Start Omhoog
Predator or Prey?

For James Rodriguez, the only way to freedom was to
confess to sex crimes he — and one of his alleged
victims — says he did not commit.

by Ben Ehrenreich
LA Weekly, AUGUST 20 - 26, 2004

Here is a long but interesting story of a man falsely accused but still 19 years in prison and 'treatment'. Every two years, the court declared him still 'too dangerous' to become free.
Then, he began to stop his denial of his 'offence', and started to be a model client of the 'therapists', the latter being very content about their 'therapy'. It was the only way to ever become free. 'Olaying thee game', to say so.
Just shortly before he got his freedom again, the boys who had alleged him confessed that all accusations were false and were given under high pressure of an aunt and heavy pressure of the District Attorny.

- - - 

The distinction between what happened and what didn’t
is precisely the one that is not available to us.

—James R. Kincaid,
Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child Molesting

Standing beneath the open sky in the hills that rise
to the east of San Diego, listening to the birds sing
and the wind shiver through the oak trees, James
Rodriguez wears a look of profound incredulity. He’s a
solidly built man with long, black, braided hair, a
goatee flecked with gray, and a small, faded tattoo of
a cross between his index finger and thumb. Prison
tends to close men’s features down, to harden faces
into masks, but despite his 13 years behind the walls
of New Folsom and Old Folsom, Mule Creek, Avenal and
Soledad, and six strange years locked up at the state
mental hospital in Atascadero, an almost childish air
of surprise and disbelief rarely strays from
Rodriguez’s eyes. The tale of how he ended up in
prison, told stories both true and false, and found
his way back here to the Indian reservation on which
he was born begins not in these dry hills, but about
80 miles to the north, beneath the haze of the Inland
Empire on a short, straight street called Pepper Court
in the Riverside County town of Moreno Valley.

Even in the late afternoon, it’s hot on Pepper Court.
Children line up on the sidewalk, dollar bills
clutched in their fists. A battered ice cream truck
clanks out its cheery melody with apparently endless
patience. A man stands shirtless in his driveway,
talking on a cordless phone. The houses are low,
squat, flat-roofed stucco boxes. The lawns, for the
most part, have gone brown and are cluttered with
bicycles, wagons and car seats, all the dust-caked
detritus of suburban life. Did Pepper Court look any
different in 1980, when our sad story began? Or was it
1982? The dates differ depending on who is telling the
tale, and when they told it, but so do almost all the
other facts. No matter, the pepper trees that rise in
a line behind the houses on the west side of the
street must have been here in both those years. The
paint on the houses may have been a little fresher
then, the smog a little thicker or maybe just the

Rodriguez believes it was in ’82 that he began hanging
out on Pepper Court, which would have made him 22
years old. With several years of sobriety behind him
now, he readily admits that he was then an addict,
drinking heavily and regularly using methamphetamine,
heroin and marijuana. “I’m not going to bullshit you,”
he says. “I was a criminal.” His sister Cookie was
still alive back then (she passed away in 1994) and
lived in a house in the middle of the block. She
introduced Rodriguez to a man named Henry whose last
name, at his request, I will not tell you. Henry was
in his late 40s then, and was also a heroin addict, as
was his wife, Nancy, who suffered from schizophrenia
as well. They lived across the street from Cookie with
their children, Frankie, Teresa, Randy and Eddie. At
first, Henry was just a convenient drug connection for
Rodriguez, but before long the two became friends.
When Rodriguez’s girlfriend kicked him out, he moved
in with Cookie, and spent a lot of time across the
street. Henry’s family eventually moved away from
Pepper Court, but he and Rodriguez were still friends
when they were both arrested in May 1985.

That June, Henry’s son Randy testified in a
preliminary hearing held at the ornate Beaux Arts
courthouse in downtown Riverside. No less than four
statues of justice — scales in one hand, sword in
another — adorn its façade. Randy was then 14 but,
according to a court-appointed psychologist, was
“mildly mentally retarded” and functioned at the level
of “an anxious, depressed 6-year-old.” He told the
court that his father and James Rodriguez had
sodomized him in his bedroom on Pepper Court, that
they had done this again in another house on Kansas
Street where Rodriguez had also injected drugs into
Randy’s penis. Randy had previously told police that
he saw Rodriguez “rape a baby,” and that he had been
gang-raped by Rodriguez and several of his friends
while his father sat on the couch and watched. A
medical examination determined that Randy and his
younger brother Eddie appeared to have been sodomized.

In September of 1986, Eddie, then 13, told a Riverside
County Sheriff’s deputy that he had been repeatedly
raped by Rodriguez, his father, his uncle Delbert and
two other men. One Thanksgiving in the Pepper Court
house, Eddie said, he watched his father, his cousin
and another man take turns raping his grandmother,
then in her 80s, while his mother cooked a turkey in
the other room. Also at Pepper Court, he said, he was
sodomized by his father while his eldest brother,
Frankie, held him down and his mother watched. On
another occasion, Eddie alleged, his father and
Rodriguez forced him at gunpoint to have sex with his
mother and with Rodriguez’s sister Cookie. He would
later testify in court that his father and Rodriguez
had also murdered two children.

James Rodriguez was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Henry got 30 years. Henry’s brother Delbert, who died
of pneumonia this past March, got 10 years, and
Henry’s wife, Nancy, got eight. A neighbor named
Richard Harrison was also sent away. Though Rodriguez
would maintain for years that he was innocent, he,
like all of the other defendants, took a deal, and
pleaded guilty in court. At a sentencing hearing,
prosecutor David Gunn informed the judge that he found
it “difficult to discuss in verbal terms my disgust
and loathing for the defendants involved in this

If those crimes seem almost unbelievably horrible
today, they may have seemed slightly less astounding
in the mid-1980s. A strange virus had infected the
nation, a societal hysteria of the variety that
sociologists label “moral panic.” In 1984, the year
Riverside County Sheriff’s deputies began asking Randy
and Eddie what had happened on Pepper Court, the
owners of the McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach
and four of the teachers in their employ were arrested
on allegations involving the molestation of over 100
children in hot-air balloons and in secret tunnels
beneath the school, as well as the ritual murder of
infants, the killing of a sea turtle and the sodomy of
a dog. Their trial would become the longest and most
expensive criminal trial in American history, ending
after six years without a single conviction. In 1985,
a 23-year-old New Jersey day-care worker named
Margaret Kelly Michaels was accused of having forced
the children in her care to eat feces, drink urine,
and lick peanut butter from one another’s genitals and
of having sodomized them with cutlery, light bulbs and
Lego blocks. At trial, one child testified that
Michaels had turned him into a mouse. She was
sentenced to a term of 47 years. Her conviction was
reversed only after she had served several years in
prison. Similarly bizarre and horrific cases sprang up
that year in Boston, in Jordan, Minnesota, and in
Bakersfield, where a man named John Stoll — accused of
leading a child sex and pornography ring for which 60
people were ultimately charged — was convicted of 17
counts of child molestation. He was not released until
this May, after several of his alleged victims, now
grown, came forward to testify that they had
fabricated their tales of abuse.

It’s a small world: Henry, who was released in August
of 2000 and now lives in Perris, just southeast of
Riverside, knew John Stoll in prison. One of Stoll’s
co-defendants was in the same group-therapy unit as
James Rodriguez at Atascadero State Hospital, to which
they had both been committed as sexually violent
predators (SVPs) under a 1995 law that allows the
state to keep sex offenders confined even after they
complete their prison terms.

Sitting on the floor of his father’s house, Eddie, now
31, shakes his head. His hair is cropped short and
thinning in the front. He wears paint-spattered
glasses, and his forearms are tattooed with grinning
skulls. “The bad part about it is I don’t remember
James at all. I remember seeing him across the street
at Cookie’s house and that’s it,” Eddie says. “The
truth is my dad didn’t do nothing. James didn’t do
nothing. My uncle didn’t do nothing. Nobody did

A Better Life

When, in February of this year, Eddie first revealed
to investigators from the Riverside County District
Attorney’s Office that everything he and his brother
had told them back in the ’80s had been false, the
D.A. was justifiably surprised — not only because
Eddie was contradicting his own earlier testimony but
because James Rodriguez, after 15 years of protesting
his innocence, had copped to the crimes in 1999, and
had been earnestly copping to them ever since. In
2002, he had entered Atascadero’s treatment program
for sex offenders. He appeared so genuinely repentant
and had made such efforts to reform himself that his
doctors became convinced he no longer posed sufficient
danger to society to justify his continuing
confinement. Dr. Elizabeth Thompson, Rodriguez’s
treating psychologist at Atascadero, wrote to the
hospital administration in late 2003 that Rodriguez
“has presented a unique case in my five years of
working on Unit 23 . . . He has made great strides in
treatment and . . . does not require the confines of
the state hospital.” Thompson petitioned the Riverside
D.A. for Rodriguez’s release. The D.A. sought out
Eddie and Randy for questioning, and Eddie dropped his

Carlos Monagas, the deputy district attorney who had
been fighting to keep Rodriguez at Atascadero, still
believes Rodriguez is guilty. Nonetheless, on April
20, the state of California opened the door that it
had closed on Rodriguez 19 years before. He stopped to
visit his son (who is now 23 and was 4 when Rodriguez
saw him last) before moving into his new home, a
small, white-and-green mobile home parked on tribal
land. He lives on a hillside not far from his uncle’s
place, just up the road from a cluster of rusting
cars. Despite the cars and the abandoned trucks and
rotting trailers down the way, it’s beautiful here.
The air is breezy and clear and, at least in the shade
of the oak trees, cool enough.

When he was very young, Rodriguez’s mother moved her
children off the reservation, “thinking she was going
to get us a better life in the city. But it didn’t
work out like that.” She was an alcoholic and unable
to support the kids. When he was 4, Rodriguez and his
brother were sent to a foster home. The foster family
beat them regularly with hoses, boards, “whatever they
could find,” Rodriguez would later testify in court.
When Rodriguez was 9, he was moved to another home. He
started smoking pot at 11 and shooting heroin at 14.
Burglaries and drug arrests landed him in juvenile
hall and in a series of group homes. Between 1977 and
1982, Rodriguez was arrested eight times, mainly for
thefts and drug charges, but once for an assault, and
once in connection with a murder investigation, though
he was not charged in either of those cases.

By the time he moved into his sister’s place on Pepper
Court, Rodriguez was, he says, “a garbage pail,”
drinking and using constantly. “I did not know what
sober was.” He fit right in at Henry’s house, where
the atmosphere was, to put it mildly, unrepressed.
Drug use was constant and open. Rodriguez had sex with
Nancy, Henry’s wife. So did Henry’s brother. They
stayed friends. Some things did seem a little strange
to Rodriguez, he later told the authorities: Henry
shared a bed not with his wife but with his two
youngest sons. Both Nancy and her daughter Theresa
would tell police that they had heard Randy screaming
behind the bedroom door. Nancy explained that she
“never checked to see why Randy was crying, because
she wanted to make sure that Randy found out just how
his father really is.” But Rodriguez would maintain
for years that he never witnessed anything sexual
occur between adults and children.

In March of 1984, Nancy called the police on Henry for
beating Randy with a belt. The county took Eddie and
Randy away from their parents and moved them to Chino
to live with their aunt Naoma, Henry’s stepsister.
About one year later, Naoma went to the police,
telling them that Randy had told her he had been
sodomized by his father and by Rodriguez, and,
according to a probation report, that Eddie “has
nightmares that he has been raped by James and by his
father, but cannot remember whether or not it actually
occurred.” When police asked her to take the boys in
for a medical exam, she initially refused, but a month
later (and more than a year after the boys left their
parents’ home), she changed her mind: “The findings
were positive for evidence of sexual abuse on both
Eddie and Randy, including repetitive forced sodomy on
each of the boys.” On May 2, 1985, the day Riverside
police arrested James Rodriguez, they set up a photo
lineup for the boys. Randy failed to identify

Back on the reservation: 
Rodriguez getting to know his grandson James

At a preliminary hearing six weeks later, Randy took
the stand. This time he was able to point to Rodriguez
in the courtroom, though he could not spell his own
last name, or recall the name of his school, or which
grade he was in. Whenever he was asked a quantitative
question (such as how many times he had been
assaulted, or by how many men), he answered “Four,”
except once, when he claimed that either 40 or 41 of
Rodriguez’s friends had been in the room when
Rodriguez raped him. He called the house on Kansas
Street “the haunted house,” and said it was haunted
not by ghosts but by “naked people,” and that there
had been blood on the walls and on the stairs for four
years until the landlord washed it off. His testimony
was vague, contradictory and largely incoherent,
except on one point, that he had been repeatedly and
forcibly sodomized by Rodriguez and by his father. No
other witnesses were called.

His lawyer, says Rodriguez, “swore I couldn’t beat
these cases,” and told Rodriguez that if the case went
to trial, he would face hundreds of years in prison.
He pleaded guilty in exchange for a sentence of 16
years. Henry and the others took similar deals.
Contacted prior to their sentencing hearing, Henry’s
stepsister Naoma said, “They should get the maximum.
No child will be free from harm on the streets as long
as they’re out. At least 11 children were involved,
including James’ 18-month-old baby.”

About a year later, after Rodriguez had already been
sent to Folsom, Eddie stepped forward. When his turn
came to take the stand, prosecutor Paul Grech asked
the boy about four occasions. On the first, Eddie
said, his father and uncle, dressed for a fishing trip
in long rubber pants, took turns sodomizing him at his
grandmother’s house. On another he was smoking pot
with his mother, when his father, uncle and Rodriguez
came home from the golf course and commenced shooting
up. His mother injected him with heroin, Eddie said,
and he passed out. When he woke, his father was raping
him while the others held him down. On a third
occasion, the family was living in a car parked in his
grandmother’s backyard, and, Eddie testified, his
mother stripped off his clothes and his father raped
him in the back seat. Finally, he said, the day before
the county separated him and Randy from his parents,
he was watching Scooby-Doo on TV when his father and
Rodriguez came in, threw him against a wall, fed him
“a little white pill” that paralyzed him, and then
took turns sodomizing him. Eddie’s testimony was far
more detailed and consistent than his brother’s. He
contradicted himself only on one point: When
Rodriguez’s attorney cross-examined him about the only
occasion on which he alleged that Rodriguez had raped
him, Eddie told the story a second time, and said that
Rodriguez had only held him down.

