The Strength Of His Conviction

Self-described teenage hoodlum Leigh Adelmann says his contact last year with the Jehovah's Witnesses "turned me around and probably saved my life." Now, the onetime punk is mad because his Intensive Probation officer won't let him attend the sect's meetings.

"If I were a drug addict or an alcoholic," says the 21-year-old Paradise Valley resident, "I'd be able to go to my meetings. But I don't do drugs and never have, and I don't drink anymore. The probation officers are entitled to their opinions, but they have no right to tell me what to do with my religious beliefs. Let's just say I'm a recovering thief, and let me go the meetings."

Intensive Probation officer Janet Blake, however, insists it isn't a matter of religion, but of following Intensive Probation's strict rules.

"I have no issue with Leigh's religious beliefs whatsoever," she says, "but I do have a question about him following our regulations. That's what Intensive Probation is about. We've had a hard time keeping track of Leigh, and that's the sole consideration in keeping an even closer eye on him for a while. I like the kid, but he's no angel."

Adelmann's criminal record bears that out. Already on felony probation for credit-card fraud totaling $3,364, he was nabbed by local cops in April 1988 for ripping off $2,167 with bad checks.

An "extremely immature and irresponsible young man," according to a presentence report, Adelmann also was an extremely fortunate one. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Wilkinson last summer ordered Adelmann to serve four months in jail, then enter the county's new Intensive Probation program. That's a form of house arrest that can include spot drug and alcohol tests, unscheduled home searches by probation officers, and a likely trip behind bars for those who don't pass muster.

Tough as Intensive Probation is, it was a better alternative to Adelmann than prison, which had been a distinct possibility.

"[Leigh] views Intensive Probation and views it as a last chance," probation officer Randall Boulais wrote in an August 1988 presentence report, "a final opportunity to prove himself and avoid incarceration."

"My past doesn't look too good, I'll admit it," says Adelmann, who has been working at a local supermarket. "I came from a good family and I screwed up. But when I found the Jehovah's Witnesses, or they found me, when I was in jail, I realized that it was the right thing for me, even though I haven't been baptized yet."

Adelmann's probation officer at the time allowed him to attend at least three Jehovah's Witnesses meetings a week. But court records show Adelmann was no perfect probationer. Last October, for example, he was ordered to spend a month in the county jail after Judge Jeffrey Cates said he had "failed to remain at his place of residence except to go to work, go to school, or perform community-service work."

But the judge reinstated Adelmann in the Intensive Probation program after the month in the slammer.

"He basically manipulated us into letting him attend so many religious meetings," Janet Blake says. "That's my fault. We have a lot of examples of him not following the rules we have set up, and we can't let that happen. This is not about religion, even though he apparently might like you to think that. At some point, he may get the right to attend those meetings again."

"One of my probation officers took a look at a Jehovah's Witnesses pamphlet on premarital sex and stuff," Adelmann says, "and she told me, `This is repressive. This is sick.' Then she cut me off from going to any more meetings at the hall."

Judge Cates says he's not familiar with Adelmann's case without looking at a file. But, the judge adds, "If religion is the beef that this probationer has, we'll probably be called on to make a decision at one time or another. There usually are two sides in these types of things."

Adelmann says he's agreed to attend Paradise Valley Community College instead of fulfilling his forty mandated hours of community-service work each month through the Jehovah's Witnesses. But he bristles that his probation officers won't allow him to attend church meetings two nights and one day each week.

"They can tell me to sit, bark, roll over and play dead, whatever they want, and I have to go along with it," Adelmann says. "But they can't tell me not to practice my religion. It's helped me change for the good."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin