Enraged Townsfolk Vow to Bar Parolee

Times Staff Writer

Cries of fear and outrage from this otherwise quiet town have forced state parole authorities to search the nation for another state that will accept Lawrence Singleton, who raped and hacked off the arms of a teen-age girl in 1978.

Repeatedly asking "Why Antioch?" public officials and townsfolk have reviled and threatened Singleton and signed petitions and sued to banish him even before his scheduled arrival 10 days from now.

"The whole process (of Singleton's parole) is under review," Department of Corrections spokesman Robert Gore said, adding that the state's effort to change the release site was a reaction to Antioch's protests.

Gore said the department hopes to place Singleton in a Southeastern state, where his brothers live, but he would not name the state for fear that public outcry there would foil California's plans.

Officials acknowledge that they are working against a tight deadline. The former merchant seaman is scheduled for release a week from Saturday, after serving seven years and nine months of a 14-year sentence. Unless an agreement is reached with another state, Singleton could still end up in Antioch.

Word of his release to Antioch appeared first in the local newspaper earlier this month. Since then, the city has sued the state to block his arrival, and hundreds of residents have packed meetings to protest his placement.

'No Place for Him'

"Why Antioch? We've got plenty of weirdos already. There's no place for him here," said Ginger Burnell, walking her baby along a city fishing pier on the Sacramento River Delta.

"I don't want a person like that around here. It's bad for him, too. I don't think he'll be happy here," said Jason P. Hong, owner of Jay's Mt. View grocery, which collected more than 1,000 names on petitions against Singleton's release.

"We tend to live in our own little world and all of a sudden it's threatened and that is pretty upsetting," said Ruth Phillips, a 30-year resident of Antioch.

Phillips said she has never seen Antioch so outraged, not even when people heard that Archie Fain, who killed a 17-year-old boy and raped two girls in 1967, was paroled to Antioch briefly in 1983. But like other residents, she voiced pride that Antioch's cries are prompting the state to act.

"If you speak loud enough, something gets done and that's great," said Cindy Shingler, a lifelong Antioch resident who was out walking her 20-month-old daughter.

Object of Anger

"I could easily visualize people sitting in a bar, talking about it, and getting up at closing time and shooting out his windows," Police Chief Len Herendeen said. "He's had his picture posted so much. Parents tell their kids, 'If you see this guy, run away.' There's just a lot of emotion."

Local officials argue that the state violated its own guidelines in picking Antioch. Singleton has no job prospects here and no family in the steamy town of 50,000 that calls itself the Gateway to the Delta.

"He's got no friends or relatives. Nobody's going to hire him here. They're setting him up for failure," said Mayor Joel Keller, a Contra Costa County probation officer. He said Singleton would be better off in a big city where he would blend in and "be another face in the crowd."

Parole authorities said they chose Antioch partly because Singleton's last address was in nearby San Pablo. However, Assemblyman Phil Isenberg (D-Sacramento), whose district includes Antioch, discovered Singleton's only connection to San Pablo was that an ex-wife owned a home there and he acquired it when she died. Isenberg found that Singleton did have a home and family in Sparks, Nev., as well as a Nevada driver's license.

Corrections officials also discovered that if Antioch is unwilling to welcome Singleton, so is some of his family. Gore said that an ex-wife of Singleton's in Nevada wanted nothing to do with him. And Alison Harvey, Isenberg's chief of staff, said Singleton's daughter wrote a letter opposing his release.

Incident in 1978

Singleton's crime began Sept. 29, 1978, when he picked up Mary B. Vincent, then 15, a Las Vegas runaway, as she was hitchhiking in Berkeley. He drove her to his ex-wife's home in San Pablo, then to the San Joaquin Valley, and finally to Stanislaus County, where he raped her and hacked off her forearms with an ax, leaving her for dead. He was arrested in Sparks on Oct. 10, 1978.

The judge who sentenced Singleton said he wanted to lock him up for life. But the maximum term was 14 years and four months for the combination of attempted murder, rape and kidnaping.

Stanislaus County Dist. Atty. Donald N. Stahl, who prosecuted Singleton and recently was threatened by him, said legislation passed in 1982 led to the "ludicrous" release after less than eight years.

The law says inmates can get six months knocked off their sentences for every six months of involvement in a work or educational program. Singleton was an English teacher at the California Men's Colony, San Luis Obispo.

In an interview in October with the Modesto Bee, Vincent, who recently had a baby, said she fears Singleton will come looking for her. Word of his impending release has caused her to have nightmares, she said.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
68°