Once again, the child was the only witness called, and
once again, the case never went to trial. Rodriguez
and his co-defendants all took pleas, in his case
adding nine years to his sentence. “There was no
beating it anyhow,” he says now with a shrug. When
interviewed by a probation officer at the time,
Rodriguez “declined to comment on circumstances
surrounding his behavior with Eddie, expressing a
desire to return to Folsom as soon as possible.”

Dead End

The years passed slowly, and Rodriguez did his best to
stay intoxicated, “just to sleep the time away” — on
pruno (prison-brewed wine) or pot, meth or heroin,
whatever found its way through the prison walls. He
was at Soledad in January of 1998 and due to be
paroled in six months, when he received a visit from
two mental-health evaluators named Dana Putnam and
Dawn Starr. Rodriguez didn’t think much of it at the
time — he was pissed off and addicted, but otherwise,
he says, there was nothing wrong with him. Then on May
17, 1998, a month before he expected to be paroled,
guards told an excited if strung-out Rodriguez that he
would be released the next morning. The morning came
and went. “I said, ‘Hey, what about me?’ They said,
‘Riverside [County] has a hold on you.’ I said, ‘I’ve
been incarcerated 13 years, how can they have a hold
on me?’ He says, ‘I don’t know, man.’”

A lot had happened in 13 years. In the mid-1990s, a
second wave of moral panic about sexual abuse overtook
the country. The murders of 12-year-old Polly Klaas in
Petaluma in 1993 and 7-year-old Megan Kanka in New
Jersey in 1994 lodged a new sort of monster in the
recesses of the American imagination: the sexual
predator. Though the term rarely appeared in the press
prior to the 1990s, it appeared 865 times in major
American papers in 1994, and 924 in ’95. Public
anxiety was proportional, and political responses
immediate. The same year that Californians voted in
the three-strikes initiative, the state Legislature
passed a still tougher “one-strike” statute that
mandated a sentence of 25 years to life for a single
conviction of certain sex crimes. Concerned that sex
offenders who had been sentenced prior to the new law
might nonetheless go free, legislators closed the gap
with another bill, passed in 1995. Henceforth anyone
who had committed specified sex offenses involving at
least two victims, and whom state evaluators
determined to be suffering from a mental disorder
(which the statute defined broadly enough to be almost
synonymous with having committed a sex crime) and
likely to offend again, would be classified as an SVP
and subject to forced commitment to Atascadero, a
50-year-old razor-wire-fortified complex at the end of
a long and almost idyllic tree-lined drive in the town
of the same name, about 15 miles northeast of San Luis

The name Atascadero comes from a Spanish word meaning
mire or dead end, but the institution is usually
referred to by its equally fitting official acronym:
ASH. Theoretically, SVPs can be confined there for
only two years, after which the state has to again
make its case to a jury for another two-year
commitment, but because juries are so reluctant to
free anyone bearing the label sexually violent
predator, SVP status usually means an indefinite term
of incarceration. Of the nearly 500 men classified as
SVPs since the law took effect in 1996, only three
have completed the hospital’s treatment program and
been released; 36 have won their freedom in the
courts, and 19 have died at ASH.

When James Rodriguez arrived at the Riverside County
jail to await his SVP hearing, he was frustrated, he
says, but not overly concerned. “There was nothing
abnormal about my way of thinking sexually, so I
didn’t think they would ever commit me.” But Starr and
Putnam testified in court, “and they just made me out
to be a devil.” Because he had insisted on his
innocence, “Right away, they put me down as being in
denial,” he says. More specifically, they diagnosed
him with antisocial personality disorder,
“poly-substance abuse,” and paraphilia, a catchall
term for sexual deviancy. Starr testified that
Rodriguez’s “high level of psychopathy, strong
narcissism, willingness to victimize others in a
variety of ways . . . and his clinical diagnoses,
especially that of pedophilia, suggest that he is
likely to behave in future sexually violent criminal
behaviors.” Rodriguez’s jury heard the full range of
Randy’s and Eddie’s decade-old allegations, baby rape
and all. Rodriguez himself had never heard them in
such full detail. “They were very heinous,” he says,
his brow knit with something like wonder. “They even
scared me.” The jury, he says, took only 20 minutes to
come back with a decision. He was sent to Atascadero
in December.

Elizabeth Thompson was Rodriguez’s unit psychologist
from the start. “My initial impression was that he was
a very angry man,” she says, but that didn’t
differentiate him much from any of the other patients,
most of whom are enraged at finding themselves
institutionalized indefinitely after serving out their
prison time. The vast majority consider Atascadero’s
treatment program a sham and refuse to participate,
preferring to take their chances with the courts. (The
state Department of Mental Health says “less than 40
percent” are in treatment; Thompson puts the figure at
about 20 percent.) Nor was there anything unusual
about Rodriguez’s crimes — compared with those of
other inmates at ASH, many of whom are repeat
offenders, Thompson says, they were “not particularly
horrific” — or his insistence on his innocence. It’s a
rare convict that doesn’t claim the same. “We don’t
believe them,” Thompson says. “They’re sex offenders —
they lie.”

