Mel's Angels

Editor's note: The names of the victims, their parents and the assailant -- a relative of A. Melvin McDonald's -- have been changed. Some details of the crimes are intentionally vague so as to protect those identities. Everyone else named in this story is accurately identified.

In 1990, Janet Brooks of Gilbert discovered that her 3-year-old daughter, Sharon, had been molested by a teenage girl named Patty Lake.

Instead of calling the police, she alerted a relative of Lake's, A. Melvin McDonald, a prominent Valley lawyer who once had been U.S. attorney for Arizona and a Superior Court judge.

McDonald smoothed things over, promising Brooks that Patty would get immediate professional help. Later, Brooks believed McDonald when he assured her it was safe for her two children to be alone with Patty.

But in late 1992, Janet discovered Patty, then 15, in bed with her 10-year-old son, Tim. Both were naked. Janet again contacted McDonald, who, this time, did call the police.

But he didn't notify the Gilbert Police Department, which should have had jurisdiction. Instead, he called Phoenix Police Sergeant Susan Porter, whom he had once represented in a lawsuit. McDonald told Brooks that Porter was a close friend who would know the right thing to do.

Porter assigned a sex-crimes detective to interview Tim Brooks and Patty Lake: Tim wouldn't say much. Patty confessed.

But the case quickly and quietly went away: Phoenix PD never sent it to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office for possible prosecution. And in a highly unusual move, the detective didn't file any reports about her findings, on orders, she said later, from Sergeant Porter.

Patty went into psychological counseling as a perpetrator. Tim and his little sister went into counseling as victims.

Six months later, however, Tim Brooks decided that justice had not been served. So, with his mother's blessing, he called Gilbert police and said he wanted Patty Lake behind bars. He happened to make the call two days after Mel McDonald had been sworn in as a new Gilbert city councilman.

If McDonald had stepped back at this point and let the case run its course, Patty likely would have been charged as a juvenile. Provided she didn't molest again or get into other serious trouble, her record would have been expunged when she turned 18.

But that's not McDonald's style.
He managed to meet with Gilbert detectives before they even spoke with the officer who had taken Tim Brooks' call. Phoenix police already had dealt with the allegations, he told them.

The detectives confirmed Phoenix PD's prior involvement, then decided to ignore Tim Brooks. Within days they closed the case without interviewing Tim or his assailant, Patty Lake.

Unlike her counterpart in Phoenix, however, the lead Gilbert detective on the case did write reports--in which she tepidly attempted to justify the failure to investigate the felonies.

The case would become variously known at the Gilbert Police Department as an APE ("acute political emergency"), a "political hot potato," a "can of worms," a study in STP ("small-town politics") and finally, simply, "the Mel McDonald thing."

As with Phoenix police, Gilbert officers did not inform county prosecutors of the multiple-molestation case. The County Attorney's Office wouldn't hear of the crimes until the summer of 1995, when a Gilbert police sergeant blew the whistle.

That led to a seven-month investigation, during which members of the County Attorney's Office pieced together what had happened at the two police departments. Prosecutors then analyzed the dormant case against Patty Lake.

Despite McDonald's meddling and County Attorney Richard Romley's unwelcome intervention into his own department's probe, the completed investigation led to two inescapable conclusions:

1. Patty Lake got special treatment from police because she's related to McDonald.

2. If prosecutors decided to charge Patty Lake with sex crimes, they probably would win a conviction.

It's not surprising that Mel McDonald did everything in his estimable power to get authorities to go easy on a relative.

The results he got, however, are stunning.
"[McDonald] orchestrated that case more than any other case I've ever worked on," one Gilbert officer told county investigators in 1995. "He had his hand literally on the steering wheel somewhere the entire time."

But McDonald's hand has slipped off that wheel. Patty Lake no longer is a juvenile. Now a 19-year-old college student, she would be prosecuted as an adult, and face far more severe penalties than she would have faced as a juvenile.

Is it fair for Patty to be punished as an adult when--but for Mel McDonald's successful manipulations--the system would have treated her as a juvenile?

Prosecutors have grappled for months with that and other unprecedented issues. A few weeks ago, they crafted a novel resolution that would push Patty Lake into the criminal justice system, but afford her a good chance of avoiding a criminal record if she stays clean and undergoes intensive counseling.

It isn't certain if Patty will accept the deal.
That's the short version of "the Mel McDonald thing." It barely scratches the surface.

Mel McDonald, 55, is formidable in and out of the courtroom.
His clients have ranged from Charles Keating Jr. to the Arizona Boys Ranch to the Phoenix Police Department. McDonald is famed for swinging great deals for his clients.

He says he loves to represent society's underdogs whenever possible and, oddly, includes into that category a convicted child molester he's defending in a lawsuit filed by a female victim about the same age as Patty Lake.

McDonald is personable, savvy and never bashful about sharing his point of view. Like a freestyle wrestler, he wears down his foes.

His doggedness has been both blessing and curse for Patty Lake.
When county attorney's investigators asked why he'd reported the molestations to Phoenix police Sergeant Susan Porter, McDonald denied telling Janet Brooks that Porter was a close friend.

"Where she [Brooks] got that," McDonald said, "I don't know. . . . In all honesty, before I called [Porter], I couldn't even remember her name."

"That might have been an assumption," replied investigator Sue Lindley, "because you were able to make the phone call and affect some real accommodating results at Phoenix PD."

Years earlier, McDonald had successfully represented Porter and other officers in a lawsuit filed by a man once accused of child molesting.

"We were not personal friends," Porter told the investigators in 1995, "and I can see that there was an assumption made about that, but that really wasn't accurate. . . . He said, 'I've found out that [Patty] has been molesting [Tim],' and he said, 'Naturally, we're trying to get counseling for all of the kids.' This is a very, very common situation and people call me all the time asking for advice in these areas."

McDonald told investigators he had good reason to seek out Porter. Phoenix has a more experienced sex-crimes unit than smaller Gilbert. Also, at the time, he was campaigning for a seat on the Gilbert City Council, and wanted to avoid any conflict-of-interest issues.

Finally, he concluded that Patty might have molested Sharon Brooks once in Phoenix, so either police agency legitimately could investigate.

The Brooks and Lake families went to Phoenix police headquarters in November 1992. Porter assigned veteran sex-crimes detective Alicia Ryberg to sort out the case.

"I just remember that she was very forthcoming," Ryberg recalled of her interview with Patty Lake. "She admitted to molesting [Tim], and I don't recall her admitting that she molested [Sharon]. She was a very nice girl, very quiet, and she talked to me about what happened."

Tim Brooks wouldn't say much to Ryberg, which isn't unusual for a young molestation victim. Police often ask trained experts to pinch-hit for them in such situations, especially after the perpetrator has confessed. But Ryberg didn't seek such help. (Ryberg later couldn't recall if she'd interviewed Sharon Brooks, then 6.)

If McDonald didn't consider Porter a friend before, he surely must now. He got exactly what he desired from the sergeant--a halfhearted investigation and not a mention to county prosecutors.

"Everything was turned back over to Sergeant Porter," Ryberg told county attorney's investigators in January 1996. "She advised me to not make a report because it wasn't Phoenix's jurisdiction, it was Gilbert."

The entire episode, Ryberg said, was extraordinary.
"I'm trying to think if it's happened before," Ryberg said. "To say it was the norm, no, it wasn't the norm . . ."

Porter's explanation to investigators: "There are times where we just don't really have to write a police report but we might keep something in note form in case something comes back later. . . . And then you look back like and think, well, gee, I wish we'd not done that. [But] this isn't about protecting Mel McDonald at all."

In McDonald's view, avoiding the unnecessary interference of prosecutors and judges was best.

"It's taking her in before a judge to get identically the same thing that's going to happen anyway," he said, when asked why he so vehemently opposed charging Patty as a juvenile. "Why do it? It's one more step in a process. It's standing up and telling a judge what she's already told the police and what she's already telling the counselor."

The Phoenix cops apparently agreed.
Ryberg told investigators she turned "everything back over to Sergeant Porter" after she finished her interviews. And at Porter's direction, the detective said, Ryberg didn't prepare a police report.

