Friday, February 3, 2012

A Monster in Our Midst: Missed Opportunities...


Like many of you, I am blown away by the Mark Berndt case, a story broken by Gigi Graciette, which occurred right here in my hometown of Los Angeles.  Mark Berndt, is the Miramonte school teacher who is accused of 23 counts of sex abuse against children.  The case stems from a hero (and law abiding) film processor who reported suspected child abuse to law enforcement.  The facts are as heinous as any I have ever seen.  Some 23 students (that we know of) were allegedly victimized in the grossest of gross ways.  The abuse was done under the auspices of a game where many of his 8-year old third-grade students thought they were drinking some sweet treat from a spoon which later turned out to be semen matching Berndt’s DNA.  The students were photographed with their mouths bound and many had Madagascar cockroaches on their faces.  Yesterday we found out that there was an investigation of him for sex crimes some 20 years ago. and nothing was done by way of prosecution.

Criminals, most often, are not caught until after the crime has been committed.  Law enforcement is reactive -- not proactive.   So when we hear about a crime, and find out that the criminal was earlier in police grasp, we get sad and we get angry.  These are what I call “missed opportunities,” like Lily Burke, a beautiful 17-year old girl, murdered by a three-striker out of custody on a “clerical error”; Jaycee Duggard, living under the thumb of a registered sex-offender parolee for years and years; and Anthony Sowell, who murdered 11 women in Cleveland seemingly at will, while on parole for rape.

I am a former prosecutor.  I am a staunch victim rights advocate, mostly for women, who are often ignored, neglected or worse by the very people sworn to protect them.  I am writing this column to save a girl, save potential future victims, and to call to your attention to a monster in our midst, known to law enforcement, but thus far a missed opportunity.

You have never heard of him, but Ronny Whitter is a registered sex offender convicted of rape, child abuse and kidnapping.  Paulani Hockenhull fled from this man 16 years ago, when their daughter, Nohea, was two years old.  She left Hawaii and came to California, then Phoenix, for a safer life for Nohea.  For 16 years, she was away from this monster, but he found her through that newly minted 100 billion-dollar company, Facebook.
Ronny Whitter found Nohea by using his 14-year-old daughter's Facebook page.  He made Nohea feel that she had found the long lost father she never had.  On her 18th birthday, Whitter flew out from Hawaii to Phoenix.  He took her out, bought her gifts and promised her he would be the father she never had.  He convinced her that she should move to Hawaii with him.  Mesmerized by the idea of living in Hawaii with a father who truly loved her, she agreed to move to Hawaii.

In January of 2011, he picked her up.  Before their departure he took her to a hotel room for 7 days where he groomed and eventually had sex with her for most of the nights.  During the day be became her doting father.  Nohea told police she first resisted, but then put up with the sex because he was so loving during the day.  Once in Hawaii, he moved her in with his family (a wife and three minor children) where his horrible behavior continued.   He had sex with her behind his wife’s back, and when he and Nohea argued, he assaulted her, threw her on the ground, and broke her foot.  She was hospitalized.  Nohea called her mother and left Hawaii.

She made a police report to the Phoenix Police Department on April 1, 2011.  She told her story through her tears, maintained eye contact, and was credible.  She called Whitter as the police listened in.  When she told her father she may be pregnant, he replied that her pregnancy test came back negative.  He did not deny having sex with her.  In another call, he admitted he fractured her foot.

It is almost 1 year later –NO CHARGES HAVE BEEN FILED.  Putting aside how disgusting it is for a father to stalk, find, contact, mislead, and have sex with his 18 year-old daughter (he was smart enough to wait until she was no longer a minor under the eyes of the law), where are the felony assault charges for the broken foot?  How about felony incest?  What about rape charges, and believing the victim when the father is an abusive, conniving rapist criminal who lives with other minor children and is a constant threat to them?

The questions are endless and the answers are none.  I have personally contacted the Phoenix police Department with the hopes of holding Whitter accountable.  And what do I get? A big fat nothing.  No response to my letters, no answers to the victim, and certainly no justice.

While the media is not where we should seek justice, if law enforcement fails, it is the media who puts a glare on that failure, and gets the word out, if only to give law enforcement a second chance at a missed opportunity.  Today, Nohea and I did just that.  Nohea came on Good Day Los Angeles to discuss her story, her case, and tonight we will discuss it more in depth in a special on, where we will discuss the missed opportunities in both the Marc Berndt as well as the Ronny Whitter case.

Please do not let this be another missed opportunity.