Drugs were easy to get at ASH, and Rodriguez kept
using until April of 1999, when his niece refused to
send cash to a drug connection outside the hospital
(the usual method for buying inside). At first he was
furious, he says. “It took a few days, and the light
finally went on: Is this going to be my life? I’m
always going to be this ugly person?” He enrolled in
the hospital’s substance-abuse program, asking to be
tested at random intervals to keep him honest.
Hospital staff noticed immediate and dramatic
improvements. “Mr. Rodriguez seems to be less
disrespectful of staff than he was initially and
appears to be making an effort to follow unit
procedures,” wrote one doctor in the fall of 1999.

The change was short-lived. In the first six months of
2000, Rodriguez was written up repeatedly by
Atascadero staff for what one doctor called
“significant behavior problems.” Despite his pledge to
sobriety, Rodriguez had “a severe anger problem,”
Thompson wrote in June of 2000. “He consistently
interferes with staff during interventions with other
patients . . . He goads other patients to aggravate
them during crises . . . He does not want help. He is
a difficult patient.” That month, at the first of
Rodriguez’s biennial recommitment hearings, Thompson
explained Rodriguez’s anger to the court. “He is
experiencing life sober,” she said, “and he just can’t

But something else was going on during those months,
something so tentative and incomplete that Rodriguez’s
psychologists did not at the time find it impressive,
and certainly didn’t see it as a significant factor in
explaining the precipitous changes in his behavior. He
had dropped his avowals of innocence. “Nobody wanted
to hear me,” Rodriguez says, so “I had to tell them
what they needed to hear.”

A hospital document dated December 1999, just before
his conduct began to shift for the worse, noted a
“dramatic change” in Rodriguez’s “ability to accept
responsibility for his sex offending.” Six months
later, hospital records reported that Rodriguez
“accepts partial responsibility for his past illicit
sexual behavior. [He] acknowledges that his behaviors
were somehow harmful to the victims, but his
understanding is superficial and vague.” One of his
evaluators wrote that Rodriguez “could give very
little in the way of details about the events of the
molestations . . . He insisted that he could not
recall any specific events, although he admitted to
being involved.”

Despite this early attempt at confession, Rodriguez
lost his recommitment hearing in 2000. When he got
back to the hospital, he says, “I thought I was
through.” He relapsed once by smoking a single joint,
then threw himself back into AA meetings. He enrolled
in the hospital’s anger-management class and, though
he still refused to take part in the sex-offender
treatment program, began individual therapy. He
continued to tell his doctors he was repentant, but he
couldn’t quite convince them — or, apparently,
himself. “He is still having difficulty accepting some
of his crimes — almost a disbelief that he could do
some of the things he did,” noted one doctor in early
2002. Three months later, an intern noted, he
“continues to be on defense about looking deeper into
his crimes.”

At the same time, Rodriguez says, he had begun sitting
down with a pedophile in his unit, milking him for
information and advice about what to tell the court,
preparing for his next recommitment hearing, scheduled
for April 2002. He was not yet a good enough student.
His testimony that April was bizarre and
contradictory. Rodriguez could not bring himself to
admit that he was attracted to children, but at the
same time promised to avoid putting himself in “a
high-risk situation” such as “maybe having magazines
of kids or kids’ programs on the TV or being around a
school or arcade.” He confessed to having joined Henry
in sodomizing Randy, but would only say that he felt
“horror, straight sickness” and, initially at least,
stubbornly denied having been aroused at the time, or
having enjoyed himself at all. He would not describe
the act, because, he said, “It’s disgusting.” The best
explanation he could offer for his actions was, “I got
caught up in the situation.”

Rodriguez’s performance was so flawed that prosecutor
Carlos Monagas accused him of “parroting the words of
the doctor.” (Monagas now points to that 2002 hearing
as one of the main pieces of evidence pointing to
Rodriguez’s guilt: Confessing in court that day was,
Monagas says, “the worst thing that he could have
done, but it was the truth. The truth has a way of
slipping out in court.” In fact, though, nothing
slipped out — Rodriguez had been telling that
particular “truth” to his doctors for over two years.)
The jury didn’t buy it either, and handed Rodriguez
another two-year stint at ASH.

When he got back to the hospital, Rodriguez says, “I
was defeated.” He surrendered his last bit of
resistance and entered the treatment program. “It was
the only way.”

Confessions, Part I

Sitting in the cramped kitchen of his mobile home,
Rodriguez pulls paper after paper from a tower of
files that dwarfs the small foldout table:
evaluations, polygraph results, physicians’ notes,
group-therapy “homework” assignments. Once in
treatment at ASH, he says, he began to study the old
police reports and court transcripts. He grilled the
pedophile in his unit. “He helped me do the homework,”
Rodriguez says. “He’d basically tell me what to say
and what not to say.”

