Christopher Lawyer, a Colorado man convicted of kidnapping and raping a woman in 2001, says the 16 years he spent in jail after his arrest have changed him for good.
In that time, he got off drugs, sought a healthier lifestyle and studied Buddhism, Lawyer said on Wednesday, speaking in a jailhouse interview. He eventually taught career classes to other inmates that focused on ethics and character.
"I've always taken responsibility for my crimes," said Lawyer, who was arrested earlier this week for allegedly violating a curfew imposed as part of his parole. "Human beings can change. They can evolve and become better.”
His new neighbors in the Sacramento suburb of Carmichael aren't giving him the benefit of the doubt. After discovering that he had settled in their midst, about 80 concerned residents packed a community meeting Wednesday night at the Carmichael Park Clubhouse. The meeting was hosted by Sacramento County Supervisor Susan Peters.
Many attendees said they feared for the safety of their families. Other questioned why they were not alerted about Lawyer's move to the 2000 block of Wingfield Way until this month.
Lawyer, who served his sentence in Colorado, applied for a Interstate Compact Agreement transfer for parolees and probationers, which was approved and allowed him to travel across state lines last fall and move in with his aunt in Carmichael.
"I've got a daughter who's 23," said Bruce Werking, who lives directly next to Lawyer and was present at the meeting. "I had to call her up and tell her 'You can't come over anymore.'"
Richard Mahan, another Carmichael resident, said he was angry community members were not given a voice in whether Lawyer moved to the area or not.
"Where was our right to have a community meeting?" he said Wednesday, addressing Peters. "We need you to do more."
Similar protests came from Colorado residents after Lawyer's 2016 release. Outraged community members were concerned about living next to someone officials deemed a "sexually violent predator," making it difficult for the state's correction's officers to find Lawyer a home in Colorado, the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper reported.
Lawyer was arrested later that year after his parole agent found books containing violent pornography. He was released months later.
Again, he had a hard time finding somewhere to live amid the community uproar. Before moving to California, he lived in a Boulder homeless shelter for a time.
The national transfer system was established to inform victims of an offender's move across state lines, as well as to ensure law enforcement agencies in different states were aware of people on parole or probation who moving into their jurisdiction, according to the Interstate Commission for Adult Offender Supervision, which oversees the process.
Since moving to Sacramento County in October, Lawyer has held two jobs, made new friends and met a girlfriend who knows about his past, he said.
“I’ve met some wonderful people that have been accepting," Lawyer said. “I don’t want the attention.”
In 2001, Lawyer was sentenced to 12 years to life in prison after kidnapping a Boulder, Colo., woman who was delivering newspapers at an apartment complex the year before, according to the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper. News accounts said Lawyer forced the woman into a car, taped her eyes and mouth shut, and drove her to a location where he raped her for more than an hour at gunpoint. The day before, Lawyer tried to rape a different woman after making his way into a home, but the woman escaped, the Boulder Daily Camera reported.
Pat Davis, Lawyer's aunt, declined to speak to the Sacramento Bee on Friday but told Capitol Public Radio in an earlier interview that Lawyer was "a changed man" from the "crazy" person convicted in the rape case. She said she was the one who suggested he move to California.
Lawyer's girlfriend, Roeschan Rux, said the two began dating about a month and a half ago after meeting at a coffee shop. They both thought he was not violating the terms of his parole when he began spending the night at her home on several occasions, she said. It was only after his arrest that they learned that the visits were a violation.
“There was a miscommunication with the curfew," she said. “He had called his parole officer about it, he called and messaged him telling him exactly where he would be.”
Rux said it was unfair that neighbors chose to target Lawyer while other sex offenders lived in the same neighborhood. She described him as a "very caring, sensitive man" and said she had accepted him even though she was a victim of the same crimes he was convicted of.
“If I can be OK with somebody being rehabilitated and changing, then I don't understand why other people can't," she said.
Lawyer returned to the media spotlight recently because of a strange coincidence. The family of Yinshan “Michelle” Wong told police and reporters she was exchanging text messages with Lawyer before she inexplicably wandered barefoot into the thorny, rugged American River Canyon, where she was later found dead and partially eaten by a mountain lion.
The Placer County Sheriff's Department quickly cleared Lawyer of any wrongdoing, saying Wong did not die as a result of foul play and that Lawyer was wearing an ankle monitor that showed he was at work when she disappeared.
At the time, Lawyer's information had not been uploaded to the California's Megan's Law database, which provides the public with information about sex offenders and where they live.
On Monday, he was arrested by members of the inter-agency Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement Team, which supervises registered sex offenders in the county . The reason: staying out past a 10 p.m. curfew.
Craig Harmon, a Sacramento County Sheriff's detective assigned to the specialized unit, said the team began investigating Lawyer after receiving a tip on Feb. 13 from a neighbor regarding a sex offender from Colorado living in Carmichael. While Lawyer had registered with the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department upon his move to Carmichael, the specialized unit was not actively tracking him, Harmon said after the community meeting.
Lawyer is assigned a separate state correction's officer and wears a GPS monitoring device, he added.
"Once we found out, we went immediately to the house he's living in," Harmon said about the tip. "We were able to start monitoring his GPS tracks."
During their investigation, the unit discovered Lawyer violated his curfew, a condition of his release, on multiple occasions, Harmon said. The department then made their arrest.
While most of the neighbors gathered during Wednesday's meeting said they were unhappy about Lawyer's move, Doug Kraft, a former minster for the Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento, urged residents to not assume the worst. The two men met last fall when Lawyer joined a meditation group at the church and befriended him, Kraft said.
"I hope we don't just assume who this guy is," Kraft said during the community meeting. "I really hope you give the system a chance."
Luis Patino, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the Interstate Compact Agreement was created to "help provide stability so that the parolee can reintegrate into society successfully without returning to their past criminality." In cases when a parolee has a family member who is willing to sponsor them in a different state, the two states may choose to exchange parolees.
Generally, when a parolee is accused of violating conditions of their release, their assigned agent will conduct an investigation and send his or her findings to a supervisor. The results may also go to the state's Interstate Compact Commissioner for a final decision, Patino said. He declined to comment on Lawyer's specific case, citing an ongoing investigation.
The California Department of Justice did not return multiple requests for information Thursday about why Lawyer was not listed on the state's Megan's Law website for several months.
In a previous attempt for that information, the state agency replied with a list of reasons why a sex offender might not show up on the site.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation says offenders are deemed sexually violent predators based on numerous factors, including whether they are convicted of certain types of crimes like sexual assault of a minor or adult, if they have prior sexual convictions or exhibit factors that may lead to sexual re-offense.