Afraid that he could return

Arline Mathews' age-spotted hands shake ever so slightly as she sorts through manila envelopes stuffed with police reports, letters and newspaper clippings, the chronicle of a quarter-century-old crime spree arrayed across her dining table.

At 82, the portrait artist, community leader, mother and grandmother should be spending her time in leisurely pursuits, playing golf or bridge or having the kids over.

Instead, Mathews' days are consumed by fear that the man who raped her 22 years ago could soon be released from prison and follow through on threats to kill her.

The files in her dining room recount the battle she fought a generation ago to see Lloyd Anthony Roy punished for shattering her sense of security and her faith in the goodness of people. Recent letters document her new campaign: the fight to block Roy's release from California State Prison, Sacramento in August 2011.

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A beam of light jumped erratically on the walls and ceiling of her bedroom. Roused from the dozing that precedes sleep, she got up to investigate.

The door to her son's old room, usually open, was shut. She turned the handle and gave it a push, but it didn't give. Too groggy to be suspicious, she pushed again, staggering into the room where he waited. He twisted her arm behind her back and shoved her down the hall into her own bed, his knife at her throat. He tied a bandanna tightly across her eyes.

His rambling soliloquy disclosed a penchant for older women. As he spoke of singling them out because they were weak and less inclined to struggle, her mind raced in search of what to say so he wouldn't kill her, how to change herself in his twisted view from a comfortable suburban widow of 60 into someone he might pity.

She told him of being abandoned at a Denver children's home during the Depression, after her parents contracted tuberculosis. She'd seen hard times too.

He wondered aloud how an older woman living alone managed the house upkeep and yardwork. Spotting her chance, she suggested he return to do odd jobs -- starting, on his way out, with putting back the screen he'd removed from the window he'd climbed through into her son's room.

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Mathews still fumes over the L.A. County district attorney's decision 21 years ago to plea-bargain eight rapes attributed to Roy down to three.

"You plea-bargain when you have a weak case, or when you have crimes that only involve property. You don't plea-bargain eight rapes, and who knows how many others, when you've got victims who can testify," she says.

Roy was sent away in 1989 under the state's Determinate Sentencing Law, invalidated two years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court. Under that old law, he won't face a parole board before his release after completing half of his 44-year term.

Mathews' only hope is that, as a sex offender, Roy should be subjected to a psychological evaluation before release, although few are ever held up by that review.

"Everyone says not to worry, that he will be evaluated, that they're almost certain he won't be let out -- almost certain," Mathews says. "The refrain is, 'It's somebody else's department.' Everybody relies on everybody else. It's nobody's responsibility to make sure he doesn't get out."

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"I usually smother my victims," he told her a couple of times during the four hours he spent in her bed.

He didn't take off the blindfold until the end. Her hopes soared: He was buying into the handyman deal. Then panic: He didn't care if she saw his face because she wouldn't be left alive to bear witness.

He went to the kitchen, ordering her to follow. He smoked a cigarette, filled a glass with water and jotted down her number from the wall phone.

When he left, replacing the screen as promised, she waited maybe half an hour before calling an attorney and the police. She was grateful he let her live and felt she owed him something, at least time to get away.

"I was shellshocked," she would recall later. "I think they call it the Stockholm syndrome."

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A civic activist with a history of consumer boycotts, community service and unsuccessful runs for the state Assembly and Congress, Mathews despairs at the lack of response to the most impassioned campaign of her lifetime.

She has written to the district attorney's office, state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, the Department of Mental Health, the Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services at the corrections department -- even "Dr. Phil" -- to spotlight what she fears is the imminent release of a man she is convinced will rape and kill again. Only the victim rights office has responded, assuring her she'll be notified if Roy escapes, dies or is freed.

In the salvos she has been firing off for two years now, Mathews demands an end to plea bargains in violent crimes. She wants to know whether Roy's DNA has been compared with samples collected in at least two dozen unsolved cases of elderly women raped and killed in the Greater Los Angeles area before his arrest.

Most of all, she wants victims' voices heard when decisions are being made about release of their assailants.

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The police arrived after dawn, including "a horrid woman" who delayed for hours the trip to the hospital for a pelvic examination. They then insisted on being in the room to witness "the chain of evidence" of her violation -- evidence that proved pointless in the absence of a trial.

The lead detective told her neighbors of the rape, information he thought they needed to understand why police might be seen conducting a stakeout. But the only follow-up was a search of her own house, where detectives ransacked closets, drawers and file cabinets.

She labored over the expense-compensation form required for the state to cover the rape-kit exam, outraged over demands for details of her personal property and bank accounts.

In the end, she threw it out and paid for the procedure herself.

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Mathews feels brushed off, dismissed as paranoid for her fear that Roy will come back to get her.

"He told me many times that he would kill me, that he'd killed others," she says.

The silence from officialdom, she knows, may also reflect reluctance to tell a rape victim that her assailant, if not diagnosed with a mental illness, will have paid his debt to society and deserves his freedom.

"When an inmate who was determinately sentenced has served his or her time, he's released to parole. That's the law," says Terry Thornton, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

"We understand that people don't like that. We understand the pain they have from knowing that this offender is going to be paroled. That's why we have an office of victims' services."

The authorities she's contacted by telephone, after she despaired of getting answers to her letters, have been sympathetic. But some have urged her to prepare for the worst.

"One of them said that if he gets out, I should leave my house or get a gun," Mathews recalls. "But I don't want to do either of those things, and why should I be the one who has to take action to prevent him from committing more crimes? I'm an old woman. This should be the job of the police and the DAs."

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She collected the cigarette butts, ashtray and water glass he'd used at her home for the LAPD fingerprint experts, who didn't show up until three days after the attack. They overlooked a matchbook he'd touched, so she drove it to the police station herself.

She took refuge at the Bel-Air home of her younger son, Richard. When the older son, Bill, returned from a trip to Denver, the two of them drove each morning to trail garbagemen on their routes through her Chatsworth neighborhood. Her attacker had said he took note of open windows he saw during the day, leading her to suspect he cased his victims while on a collection or delivery job. It turned out he worked as a mover.

He called her most nights on her home phone, which she had forwarded to the apartment in Bel-Air. He was alternately pleading and threatening. Where was she? She'd better show up or he'd find her and kill her. Was there anything she needed him to do at the house?

She called police once to tell them he was waiting for her at a phone booth at Sepulveda and Roscoe boulevards. The dispatcher told her that only detectives could arrest major crime suspects, but because it was after midnight, none were on duty.

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Roy will be screened by psychologists before his release, as required by law for any inmate convicted of a sexually violent crime. But the state's record for keeping sex offenders off the streets offers Mathews little comfort. Only about 2% of the 27,000-plus sex offenders evaluated over 13 years have been confined in mental institutions upon their release from prison.

Mathews, whose auburn hair, carefully applied makeup and caustic wit belie her age, has asked the district attorney's office to ensure that Roy's records include the background on all eight rapes of which he was initially accused, not just the three for which he was sentenced.

Her sons support her fight against Roy's release and share her concern that the criminal justice system could fail her again.

"I can understand her worry about it," Bill Mathews, a pilot living in Santa Rosa, says of his mother's fear that Roy, now 57, will attack again if he gets out. "I think she has a very strong conviction that this guy should stay behind bars for the rest of his life."

Prosecutors say that decision is in the hands of mental health experts, not law enforcement.

"We are not involved in the screening process," says Diane Labrusciano, a deputy district attorney in the Sexually Violent Predators Unit (SVP). To her knowledge, she says, prosecutors have never intervened on behalf of a victim.

"Because of the nature of his crimes, he will be in the stream to be evaluated," said Phyllis Shess, co-chairwoman of the California District Attorneys Assn.'s SVP subcommittee. "The question is, does he have a mental disorder that continues to make him dangerous to the community such that he should be committed?"

Victims like Mathews play no role in answering that question. The evaluators rely on the inmate's case file and standardized psychological tests that measure a violent predator's likelihood to re-offend.

Mathews was one of Roy's younger victims. At least two were in their 70s and confined to nursing homes. She believes she is the only one still living.

"I don't know if I'll be alive in two years. But I have a responsibility to my sisters in the world to do what I can to prevent his going free," says Mathews, who decided to speak publicly in hopes that a real-life victim will be more effective at shaming officials into action.

"I'm afraid of him falling through the cracks in the legal system," she says. "I'm afraid of more broken promises."

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carol.williams@latimes.com

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