Rodriguez pulls an assignment from a file folder, an
“events chain” he had to write, analyzing the events
leading up to attacking Randy. All of it is true, he
says — getting high with Henry, sleeping with Nancy,
getting dumped by his girlfriend and losing his job —
all of it, right up to the point where he walks in on
Henry in bed with the boy and decides to join in.

The Atascadero staff was impressed with Rodriguez’s
sudden eagerness to atone. He was outspoken in group
therapy. He fasted for a week for each of his victims.
He took a phallometric assessment — a “peter meter,”
as patients call the procedure — in which sexual
arousal is measured physically while patients are
shown photos of children and of violent sex. Rodriguez
showed no response at all to images of boys or of rape
scenarios, but he was aroused by one photo of what he
says was a particularly buxom 17-year-old girl. When
doctors asked him about it, he told them, “You guys
gotta go look at the picture. That girl did not look
like 17.” They reviewed the photo and agreed.
Rodriguez passed, convincing his doctors, as he puts
it, that “Kids aren’t my bag . . . My sexual
preference is chunky white women, or Mexican or
Indian. That’s always been my preference.”

None of this was easy. “Emotionally,” Thompson says,
“he appeared genuine.” Beginning in November of 2002,
Rodriguez fell into a deep depression and began
isolating himself in his room. “He was in tears all
the time,” Thompson said. To his doctors, Rodriguez’s
malaise was evidence of the sincerity of his
repentance. “It seemed he was experiencing victim
empathy and really taking responsibility. It impressed
me, and the staff.”

It wasn’t remorse, Rodriguez says, but the weight of
all he had to listen to in group sessions day after
day — “the ugliest shit a guy has ever heard” — and,
worse still, of all he had to say. “Some of the stuff
I had to say was just So. Fucked. Up,” he says, his
eyes widening in awe. “I was supposed to be sodomizing
them. We were supposed to be gang-raping them. I mean,
I was supposed to be holding them down.” After a long
pause, Rodriguez shakes his head. “I’ll tell you,” he
says, his voice low, “at one point I started thinking,
‘Maybe I did do this.’”

Late last year, Thompson determined that Rodriguez had
progressed sufficiently that, though he had not
completed even the second phase of Atascadero’s
four-phase inpatient treatment plan, there was no
longer any reason to keep him locked up. She drove
down to San Diego County and learned that his tribe
was willing to take him in and could offer him
outpatient treatment in a community setting that
rivaled anything the state had to offer. She wrote to
the district attorney, asking him not to press for
recommitment in 2004. Of the approximately 270 men she
had treated at ASH, she wrote, “I have never before
recommended the unconditional release of a single

On the afternoon of May 29, coincidentally Thompson’s
next to last day at Atascadero (she had earlier
resigned, she says, for a combination of personal
reasons, burnout and disgust with the hypocrisy of the
state mental-health bureaucracy), she opened an e-mail
from Sylvia Graber, James Rodriguez’s public defender.
The D.A. had sent investigators out to talk to Randy
and Eddie, and Graber had just listened to the tapes
of the interviews. Randy’s statements were ambiguous,
Graber wrote, but Eddie’s were not: “He says that the
molests never happened.”

“I flipped out,” Thompson says. “I just flipped my
lid. I was angry that he had duped me.” She called
Rodriguez into her office. “He said, ‘What else could
I do?’ And he was right — what else could he do?” She
listened to the tapes of Eddie’s and Randy’s
interviews with the D.A. and reviewed all the old
transcripts. She reconsidered everything Rodriguez had
said and done since 1998. “That’s when it all made

Confessions, Part II

Graber was right — the taped interview with Randy is
ambiguous, but not when it comes to James Rodriguez.
An investigator for the Riverside D.A.’s Office named
Mary Ortiz spoke with Randy in February at the adult
group home in which he was then residing. Randy was
scared from the start. When Ortiz asked if he
remembered the house on Pepper Court, Randy answered
in a frightened, childish voice, “It’s not a good
thing to say. It’s making me more scared inside that
I’m have that happen again.” He told her that his
father had abused him a lot, whipping him with a belt,
scarring his head with the buckle. “He hurt me,” Randy
said. “He makes me do a lot of things that I can’t

Ortiz asked if he was scared “because of the things
James did to you.” Randy answered, “Who’s James? I
don’t know James.”

Later, he said that his father “makes me do a lot of
stuff on his body.” He also said that he missed his
father, and forgave him, and that he badly missed
Eddie, whom he had not seen for years. The only person
he did not miss was his aunt Naoma. “I don’t want to
talk about her,” he said. “I don’t like her.”

Ortiz, in a final attempt to wrest something
conclusive from it all, asked Randy if he thought
“those bad people that did bad things to you should
stay in jail.” Randy answered, “I think they need to
get out . . . I know my aunt did that to me and say
that about my dad and my mom. And we went there, and
he was in jail, and she said, ‘Okay, say it, say it,
say it, keep on saying it.’” A few seconds later,
Ortiz ended the interview.

