The suspect in the rape of three schoolchildren in Pacoima committed a nearly identical assault two blocks away more than a decade ago, and a parole official said he should never have been turned loose on the streets.
Robert Lee Donaldson, 34, who was paroled in February, remained the subject of a search Wednesday by both the Los Angeles Police Department and state parole officers.
"Originally, we thought we could handle him OK, and he didn't get into trouble for the first few months" of parole, said Jerome DiMaggio, the state's regional parole administrator for northern Los Angeles County. "In my view, this is a flaw in the law in the state of California. A guy with this history shouldn't be on the streets."
California law made Donaldson automatically eligible for parole after he had served 9 1/2 years of a 16-year sentence for sodomizing a young boy near Maclay Junior High School in October, 1981, said DiMaggio.
"He was paroled because he achieved his prison term," said DiMaggio. "No one decided to parole him."
The sentence that Donaldson received in December, 1982, was a maximum sentence possible at the time. It reflected a 1977 conviction for assault with intent to murder, and "indications that he molested children as a juvenile," according to DiMaggio.
Court records show that Donaldson originally was charged with nine felony counts related to incidents over an eight-month period. He pleaded guilty Oct. 28, 1982, to sodomizing a boy and stealing a gold chain that the victim was wearing around his neck, according to the records.
"The defendant, since he has been 15 years old, has been constantly in trouble with sexual offenses," said then-deputy Dist. Atty. Donald Goldsobel during Donaldson's sentencing hearing, a court transcript shows.
"At age 15 (and) at age 16 as a juvenile, he was involved in child molestation cases," Goldsobel continued. "He was then involved in an attempted murder as soon as he got out of (the) juvenile facility."
Donaldson was released from the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo on June 22, 1991, according to Department of Corrections records.
As a convicted sex offender, Donaldson signed an agreement to register with local police. He registered in Los Angeles, but later disappeared from his residence, a men's shelter, and did not re-register, DiMaggio said.
On Feb. 19, 1992, Donaldson was arrested and charged with spouse abuse and violation of parole for living in a house with minors--his girlfriend's children. There was no evidence that Donaldson ever harmed the children, DiMaggio said.
Donaldson was sentenced to the maximum of 12 months for parole violation, and was back on the streets Feb. 18, 1993, according to corrections records. By March 2, he had disappeared from the downtown homeless shelter where he had been placed, said DiMaggio.
"We've got as many as 18,000 that are on parole in this region," which comprises about 75% of Los Angeles County, said DiMaggio. "At any time we've got 1,200 at large. Most are picked up within 60 days."
Donaldson did not become the object of a concerted search by parole officers until after being identified as a suspect in the recent rapes, said DiMaggio.
Police did not home in on Donaldson until about a week after the last rape, which occurred on Sept. 22, said Police Capt. James T. McBride of the Los Angeles Police Department's Foothill Division.
At the time, said McBride, detectives had as many as nine suspects, two of them in custody. Some were tentatively identified by victims, and one of them was the "spitting image" of Donaldson, he said.
By Sept. 30, however, detectives were virtually certain that Donaldson was their man, but lacked physical evidence, McBride said. They got the evidence Monday, said McBride, who would not elaborate.
Donaldson eluded police on Sept. 30, when they arrived at a house in Pacoima only moments after he had fled, McBride said. Detectives now suspect he may have left town, he added.
The three rapes occurred on the same block of Van Nuys Boulevard near Glenoaks Boulevard. In the first, a man kidnaped an 11-year-old boy Aug. 30 and took him to a nearby vacant apartment, where he raped him. McBride said police immediately took a suspect into custody, only to release him later for lack of evidence.
A 16-year-old walking to a bus stop was similarly kidnaped and raped in the same apartment on Sept. 21, and an 11-year-old girl met the same fate a day later, according to police.
DiMaggio said sex offenders such as Donaldson tend to have a high rate of repeat offenses--as many as 75% of such convicts return to prison on identical charges. Overall, about half of former inmates return to detention for other crimes, said DiMaggio.