Release of rapist Lawrence Singleton to Contra Costa County was blocked Friday by a judge who expressed concern for public safety and for the parolee, a 59-year-old merchant seaman convicted eight years ago of sexually assaulting a teen-age hitchhiker and hacking off her arms with an ax.
A temporary restraining order to prevent Singleton’s parole to this Bay Area county was issued hours before officials were required by law to release him from the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo.
The order does not prevent prison officials from releasing Singleton into another county. Prison officials said that they were legally powerless to detain him beyond this morning and that temporary accommodations had been arranged.
Superior Court Judge E. Patricia Herron said her order was prompted by “not just concern for our citizens, but also for Mr. Singleton.”
State officials, alarmed by the ramifications of a challenge to their authority to parole prisoners, said they will appeal on Monday.
Singleton was convicted of the 1978 rape and mutilation of Mary Vincent, a runaway hitchhiker from Las Vegas. He picked up Vincent in Berkeley and left her outside Modesto. She survived the attack.
Sentenced to what was then a maximum 14 years for attempted murder, Singleton became eligible for parole because of his good conduct record and participation in work programs while in prison.
The Vincent case gained notoriety, and attention was fanned anew earlier this year when state plans to parole Singleton to the Contra Costa County town of Antioch were announced. He had been living in Contra Costa County at the time of the attack.
A storm of public dissent forced state officials to retreat, and efforts were made to settle Singleton in Florida or Nevada. He had relatives in both states. Florida officials, however, opposed the idea of accepting Singleton, and both he and his relatives expressed displeasure with the prospect of his moving to Nevada.
Singleton, who has maintained his innocence, has told reporters he would be afraid to live in Antioch. Vincent, who said the recent controversy has brought her nightmares, has suggested he not be released anywhere.
State law requires that prison officials notify local authorities of a pending parole into their jurisdiction. After the Florida and Nevada plans were rebuffed, Contra Costa County was again notified that it would receive Singleton. No town was specified.
Contra Costa County supervisors and representatives of several cities filed suit in an effort to block his release. They contended that the state Department of Corrections had no authority to parole Singleton to Contra Costa County because, although he lived here off and on for several years, he had no family ties here. They asked that he be paroled into a large, urban environment.
“Although he served his time behind bars, he is still in prison as far as society is concerned,” said Contra Costa County Supervisor Tom Powers, one of several politicians who attended Friday’s hearing. Singleton was not present.
Police officials have voiced fears that county residents, who in recent days have been fed a steady diet of stories and pictures of Singleton, might attack him. One law enforcement official described the public attitude as a “siege mentality.”
After the temporary order was issued, Department of Corrections spokesman Robert Gore said Singleton may be housed in a hotel room until a permanent parole site can be found.
Gore would not say where Singleton would be placed today after his release.
Morris Lenk, a deputy state attorney general, said the Corrections Department will abide by Herron’s ruling and not bring Singleton to Contra Costa County this weekend.
Appeal Due Monday
An appeal was to be filed Monday with the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco.
Herron said she will hear arguments next month on whether to issue an injunction.
Lenk described the court petitions prompted by plans to release Singleton as the first of their kind in California and said they could portend significant problems for the state’s penal system.
“It would be an intolerable situation if they succeed,” Lenk said of the public officials attempting to prevent the release of Singleton into their communities. “It would serve as an incentive to other counties and cities to sue the state to block paroles of this type.”