Captive of Fantasy

A paroled sex offender is sent back to jail -- for trying to please his therapist

Like other members of his therapy group, Jose Grover was encouraged to talk about his sex life and fantasies. Forty years old and noticeably mentally retarded, Grover was required to attend and participate in the weekly sessions as a condition of his parole from the Texas prison system, where he had served almost ten years for committing a sexual assault with a knife.

Grover, who had been released to the care of his mother in southwest Houston, hadn't been very talkative in the year that he had been undergoing the group therapy with fellow sex offenders.

But on the last Monday of July, Grover decided to speak up. The therapist had asked each member of the group to talk about his goals for therapy, but instead, the entire evening became devoted to Jose Grover's problems.

They were scary.
Grover professed to have consorted with prostitutes three times a week, spending a thousand dollars on them, and said he was masturbating often -- sometimes while watching a woman across the street from his mother's house, a Pakistani who wore Asian clothing and was often alone because her husband left for work several hours before she did. Grover claimed that he had knocked at the woman's door once a week, and that she had told him to leave or she would call the police. He said he was developing a plan to rape her. He wanted to use a knife, but he didn't own one. He fantasized about getting some eggs to smash in his victim's eyes and ears. He told his psychologist that he thought he was headed into what therapists call his "cycle" of offense, from fantasy to action.

After consulting with a colleague, Grover's therapist, Scott Hickey, phoned Grover's parole officer the next morning and told her that Grover's neighbor might be in imminent danger. That afternoon, parole officer Rebecca Lawrence went to Grover's neighborhood and found a Pakistani couple who lived down the street. She reported to her supervisor that she talked to the husband, who said a man fitting Grover's description had been coming to the door. Everything in the report of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Parole Division seemed to verify what the psychologist feared. The division issued a warrant, and when Jose Grover reported to his parole officer a month later, in the first week of August, he was jailed on suspicion of making a terroristic threat with a knife. He was 45 days short of his complete release from the state's criminal justice system.

As a parolee, Grover couldn't get out of jail on bond, and as a penniless mentally retarded man, he wasn't likely to contribute much to his defense. It appeared as though his parole would be revoked and he would be sent back to prison. But then his sister and brother-in-law, Frances and Michael Tabers, stepped in.

The Tabers conducted their own investigation into Grover's case and hired a lawyer to defend him. They describe Grover as a recluse suffering from an organic mental disorder who spends his days watching television and reading Sports Illustrated. He was left alone only four hours a day, when his mother worked a mid-day shift at a cafeteria, and even then she phoned to check on him. And while Grover was recently awarded a lump sum from Social Security for being completely disabled, that money went to a lawyer who arranged for the payments -- not to prostitutes. Unable to drive, Grover was unlikely to be able to slip out at night past his mother's noisy toy poodle and indulge himself with prostitutes. Besides, says his sister, he takes four medications for his illness, which make him sleepy most of the time.

Grover's problem, she believes, was a desire to please his therapist by providing what he thought was wanted. Frances Tabers says she can't imagine why Scott Hickey took her brother's fantasies seriously -- especially when one of them was that he had been having a sexual relationship with a policewoman.

"He's supposed to be a shrink, right?" complains Tabers. "Once you talk to my brother, your mouth will drop. I can't imagine the psychologist couldn't have recognized he was dealing with a special kind of guy."

The Tabers hired prison-law specialist William Habern of Huntsville, who has been raising hell about the inequities of parole-revocation procedures in bar seminars and professional articles for the last 25 years. Grover's case is one of the most egregious he has seen, Habern says.

Habern complains that more due process is afforded to people about to lose their driver's licenses than to parolees who stand to lose their liberty in a parole-revocation hearing. The hearing officers, who are usually former parole officers, have little training and no law degrees. Testimony is often based on hearsay evidence, and convicts don't always get to cross-examine witnesses who accuse them of crimes. It is not uncommon for a parolee to be acquitted by a jury of a charge, but found guilty of the same charge in a parole hearing and sent back to prison. After a hearing officer writes up a finding, no copy of it is made available to the defendant until three members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles review it and render their decision. Defense attorneys say the reports on which their clients' fates rest are often full of errors, omissions and misstatements of evidence. No court reporters are available unless the defendant pays for one; otherwise, the proceedings are tape-recorded on a small machine by the hearing officer -- which can result in inaudible recordings that are worthless to the defendant if his case is appealed and the testimony must be reviewed.

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