That spelled the end of Phoenix PD's involvement. No one could say why Phoenix PD failed to alert its Gilbert peers about the crimes.

Patty Lake's parents sent her to the Center Against Sexual Assault--an interesting choice because CASA is renowned for its work with victims, not offenders. Patty was both--teenage boys had sexually molested her when she was a little girl--but that raised a problem.

In those days, CASA's limited offender program was designed for children younger than 15-year-old Patty. (In mid-1995, the agency stopped accepting adolescent sex offenders for treatment.)

The agency customized a program for Patty, then counseled her for about six months before it transferred her into treatment as a victim.

Janet Brooks took her two children, Tim and Sharon, to Dr. Adele Mayer, a Mesa therapist. Sharon Brooks told Mayer about being molested by Patty. But Tim still wouldn't say much.

"There were times when he would run out of my office and climb a tree," Mayer told investigators last April. "I encouraged him to talk about this, all the reasons he should. . . . It didn't matter who he talked to as long as he took some positive action on his own behalf."

In early April 1993, about six months after the Phoenix police had closed the case, Tim Brooks had some surprising news for his therapist:

"He came in very proud that he had called the Gilbert police and reported this, and wanted something done about it," Mayer said. "He wanted [Patty] in jail."

On April 1, 1993, Tim Brooks phoned the Gilbert Police Department and said he'd been molested. Ron DeSpain, an experienced officer with a kindly demeanor, took the call.

The boy told DeSpain that Patty Lake had pinned him to a bed and performed sexual acts on him. Tim said the girl also had molested his sister, and that their mother knew about it.

"He explained to me he wanted [Patty] arrested, that he didn't want her to do this anymore to anybody," DeSpain later told county attorney's investigators. "I explained to him at that point that we would have to do an investigation and we would do the best we could for him . . ."

DeSpain asked to speak to Janet Brooks, who said that she stood by her son, but didn't believe a police investigation was necessary.

She explained how Mel McDonald had resolved the situation months earlier through Phoenix's Sue Porter, and how Porter had directed her children and Patty Lake into counseling.

The call troubled DeSpain. The Brooks children had been assaulted at their home in Gilbert, which should have left it in his agency's jurisdiction.

The officer wondered what kind of strings Mel McDonald had been pulling.
DeSpain soon sent a written account to Gilbert's detective division in which he suggested that "two sexual assaults have occurred here in Gilbert over the last two years involving [Patty Lake] and the victims."

No one at Gilbert PD took action for four days. On April 5, 1993, according to a police report, Janet Brooks called Gilbert sergeant (now lieutenant) Joe Ruet. She repeated that Phoenix already had investigated the case.

Ruet's report indicates he spoke that day to Phoenix PD's Alicia Ryberg, who confirmed that she'd interviewed Patty Lake and Tim Brooks months earlier.

Ryberg told Ruet she hadn't filed any police reports, but still had her notes if he needed to see them. Ruet said that wouldn't be necessary.

That afternoon, according to Ruet, Sue Porter called to say she'd just heard from Mel McDonald, and he was very upset.

Porter later denied this.
"I really don't recall making a phone call out there," she told investigators, "because, in my opinion, to do so would kind of make it like I was sort of trying to pull some strings with him or sway something in one direction."

McDonald recalls speaking with Sergeant Porter after he learned of Tim Brooks' call.

Ruet assigned Gilbert detective Jill Cross as the case's chief investigator. Detective Randy McLaws was to assist her.

Cross told county investigators last year that Ruet had issued some peculiar marching orders when he assigned her and McLaws to the case. "[He said] it would be best to speak at length with Mr. McDonald before pursuing the investigation further," Cross said.

As if on cue, Ruet's briefing with his detectives had been interrupted by a phone call. It was Mel McDonald, who announced he was on his way to Gilbert police headquarters.

Cross and McLaws didn't even have time to read Ron DeSpain's police report, or even to talk to DeSpain.

McLaws told county investigators, "I'd be willing to bet a month of lunches that [Ruet] used the phrase APE case when that was delivered to Jill . . . [Ruet] was very definitely letting us know that whatever we did on behalf of the department would be held under glass. There definitely was a difference between the person coming in to talk to us that afternoon than any other type of person that may be coming in on any other given case. That he definitely had clout and that our actions would definitely have implications."

McLaws specializes in burglary investigations, not sex crimes. Ruet told investigators he'd asked McLaws to assist Cross for one reason--his religion:

"McDonald is LDS. Randy is a Mormon, and I felt that that would avoid any criticism by having one LDS and one non-LDS investigator involved in it," Ruet said.

McDonald got to the Gilbert station minutes after his call.
He spent about two hours with the two detectives, much of it "bawling his eyes out," according to Cross' account. He seemed to be wearing two hats at once, Patty's relative and attorney.

Cross inferred that Patty's crimes were ancient history, not a few months old.

"I'm thinking, 'Well, five years have passed,'" she later told investigators, "a tenured detective [Phoenix's Ryberg] has handled this, [Patty's] been in counseling supposedly.' . . . So I just kind of left it at that."

The next day, April 6, according to Jill Cross' police report, she confirmed with CASA that Patty Lake was in counseling. She also tried unsuccessfully that day to contact Alicia Ryberg, but it didn't matter. By now she knew what was expected of her:

"I know [Ruet] wanted it turned in a timely manner--'We don't want this thing hanging over our heads, so let's move on it.' I'm sure it was like, 'Oh, my God, we got a hot potato here. Let's get this thing out of here. Let's clear it up and get it the hell out of here,'" Cross told county investigators.

With that in mind, on April 8, 1993--one week after Tim Brooks' call--Cross tossed the hot potato. Her summary report contained some curious turns of phrase.

"As a result of the interview," she wrote of the session with Mel McDonald, "Detective McLaws and I were able to clear up several unaddressed issues as well as to develop a chronological order of events . . .

"At this time, I do not feel that the incident as reported by [Tim Brooks] to Officer DeSpain needs to be handled as a criminal investigation. This particular incident was handled by Phoenix police, and I think it would be detrimental to [Patty's] therapy to reopen a matter that she believes to be criminally quashed by Phoenix police."

Deputy county attorney Dorothy Macias later asked Randy McLaws if he knew what Cross had meant by "unaddressed issues."

"No, I don't," he replied. "The whole thing pretty much was an unaddressed issue."

County attorney investigator Sue Lindley asked Joe Ruet about the term "criminally quashed."

Ruet: "I don't know what she meant by that."
Lindley: "I don't know that that's necessarily something that you find in Webster's cop dictionary."

Cross tried lamely to explain her irregular report during an October 1995 interview with Macias and Lindley.

"I'm thinking, how do you really close this out without ignoring something that hasn't been done? How do you politically correctly close this thing out and still sound intelligent yourself that you know what's going on, even if you're not really sure of everything, but that you felt good?"

Tim Brooks apparently didn't feel good about the response to his complaint.
"Initially, he presented in a much more positive light," his therapist, Adele Mayer, told Lindley last April. "This did not last long because this boy expected some action within a matter of weeks and nothing happened. So I think he felt even worse afterwards because he tried and nothing happened."

A Case Reborn
After Gilbert police closed the Patty Lake case in April 1993, it appeared Mel McDonald's magic had worked again.

But rumors of McDonald's fix swirled through the department, and they nagged at Gilbert Sergeant Todd Baty, who had had a dispute with McDonald in an earlier, unrelated case. (Baty, Gilbert PD's Officer of the Year for 1996, wouldn't comment for this story.)

In October 1994, McDonald wrote a letter to Gilbert police chief Fred Dees after the detention of a 13-year-old girl on suspicion of molesting two little boys.

In a letter to Dees, McDonald chided Gilbert detective Dave Williams--who reported to Baty--for collecting the girl at her school. (She later was acquitted.)

Williams didn't take kindly to the affront, noting in a police report, "The language of the letter caused me to have concerns that Mr. McDonald was attempting to influence the course of my investigation."

Of course McDonald was trying to influence the investigation. That's what aggressive attorneys do.

But McDonald seemed oblivious to the irony that Gilbert police were playing hardball with this teenager, while they'd coddled his relative, Patty Lake.