She had interviewed Eddie just days before. He wasn’t
expecting it. His parole officer called him up to San
Bernardino for a meeting (Eddie has been in and out of
prison for years, most recently for receiving stolen
cars), and he found Ortiz and another investigator
waiting for him. When Ortiz first asked him about the
abuse allegations, he answered bluntly, his voice
clipped with anger, “They were false.” He told Ortiz
that his aunt had “kind of brainwashed” him and Randy,
that she and the district attorney coerced them into
testifying, that prosecutors threatened to separate
him and Randy unless they testified, and subjected
them to lengthy interviews, not letting them leave to
use the toilet until they said what the D.A. wanted
them to say. “If I was strong like I am now when I was
a kid,” he said, “then the truth would’ve come out
that [Rodriguez] didn’t do nothing and my dad didn’t
do nothing and it was all coerced by my aunt and the

Though at the time of the interview he had been clean
for nine months, Eddie blamed the Riverside D.A.’s
Office for his years of addiction to speed, and for
the prison time he had done in pursuit of it. “It
rides on me every day, knowing that I put people in
prison that didn’t need to be put in prison. And I
have difficulties living with it,” he said. He would
sue the county, he said, if he only knew where to

High school grad: Rodriguez receiving his GED at
Atascadero State Hospital in April 2003


Henry’s half-acre lot in Perris is mainly dirt,
littered with castoff golf clubs and fishing rods,
tires, lawn furniture in various states of decay, a
dead Ford in a corner, a smog-stained mobile home, and
two small, white stucco buildings. Henry has been
fixing up the front one, trying to make a home for his
son. There’s no furniture, so Eddie sits on the carpet
smoking Marlboros, his back against the wall. Henry,
now in his 70s, bone thin and leathery, sits on a
folding chair beside him, his long legs crossed, a
pink golf shirt buttoned up to his throat.

For Eddie, the beginning of the end came the day in
March of 1984 when his mom called the cops on his dad
for beating Randy (“It was just a spanking,” Eddie
says), when he and his brother were first separated
from their parents and fell into the hands of the
state. “It was a legal kidnapping,” he says. “My dad
came and got me from school. We walked down the
alleyway, and the cops pulled up on my dad, and they
handcuffed him and threw me in the back seat.”

After a few weeks in a shelter home, the boys moved in
with their aunt Naoma. The visits to the D.A.’s Office
soon began, Eddie remembers. “We’d go down there every
day except Saturday and Sunday, and I’d tell them,
‘No, this didn’t happen.’” Randy quickly caved, but
Eddie fought as long as he could, he says. “When we
were home, [Naoma] would drill it in more. She never
let it rest. And after a while, I started believing
it.” The D.A. threatened to separate him and his
brother, he says, and he was put on drugs — Ritalin,
lithium, Haldol, Thorazine. He stopped fighting. When
he finally testified in late 1987, Eddie says, “I was
like a tape recorder, that’s how much they drilled it
into me. I knew it line for line, verse for verse.”

Not a word of it, he says, was true: Neither he nor
Randy was abused by anyone, sexually or otherwise —
not by his father, not by his uncle, not by James
Rodriguez. The medical exam was wrong, he claims. “If
there was scarring, it’s because they stuck a camera
where they shouldn’t be sticking a camera.”

Dr. Astrid Heppenstall Heger, the executive director
of the Violence Intervention Program at County-USC and
a longtime expert in child sexual abuse, believes the
exam would not likely have held up had the case gone
to trial. Because the boys were examined more than a
year after the alleged abuse took place, long after
any tearing or abrasion would have healed and
disappeared, says Heger, who testified in the McMartin
case, “the chances of there being any medical findings
that would withstand scientific scrutiny are very

As to his aunt’s motivations, Eddie says, “I have no
clue,” except, he speculates, that “she was a
money-hungry woman” and was willing to see her
brothers imprisoned to get the government assistance
that guardianship of the two boys entailed. Henry
claims total ignorance of the source of his
stepsister’s enmity. “I never did nothing to her,” he
says. “She wanted that check.” Naoma has long since
moved out of California, and did not respond to
requests for an interview.

More than he blames his aunt, though, Eddie blames the
Riverside D.A. After they turned off the tape recorder
during the February interview, he says, the D.A.’s
investigators told him that unless he testified that
Rodriguez was guilty, they would ask his San
Bernardino parole officer to declare him in violation
if he left the county to stay with his father. He
refused, and sure enough, he says, his P.O. told him
he could not return to Perris. (Neither Carlos Monagas
nor a spokesperson for the Riverside District
Attorney’s Office responded to repeated calls for
comment on this allegation.) But more than that, he
says, “Every day I have to look at the fact that my
dad did time, James did time, my uncle died with this
on his jacket. I have to live with that, and it has
fucked with me mentally.”

Henry shakes his head. “We don’t blame you.”

Eddie stares at the carpet and smokes. “I blame

“We got a good relationship now,” Henry says. Things
are always rocky between him and Nancy, who flits
about the compound like a ghost, but he speaks with
all four of his children, and Randy has been coming
out for weekends. “We just want to be a family.” Henry
doesn’t know if he can afford to seek to get his
conviction expunged, but “It’d be nice to be cleared
of it, because I know in my heart and in my mind that
I never did do nothing to my kids. That would be a
blessing, to go to my grave knowing that things was
finally right in life.”

Asked if he has seen Rodriguez since his release from
Atascadero, Eddie says Rodriguez came out to Perris
once on a Saturday. “I couldn’t even fucking look at
him,” he says, pulling off his glasses and wiping away
tears with a tattooed wrist, “because the fact is, I
feel bad. I feel real bad.”


Carlos Monagas is not budging. Monagas is in his
mid-30s but looks younger. He came to the Rodriguez
case in 2002, when Rodriguez was up for his last
recommitment hearing. Sitting behind a wide, U-shaped
desk in his office across the street from the
Riverside courthouse in which Eddie and Randy
testified almost 20 years ago, Monagas says he does
not believe Eddie’s recantation. “I would make an
analogy to a domestic-violence case,” he says, “where
the police get a 911 call [and they] rush to the scene
and there’s the defendant beating on the wife, and you
fast-forward to trial a year later and what is she
saying? ‘I made that up. I fell down the stairs.’”

As for Rodriguez, he says, “It’s easy 18 years later
to claim that you didn’t do things when nobody is
likely to contradict you, but in the 1980s, when
everything was on the line and when it counted most,
instead of demanding his right to a jury trial and
confronting the evidence, Mr. Rodriguez instead pled
guilty and admitted what he had done. He pled guilty
twice, in two separate cases. Not only him, but all
his co-defendants pled guilty and admitted

When he first heard the tape of Eddie’s disavowals,
Monagas says, he went back to the original transcripts
and reviewed the evidence against Rodriguez. He spoke
with one of the three original prosecutors and was
convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that James
Rodriguez “molested those boys. He’s a child

His decision not to petition for Rodriguez’s
recommitment to Atascadero, Monagas says, had nothing
to do with Eddie’s recantation. “There just wasn’t
sufficient evidence to proceed to trial”: Four of the
five doctors who evaluated Rodriguez were ready to
testify that he was not likely to offend again and
hence no longer fit the criteria to be classified a
sexually violent predator. “I pray every day,” Monagas
says, “that they’re correct.”

Loose Ends

If anything, James Rodriguez says, “I’m angry at the
system for not investigating this further. If I had
the money, I probably would’ve been able to beat this.
But I never had money.” He still nurses some rage at
David Gunn, who originally prosecuted the case against
him, “just because he was so arrogant. He didn’t want
to hear nothing.” Gunn has long since left the D.A.’s
Office to work as a private defense attorney. When
Rodriguez was in court in Riverside for his SVP
hearings, he says, “Some days he’d stand right next to
me and come and talk to his client. The only thing
that would come to my mind was Cape Fear,” he laughs.
“I used to think, ‘Man, if I wasn’t chained up. I’d
just love to jump on him.’ But what was that going to

Contacted in his office by phone, Gunn says he has a
“pretty hazy” recollection of the case against Henry,
but “the name Rodriguez doesn’t ring a bell.” Gunn did
not respond to several other requests to further
discuss the case. Neither of the two other main
prosecutors in the case — Paul Gretch, also now a
private defense attorney, and Vilia Sherman, now a
judge on the Riverside bench — was willing to comment
for this story.

On June 17, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department
posted a photo of James Rodriguez on the “High Risk
Sex Offender” page of its Web site. Residents on the
reservation were sufficiently alarmed that the tribal
council called Rodriguez in to account for himself.
“It’s kind of an iffy situation,” Rodriguez says. He
is talking to lawyers, hoping to soon begin the legal
battle to clear his record, and sue the county, and
perhaps the state. In the meantime, he has found a job
— not a good one, but a job, building pallets for $8
an hour. And he has become romantically involved with
Elizabeth Thompson, his former psychologist. “I always
knew I had feelings for her, but I didn’t think it was
appropriate given the situation I was in,” he says.
After he got out, though, “It just blossomed.”

Their relationship has become something of a scandal
up at Atascadero, Thompson says. Few of her former
colleagues will speak to her, and she will likely lose
her license to practice psychology, but, she says, “I
had to follow my heart.”

“It’s a love story,” she laughs. “Now you have a good

Also on June 17, Henry learned that Randy would be
allowed to leave the group home and, after fully 20
years apart, live with him and Nancy. He has already
moved in.

The day after I saw Henry and Eddie in Perris, Eddie
had a court date in San Bernardino. He never made it.
Sheriff’s deputies arrived that day and arrested him
at his father’s house. When Henry and I last spoke, he
had not heard from Eddie since.

Start Omhoog