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Parole date for Utah child sex offender sparks protest

Published August 21, 2013 8:04 pm

Board of Pardons • Doporto's release in November is too soon for victims' families.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

After two decades in prison, child sex offender Michael Doporto is just months away from freedom — all too soon for some victims' families, who allege Doporto is a "sick predator" who should spend the rest of his life behind bars.

One victim's mother has started an online petition, which so far has more than 600 signatures, urging the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole to reconsider its decision to release Doporto in November. Traci G. Wakefield also plans to ask Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and other elected officials to override the board's decision.

For some victims and their families, the passage of time and Doporto's lengthy punishment haven't eased their pain or alleviated their fear he'll offend again.

"He took life from these children," said Wakefield, who has long been publicly vocal about her daughter's abuse. "They'll never get that innocence back, ever. I don't think he should be out."

But the decision has been made: Doporto, 64, will be free come November. In Utah, the governor does not have authority to overturn a parole decision and the board revokes a release date only for cause, such as a disciplinary problem.

"These are the most difficult decisions, especially given the impact to victims and their families," Ally Isom, Herbert's deputy chief of staff, said in a statement. "As an independent agency, the Board of Pardons and Parole has the constitutional authority to grant parole. If there are new concerns about a potential parolee's release, it is essential the board be notified directly."

John Green, a senior hearing officer, said the board's decision was based upon a thorough review of Doporto's situation — his past, his conduct in prison and his future, which will be tightly restricted.

"The board believes it is appropriate at this point to transition this man back into the community," Green said on behalf of the board. "The board bends over backwards for victim families and they are very sensitive to them. ... This wasn't just something that was done on a whim."

Even though she knows that reversing the board's decision is unlikely, Wakefield remains relentless.

"I've got to try," Wakefield said. "It's opened up every wound again like it happened yesterday."

In the 1990s, Michael Doporto's case reshaped Utah court procedures.

Doporto, then living in East Carbon, was convicted in December 1993 of first-degree sodomy of a child. The then-7-year-old victim was a next-door neighbor; the assault happened during a best friends' sleepover with his daughter.

The victim kept silent for four years before telling a relative about the assault and soon police were involved. Allegations of other victims surfaced, but the statute of limitations had passed for most of them.

Prosecutors went forward with a single victim, though the trial judge allowed two other victims to testify that Doporto had also sexually abused them — which proved to be a legal misstep.

Doporto was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. But in 1997, the Utah Supreme Court overturned Doporto's conviction because the judge allowed the other girls to testify. The majority wrote in its 3-2 opinion that such testimony has "unavoidable inflammatory potential" and is inadmissible "unless it has a special relevance to the crime charged."

The "Doporto decision" thus made moot a rule that allowed prosecutors to provide evidence of prior crimes or bad acts to establish motive, intent or the identity of a defendant's "signature" criminal pattern.

The justices sent the case back to the trial court. Doporto was set free.

A public outcry ensued and one Utah lawmaker introduced legislation to change state law to once again broaden the type of evidence that could be admitted at criminal trials.

But before the Legislature could act, the court made what was described later as a "stunning" move. In February 1998, it found fault with the far-reaching consequences of its own decision and amended the state's Rules of Evidence to allow juries to hear evidence of prior bad acts, though it set a high bar for allowing such testimony.

Meanwhile, the lower court was still wrestling with what to do with Doporto.

Prosecutors offered Doporto a plea deal in which he would receive three years of supervised probation in exchange for a guilty plea to the sodomy charge. The offer required Doporto to get sex-offender therapy, be listed on the state's sex-offender registry and barred him from being around young girls. But 7th District Judge Lyle Anderson, now the presiding judge in Grand County, wanted no part of the deal.

Anderson said the agreement improperly limited his authority to impose a sentence and failed to hold Doporto accountable for his conduct, "if he in fact committed this offense." Anderson ordered a new trial for Doporto.

By then, authorities had amassed 10 separate sex-abuse cases against Doporto that alleged he preyed on young girls of family and friends between 1984 and 1993. The week before Anderson's ruling, the Utah attorney general's office filed two new cases against Doporto. One alleged he abused a relative over a nine-year period at family gatherings and sleepovers; the other accused him of attacking a girl during a family reunion in Davis County.

Like Traci Wakefield's daughter, that victim kept silent for years. As Doporto's conviction collapsed, the victim, then 20, disclosed to her mother she had been abused numerous times by Doporto when she was 7.

