PrimeTime Thursday

7:51 pm Press Releases - ABC News

For Release: June 19, 2001

A “PrimeTime Thursday” Investigation Into A Massachusetts Facility For Sexual Predators Uncovers Offenders Released To Strike Again, In “Predators Among Us,” Airing Thursday, June 21

According to a special, six-month “PrimeTime Thursday” investigation, dangerous sexual predators were released from a Massachusetts facility that was supposed to treat them — only to rape, molest or murder again. Nathaniel Bar-Jonah was incarcerated at the Massachusetts Treatment Center for the Sexually Dangerous after a history of sexual crimes against boys. He could have remained locked up for life. But in 1991 — after 12 years — a judge ordered him released. Within days, he was arrested for allegedly committing another offense. Rather than return him to the treatment center, a Massachusetts judge, in a plea agreement, dropped the charges after Bar-Jonah agreed to move to Great Falls, Montana. No one notified Montana officials. In 1999, Bar-Jonah was charged with killing a 10-year-old boy authorities say he also cannibalized. He’s pleaded not guilty.

The hour-long “Prime Time Thursday” also investigates 25 other men once housed at the center — and released during an 18-month period — and finds that seven of the offenders cannot be found. “PrimeTime Thursday” will air this report June 21, 10-11 p.m. ET on the ABC Television Network.

The “PrimeTime Thursday” investigation also discovered that at approximately the same time Bar-Jonah was freed, at least three other offenders were released from the Massachusetts center and went on to strike again: convicted rapist Michael Kelley murdered two women, Ralph Houghton raped a retarded 21-year-old man and Ronald Leftwich murdered a priest.

In the early 1990s, worried about the release of known offenders, then-center therapist Paula Erickson composed the list of Bar-Jonah and 25 other convicted sex offenders the courts had ordered released after deeming them no longer sexually dangerous. Erickson, convinced they were still too dangerous to release, took her list to the state capitol. “I tried to warn people but they wouldn’t listen,” Erickson tells ABC News Correspondent Cynthia McFadden. “I couldn’t get anyone to investigate. The state police, the FBI. I couldn’t get anyone.” Nearly 10 years later, “PrimeTime Thursday” conducted its own investigation into the list and discovered:

None of the 26 men have been registered with the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board.
Three were released from the center to prison and will be eligible for release soon.
11 who were released are back in prison, most for new sex crimes, or awaiting trial.
One, who was working with mentally disabled adults, was caught on security-camera tape exposing himself to a little girl in Vermont.
Seven of the men are unaccounted for.

“PrimeTime Thursday” also learned that at the time Bar-Jonah and the others were housed at the center, the Social Security Administration termed the conditions underlying pedophilia a disability, and distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in disability checks to some of the pedophiles. Also, the courts had ordered the center to live up to its name and treat the men as patients, not prisoners. But as “PrimeTime Thursday” discovered, the transition from prison to hospital was often unsuccessful. A 12-year former resident who spoke to “PrimeTime Thursday” on condition of anonymity, describes conditions at the center as “A dungeon. An asylum. It was like being in there with Satan. The deviousness was horrendous. In groups, people would be confessing to crimes, a multitude of crimes, above and beyond what they were there for.”

Records show that convicted rapist Michael Kelley was often allowed to leave the center grounds and for six years had unsupervised overnight furloughs. While still an inmate, he bought a house, got married and started a family. Shortly before his release, Kelley was found with a 14-inch knife, rope and credit cards. A review board accepted Kelley’s explanation that these were kitchen items, and not instruments of crime. The board received glowing recommendations from the center’s psychologists, who concluded that Kelly “does not need additional treatment.”

After his release, Kelley was convicted of killing two women, and burying one in his backyard. Kelley spoke to “PrimeTime Thursday” from prison, where he is serving a life sentence. “It wasn’t really about who was getting the proper treatment. It was who looked good,” he says of his release. “You had to present a good package.”

Another former resident, serial pedophile Wayne Chapman, made powerfully disturbing audiotapes while stalking little boys — tapes obtained by “PrimeTime Thursday.” Chapman is suspected of molesting kids in Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio. “The first thing he admitted was molesting a lot of children, tying children, leaving them in the woods,” Providence, R.I. Det. Al Mintz says of his interrogation of Chapman back in 1976.

In 1978, Chapman was incarcerated at the Massachusetts treatment center for raping a 10-year-old child. Mintz tells McFadden he thought Chapman would be at the center for life. “The state of Massachusetts had that law, that once he was deemed a Sexually Dangerous Person, that he would go away forever,” Mintz says, referring to the law that says someone could be locked up for life as long as he continued to be deemed sexually dangerous. But each year, inmates had the right to petition a judge to let them go. It was up to the state to prove that the offender was still sexually dangerous beyond a reasonable doubt.

Despite the state’s resistance, a judge ordered Chapman’s release to prison, where he will finish his original sentence. In three years, Chapman is scheduled to go free. Mintz tells McFadden he believes Chapman will molest again. “Absolutely. It’s just a matter of time.”

ABCNEWS.com, the 24-hour news service of ABC News and part of the Walt Disney Internet Group, will provide companion programming to Thursday’s broadcast.

“PrimeTime Thursday” is co-anchored by Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson.
David Doss is the executive producer. (CLOSED CAPTIONED)

ABC News Media Relations:
Adam Pockriss: (212) 456-7243 adam.pockriss@abc.com
Todd Polkes: (212) 456-4586 todd.polkes@abc.com

For ABCNEWS.com:
Lauren Kapp: (212) 456-2478 lauren.kapp@abc.com

 

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