John Stetler Brown escaped criminal prosecution for five years after he admitted in open court that he had molested a 7-year-old girl. But thanks to a 1991 New Times story that led to an investigation by Phoenix police, the real estate agent is spending a year in jail, followed by a lifetime on probation.
Maricopa County prosecutors brought charges against Brown, 45, after New Times published a story on the case (Like a Good Neighbor," July 31, 1991). The story described how judges, attorneys, social-service workers and mental-health professionals knew of Brown's admitted molestations. So, of course, did members of the girl's family. But no one reported anything to law enforcement authorities.
What made the case even odder was that Brown asked his insurance company to pay for his crimes. Brown agreed to pay the victim and her mother $35,000 as part of an out-of-court agreement. Remarkably, he then joined forces with the pair in a 1989 lawsuit against the State Farm insurance company.
Their attorneys cited the evaluations of psychologists in concluding Brown is a "regressed child molester" who couldn't control himself with the girl. The lawyers then argued that Brown's homeowner policy covered the damage, much the same way a policy would cover damage from an accidental fire--but not from arson committed by the homeowner.
Superior Court Judge Philip Marquardt agreed in a controversial 1991 ruling. The judge ordered State Farm to pay the victim and her mother $900,000. (State Farm appealed Marquardt's ruling. A decision is pending.)
"Brown's mental state overmastered his will," Marquardt ruled. "His ability to act intentionally was negated by his mental state."
It was a ruling wrought with irony. Months later, Marquardt resigned from the bench after admitting to addictive marijuana use. The judge also attributed his own demise to an uncontrollable mental state.
Court records show that Brown had molested the girl "on a regular basis" for several months before she told her mother of the crimes in April 1987. Brown later confessed to the crimes in writing and under oath in the civil case.
One psychologist testified in the civil case, "I am rather shocked that there has not been a more rigorous pursuit, criminally."
No one acted until after the New Times story was published. "The article reported that the police or Child Protective Services had not been contacted in reference to the molestations," deputy adult probation officer Diane Knuepfer wrote last month in a presentencing report.
"This officer is uncertain of the defendant's risk at reoffending," Knuepfer concluded.
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Superior Court Judge Robert Hertzberg allowed Brown to plead guilty to two counts of attempted sexual conduct with a minor, a felony considered a Dangerous Crime Against Children under Arizona law.
Brown is said to be undergoing intensive group and individual counseling in Southern California, where he is serving his sentence.
In a letter to his attorney, Brown wrote, "I must find some manner in which to contribute healing and closure for all of us. This memory of me is not the one I would want her [the victim] to carry.