was the last minor she touched in a sexual manner."

Patty Lake later passed the polygraph which included the question, "Do you remember touching any other minor child sexually that you have not told me about?"

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