Judge weighs placement of ‘sexually violent predator’ in San Bernardino County town

Local news

A judge is considering whether a San Bernardino County community is the right spot to place a “sexually violent predator” convicted of numerous sex crimes against multiple children dating back to 1969.

Lawtis Donald Rhoden was convicted of sex assaults targeting teenage girls in Los Angeles and Orange counties, as well as Florida and Tennessee.

He was released from prison in 2004, then ordered to a state mental hospital. But about 15 years later, Orange County Superior Court ordered his conditional release.

Earlier this year, the court found “extraordinary circumstances” existed to authorize his relocation outside the county.

He was tentatively ordered by a court on March 12 to live in Twentynine Palms — something objected to by San Bernardino County DA Jason Anderson, Sheriff John McMahon and other local officials.

Now, Newberry Springs, a small community east of Barstow on Interstate 40, is the proposed location for Rhoden’s release.

Rhoden’s attorney says he is required by law to be released 30 days from the court’s finding that he is suitable for release. The judge agrees, but says her hands are tied with local authorities objecting.

The judge has taken it under consideration and will rule on whether Newberry Springs is a proper place to release him. If not, another community will be proposed, and further objection is likely.

Rhoden was first convicted in the sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl in Cocoa Beach, Florida. He lured the teenager back to his apartment, where he raped her three different times, San Bernardino County sheriff’s officials said in March.

He was found guilty of a felony county of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under the age of 14 after reaching a plea agreement, and was sentenced to 14 months in a state mental hospital and 12 years in prison.

He was eventually released from prison and paroled.

Rhoden ended up in Southern California while on parole and, between April and June 1984, he sexually assaulted three girls, two who were 14 and one who was 17, authorities said. The crimes occurred in L.A. and Orange counties.

He was convicted in those three cases of rape by force, forceful sexual penetration, sexual battery, and forcible rape.

In December 1984, while the California crimes were still under investigation, Rhoden raped a 13-year-old in Tennessee, according to sheriff’s officials. He was ultimately convicted of rape and using a minor for obscene purposes in that case.

Authorities say that, in every case, Rhoden identified himself as a photographer and lured the girls in by offering them modeling photoshoots. In Southern California, he approached the teens while they were on foot and tried to entice them to get into his car.

He received state prison terms of 20, 12 and 6 years respectively by courts in Tennessee, Orange County and L.A. County.

On top of the sex assaults, Rhoden bilked victims in California, Florida and Texas out of $440,000 from March 1983 until he was arrested in Tennessee, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

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