In August 1995, a 16-year-old Gilbert boy rammed into a car at Cooper and Elliot roads, killing three and gravely injuring two others. The boy said he'd fallen asleep behind the wheel, a claim Gilbert police doubted after they found skid marks at the scene.

The boy's family hired Mel McDonald. He engaged Gilbert PD in full-scale war, later proving to the satisfaction of prosecutors that the skid marks had come from another vehicle.

But some Gilbert cops didn't see how McDonald could be a Gilbert councilman while also taking on cases potentially embarrassing to his city.

McDonald claims a reporter for Tribune Newspapers contacted him around that time. The writer told him an unnamed Gilbert cop had slipped her records about the Lake molestation case and an unrelated report.

"[The reporter] assured me . . . that the two police reports were filed where they belonged--in the trash," McDonald said in a letter last April to County Attorney Richard Romley.

Tribune Newspapers did publish a story August 15, 1995, which focused only on McDonald's alleged conflict-of-interest issue concerning the 13-year-old girl and the triple fatality. (Just weeks ago, the Tribune published a glowing portrait of McDonald, titled "Hard fighter with a soft heart." The piece began, "The only role A. Melvin McDonald hasn't played in Arizona's legal system is the accused.")

Two days after the news story about the conflicts of interest appeared, Todd Baty verbally complained about McDonald and the Lake case to a prosecutor. He then elaborated in a two-page memo to the County Attorney's Office.

"In reviewing the original report and related supplements from the Gilbert Police Department," Baty wrote in requesting an investigation, "I've been unable to locate a pursuit of justice."

On September 22, 1995, the office assigned prosecutor Dorothy Macias and investigator Susan Lindley to the "Mel McDonald thing." Chief deputy Paul Ahler says Macias and Lindley were "the best people we had in their positions to put on it."

They are known for their professional diligence.
Last May, a pregnant Macias insisted on finishing her closing argument in an unrelated child-molestation case after her water broke. (The defendant was convicted; Macias later resigned to be a full-time mother.) Lindley has earned honors for her solid mix of compassion and information gathering.

The obstacles they faced were evident.
Years had passed. Memories had faded. Fingers were being pointed. Butts were being covered. Few were interested in having the case revived.

It isn't certain what Tim Brooks, nearing his 14th birthday, wanted. No one in authority had bothered to speak to the boy since the day he called the Gilbert Police Department.

The presence of Macias and Lindley seemed to indicate that the county attorney's top brass weren't going to let the Patty Lake case be swept under the rug again. The two pulled few punches during their months-long series of interviews.

"Do you have any idea why the victim wasn't interviewed by an investigator in this case?" Macias asked Gilbert police lieutenant Jack Young in November 1995.

"Do you have any idea why an investigator didn't get copies of anything that Phoenix PD did on file?"

"Do you have any idea why an investigator didn't talk to the suspect in this case?"

"Do you have any idea why the investigator in this case only essentially discussed the case with [Mel McDonald] and then made a phone call to the suspect's counselor?"

"No, other than . . . something happened in Phoenix and it was just my understanding that the whole thing was being taken over by Phoenix."

Macias also gave Gilbert detective Randy McLaws the third degree:
"[Tim Brooks] said, 'I think she should be put in jail and not do this again.' So from a victim's standpoint, what did he get out of this investigation. What did this 10-year-old learn about going to the police?"

"The victim went to report that crime just as part of therapy," McLaws replied. "The case had already been investigated by the police--that's how it was delivered to me. . . . Do we put the scope of the judicial system and the adjudication of [Patty Lake] in the hands of a 10-year-old?"

"Or do we put it in the hands of [Mel McDonald]?" Macias shot back.
The Phoenix officers in the case, Sue Porter and Alicia Ryberg, also tried to deflect blame.

"If Gilbert felt that there was some crime that occurred in their jurisdiction that they really needed to pursue," Porter said in her interview, "then they had the opportunity to do that."

But Porter admitted that she'd been uncomfortable about the case--even if she wouldn't admit that her worst fears about it had come to pass.

