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Cinnamon Brown Helped Convict Rapist on CYA Staff : Corrections: Counselor is sentenced for assaulting a 16-year-old ward, to whom Brown gave a tape recorder to gather evidence.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A Superior Court judge sentenced a California Youth Authority counselor to nearly seven years in prison Thursday for raping a 16-year-old ward, who had turned to Garden Grove killer Cinnamon Brown for help.

“A message needs to be sent to people in the system that this kind of conduct will result in a significant prison term,” Judge Allan L. Steele said in sentencing John G. Mitchell of Ventura.

Appearing as a witness for the prosecution in the case was Brown, 20, who as a Garden Grove teen-ager killed her stepmother in 1985. Later--with the aid of secret tape-recordings at the Ventura CYA facility--she helped prove that her father had orchestrated the scheme.

Authorities say that Brown, still incarcerated at the facility, offered advice to the victim of the sexual abuse on what to do about it and gave her the tape-recorder that she used to try to get proof of Mitchell’s attacks.

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“On her own, (the victim) thought of this idea of tape-recording the defendant and that’s when she went to Cinnamon. The victim then obtained the tape-recorder from Cinnamon,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Trish Kelliher said in an interview.

“We probably wouldn’t have had a case if she hadn’t done that,” the prosecutor added.

Mitchell was convicted Jan. 24 of rape, sexual battery and unlawful intercourse with a female under age 18. The charges stemmed from a series of acts that occurred between February and December, 1989, according to court records.

Mitchell, who did not speak at his sentencing Thursday, has previously denied having sex with his former ward and said she made the allegations so she could sue him and the state, which she has done.

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In arguing for a three-year minimum term, Mitchell’s attorney, Edward A. Whipple, said the victim had numerous opportunities to get help if she objected to the counselor’s advances. He said Mitchell, 42, has no prior record and has lived “a model life except for this romantic liaison.”

In response, Kelliher said: “To call a series of criminal sex offenses a relationship is offensive.” She said the victim felt she would not be believed if she reported the assaults and would only antagonize Mitchell, whose recommendation was crucial in obtaining parole.

“How more vulnerable can you get? This victim didn’t have a chance,” said Kelliher, who sought the maximum term of 13 years and 4 months. “She was sent to CYA to rehabilitate herself. The person entrusted with helping her violated her.”

A probation officer’s pre-sentencing report to the judge, which summarized the evidence that led to Mitchell’s conviction, gave this account:

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The victim was incarcerated at the CYA’s Ventura School in Camarillo in November, 1988, after being convicted of armed robbery in Fresno, her hometown. Soon afterward, Mitchell crept up on her one day, pinched her on the side and then kissed her on the lips.

A few days later they talked about the kiss and the victim said she didn’t like it. Mitchell told her not to tell anyone about it or both would get into trouble.

After fondling her breasts on two subsequent occasions, the 6-foot-2, 260-pound counselor forced the victim into a kitchen closet and had intercourse with her. He told her that if she told anyone, she would not be getting out of the institution.

In between the assaults, Mitchell bought the girl presents and told her he loved her, according to Mitchell’s pre-sentencing report. He said he wanted to divorce his wife, marry her and take her to Las Vegas, the report said.

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In October, 1989, Mitchell told the victim he was completing his parole report on her “and would be expecting a favor from her,” according to the pre-sentencing report. The victim, who was attending victim awareness classes at the school, decided to report Mitchell to another counselor.

The second counselor said the victim would need proof, so she brought a hidden tape recorder to her next counseling session with Mitchell. Officials said she may have gotten the idea from Cinnamon Brown, whose story was the subject of a recent miniseries on NBC called “Love, Lies and Murder.”

During the counseling session, Mitchell asked the victim what she had told the other counselor, and whether she was taping him. The victim said no, but Mitchell quit talking and started writing a note. When the tape recorder stopped with a loud click, the victim grabbed the note and ran to give it to another counselor.

Mitchell chased her, retrieved the note and flushed it down a toilet, but the incident and the tape prompted CYA authorities and the district attorney’s office to investigate.

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Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeoffrey Robinson, the prosecutor in the murder trial of Brown’s father, said he may try to use the incident to help secure her parole from the CYA.

“In showing (the victim) how to use a crude wire in the form of a Walkman, I think Cinnamon gave the courage to this girl to go forward against a counselor which is considered a brazen thing to do, without much guarantee of success. . . . It shows she’s concerned with doing what’s right.”

Brown was recently denied parole, despite Robinson’s appeals to the youth board. Robinson said he suspects that her role in the Mitchell case--earning her a reputation as a “snitch” in some circles at the CYA--may have contributed to that rejection.

Aside from the rape victim, other CYA wards told investigators that Mitchell made sexual remarks, asked them about their sexual feelings and said demeaning things about women. But several other wards said they had not seen such conduct.

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Mitchell has filed notice of his intent to appeal the conviction on several grounds, notably that the defense was not permitted to tell the jury about the victim’s criminal record. Steele denied a request to let Mitchell remain free on bail pending the appeal, and ordered him placed in custody immediately in the Ventura County Jail.

Mitchell, who was fired by the Youth Authority, has already given up a career of more than 20 years’ counseling of juvenile delinquents, Whipple told the judge. As Mitchell’s wife sat behind the defendant in the front row of the courtroom, Whipple said that the case has put a strain on the Mitchells’ marriage but that the couple and their adult son have stayed together.

Whipple also said the victim cannot argue that the defendant’s conduct undermined her rehabilitation because she has entered college, married and obtained a full-time job since her release. “She is one of the better success stories of the CYA,” Whipple said.

The victim, however, tearfully told the judge that Mitchell can take no credit for her achievements.

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“I served my time. I rehabbed myself,” said the victim, whose parents accompanied her at the sentencing. “I could have used this as an excuse to start screwing up. But I decided not to put myself in the position I was in at the CYA.”


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