Months after being released from prison, as the new allegations surfaced, Doporto called a wrong number and left a tape-recorded message, purportedly for the parents' of one victim, that would be used against him.

"I love [the victim]. I never raped her," he said. "I fondled her and stuff like that but I never raped her. If somebody done that to my child like that, I'd kill 'em in a minute. I got my problems, but give me a break."

A 2nd District Court judge oversaw the three cases then pending against Doporto.

In one case, Doporto pleaded guilty to a count of second-degree felony sex abuse of a child and in February 1999 was sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. Doporto was given credit for nearly 3½ years he'd already served. In the other case, which was consolidated with the Carbon County case, Doporto pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree sodomy on a child. He was sentenced to 10 years to life in prison — by law, the minimum sentence — with credit for 322 days already served.

With that conviction, Wakefield thought Doporto would never get out of prison.

Michael Doporto last appeared before the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole in August 2010.

A hearing officer noted Doporto molested at least seven victims — two girls listed in the court cases and five other reported victims.

"Have you had other victims in your lifetime?" asked Jim Hatch, hearing officer.

"No, sir," Doporto replied.

Wakefield and other victims' parents, along with police who investigated his case, believe there were many times that number of victims, and academic studies are on their side. One 2001 study found child molesters underreport the number of sex crimes they have committed by about 500 percent.

Asked to explain why he assaulted his victims, Doporto said: "I was irrational at the time. I didn't take time to think of what I was doing. I was bored with my life. I took medication for depression, which caused me [to not feel] remorse. I also drank continuously."

Pressed about whether he understood how his actions had affected his victims, Doporto gave this answer: "Well, I believe that the victims would be mostly scarred for the rest of their lives, reliving, having nightmares, they are not able to work or function properly. They can't live a gainful life."

Doporto, a Vietnam veteran and former United Mine Worker, will be in the "Group A" classification of paroled sex offenders, those most closely monitored. He will be required to enroll in intensive outpatient treatment, take random polygraph tests, be barred from contact with children under the age of 18 within his home, and prohibited from being near parks, schools and other places where children are likely to be.

Studies in Utah and nationally show treatment is effective in reducing recidivism rates of sex offenders — in fact, recidivism rates of "secondary" pedophiles like Doporto, those who are married or in adult relationships and make up the majority of child sex offenders, are second lowest, topped only by the rate for murder, according to Utah psychologist Jonathan Ririe.

"Part of that is because everybody [the offender] has contact with knows he committed the offense and are monitoring and supervising him," said Ririe, who works with sex offenders. "Treatment for secondary pedophiles is very effective because essentially what is happening is you are teaching these offenders skills to manage their lives more effectively through better communication, assertiveness and getting their needs met appropriately."

Doporto completed an 18-month sex-offender program in prison and served longer than the 14½ years his sentencing guidelines called for, Green said.

But that is not enough to satisfy some victims' families.

During the 2010 hearing, one mother read a statement from her daughter, who found a previous hearing so traumatic she could not return a second time. In the letter, the victim described how Doporto had manipulated and taken advantage of family and relatives to get access to children and then keep them silent.

"That is his motive, that is how he operates. He is a predator," the victim said in the statement read aloud by her mother.

The victim's mother also read a statement.

"Mike Doporto is a threat and he will always be a threat to any child in any community," the mother said. "He will re-offend if he is let out into our community. It is just a matter of when he gets caught once again."

The stolen innocence, the fractured childhoods of his victims, can never be restored to Doporto's victims, she said.

"My daughter can never receive enough therapy to heal her from this dreadful crime," the mother said. "So if she isn't healed from this crime, why should he be given the opportunity to go out into society and given another chance? It doesn't balance out. The day she is healed and free from this crime and pain, then that is the day that he should be released from prison. That is fair and justice."

Given a chance to respond, Michael Doporto offered an apology.

"I deeply regret and sincerely apologize to all the children and their families and friends that I have hurt so badly," he said, reading from a statement. "The hideous crimes that I have committed may never be forgotten by the children or their families."

There was nothing he could do about that now, he said. Had someone sexually abused his own daughters, he would have "done all I could to stop that person." His acts had shamed and embarrassed his family, he said.

"I've seen the look in their eyes and I know I have done the worst crime a man can do," he said. "For that I will always be in treatment."

brooke@sltrib.com

Twitter: Brooke4Trib