"Even at the time, I felt uneasy," she said. "So I really kind of expected someone to stand up after a while and say, 'Wait a minute, you know that's not right. You know she got away with a child molest because of [Mel McDonald].' So all through the thing, we took due caution . . . to make sure that we didn't do anything or say anything especially that made it look as though, 'Well, we'll fix this for you, don't worry about it.'"

Macias and Lindley never did get to review detective Ryberg's notes on her interview with Patty Lake. The detective had left sex crimes in 1994, and had destroyed the notes.

Unlike virtually all of his colleagues with badges, Gilbert police chief Fred Dees was surprisingly candid.

"I just think there's something really basically wrong here," Dees told investigators. "It seemed like we goofed, Phoenix goofed. . . . We didn't do right by [Tim Brooks], that's for sure."

When Macias and Lindley finally interviewed Mel McDonald last February, he applied all the powers of his persuasions. He spoke with hubris and authority, as though he still were calling all the shots. It was vintage McDonald.

"I don't think anybody is seriously saying, 'Well, gee, we're going to charge [Patty] now,'" he said. "We did everything right three years ago, so that's not an option. What would there be to gain other than to spiral the family again?"

But the investigators weren't buying it.
"Well, here's the thing, Mel," Macias replied, "we do charge juveniles for what happened at that point; we do that all the time."

"You do on cases where it wasn't addressed three years ago, and this case was addressed three years ago by two different police agencies," McDonald countered, accurately. But he conspicuously failed to mention that, while the case had been addressed, it had never been properly investigated.

Last March 18, Macias and Lindley met with Janet Brooks and her ex-husband, father of Tim and Sharon.

Wrote Macias of that meeting: "I explained that, for some reason, the investigation by Phoenix PD and Gilbert PD had not followed a normal course. Mr. [Brooks] said the reason was 'obvious'--he pointed to Mr. Mel McDonald's past positions as a former U.S. Attorney, a former judge and a former prosecutor as the 'obvious' reason . . ."

Janet Brooks told Mel McDonald about the meeting. McDonald concedes that he immediately swung into action, but can't seem to recall the details.

"I don't remember if I did call Rick Romley or if I didn't call Rick Romley about this," he said in an interview. McDonald is known for his near-photographic memory, so New Times pressed him on this point.

"It's more likely that I called [Romley aide] Barnett Lotstein," he continued, "because [Mrs. Brooks] was so upset after meeting with Dorothy that she was crying uncontrollably."

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?"

Bob Emerick submitted his assessment last month. In it he first berated the police agencies who had investigated the Lake case, and CASA:

"The case was mismanaged by criminal justice personnel when the decision was made to stop criminal proceedings and resolve the matter by referring Patty to a counseling program. The clinical records from [CASA] indicate that [Lake's] clinical needs were mismanaged by [CASA] . . ."

Emerick said Patty remains a risk to re-offend in two of seven predetermined areas.

On a more positive note, he wrote, her recent revelations are a step in the right direction. Emerick isn't a soft touch, yet he called Patty an "untreated child sexual abuse survivor rather than a criminal personality," who may respond well to proper long-term treatment.

Because of the case's history, Emerick opined that lifetime probation as an adult would be an unfair disposition. Instead, he recommended that prosecutors wait for two years before assessing whether Patty should be charged as an adult offender or for a lesser offense.

Modifying those recommendations, the County Attorney's Office a few weeks ago decided on a novel approach: Through her attorney--not Mel McDonald--Patty has been offered a chance to plead under Arizona's domestic-violence laws.

The laws allow a judge to defer accepting a guilty plea for a time while a person is on probation. If everything goes smoothly, the plea may be erased from one's record.

An office spokesman says Patty would be the first person in a sex-related case to benefit from the forgiving statute.

Everything considered, it seems to be a fair offer, but is certain to raise speculation that the young woman again is getting special treatment.

At this juncture, however, it appears McDonald holds little sway with the County Attorney's Office. But it's not in his nature to quit trying.

He repeats endlessly in recent discussions with New Times that Patty Lake now is getting the legal shaft because of her relationship to him.

"It's killing me to see her bounced around," McDonald says. "She has done everything the system has asked her to do, and now they want another piece of her? Not on my life. Not because I've tried to do the right thing for her.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin