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However, Crocker began noting problems with Deen. "I saw her isolating a few kids that she would talk to and spend a lot of time" with, remembers Crocker. "I used to constantly try to tell her that she needed to deal more with supervision of the staff, because that was her job."
One youth seemed to get most of Deen's attention. Terry Williams was bright and physically mature, a muscular 15-year-old with a polite demeanor and a penchant for attracting adult sympathy. His father was a disabled dump-truck driver, and his mother had just been released from Gatesville on parole after a ten-year sentence for forgery.
Terry was sent to Burnett-Bayland because he was missing classes and his father was not providing for his care. Two of his four siblings were scattered around the country with other relatives.
Deen was never Terry's caseworker, but she began to take a special interest in him. Crocker, who is now retired from the agency, began hearing of problems.
"There were two kids in particular," remembers Crocker. "There was one that she talked to a lot and he confided in her. Then rumors started when [Terry] came in. He and the other boy used to get in arguments about her."
The conflict escalated into a brawl that stopped only when workers separated the two boys. In the fray, Terry tripped a guard, who fell backward and broke an ankle. When officers cuffed him and put him in the back of a car, Terry kicked the windows out. He was charged with delinquent behavior in Judge Mary Craft's juvenile court.
Jo Nelson, a veteran Houston juvenile law attorney, was his appointed lawyer. "Terry was a really nice kid, and everybody felt sorry for him because of his background, and his parents weren't really supportive or there for him," Nelson says. "They wanted me to find a really good placement for him."
Nelson says Deen and some other workers had taken an unusually keen interest in him. "In 27 years of practice, I've never had that many people involved with one child, being overprotective of him," recalls Nelson. "I called Linda Crocker, and she was not sympathetic. She thought the juvenile was getting preferential treatment and was somewhat annoyed."
Crocker noted that Terry was not supposed to have free access to administrative areas of the campus outside his dormitory but was repeatedly visiting Deen's office in the evenings. In fact, she says, she once walked in to find the supervisor giving the boy a pedicure.
"I was concerned that she shouldn't have that kind of relationship with him and she should focus more on her staff," Crocker says. " I told her that the staff was starting to talk, and kids were talking in the cottages about how he didn't have to do anything, and he had it made."
Deen declined to return several calls from the Houston Press to her home. Terry says that in the early days, their contacts were innocent. "All I did was just talk to her," he says. "You know how sensitive women are, and I was just giving her the conversation."
But some of Terry's fellow detainees got other ideas.
"She and I had started staying in her office late at night," Terry recalls. "I'd get back to the cottage and everybody's going, 'You fucking with Deen?' And I was going, 'Naw, naw.' Sometime I be like, 'Yeah, there go my girl.' But you know, we wasn't. At that time she was just a mentor to me."
Crocker says she wrote several memos to her supervisors concerning Deen's strange relationship with Terry. However, the Press inspected Deen's personnel file under an open records request and found no memos on the subject. Agency director Elmer Bailey denies he received any early warnings.
Alarmed by Terry's violent behavior with other juveniles, Crocker says, she had him transferred to an agency evaluation center. He later moved to McDuffie's, a juvenile treatment facility in the Heights. During the same period in 2000, Deen transferred from Burnett-Bayland to become supervisor of a community probation office.
But she would never lose touch with Terry.
Ephraim McDuffie has handled scores of juvenile probation referrals as the head of McDuffie's, but he remembers one young client in particular -- Terry -- and the older woman who frequently saw him at the Heights center.
"We were shocked about Deen coming and visiting him a lot, demanding to see him and buying him expensive clothes," McDuffie says. "We were very concerned about that. We couldn't deny her because she was juvenile probation."
McDuffie says he contacted one of Deen's supervisors but got no help. "She'd say, 'I don't know what the whole situation is, but I understand she's been in his life for a while.' "
Worse yet, Terry began openly calling Deen his girlfriend, McDuffie says. In November 2001, just after Terry turned 16, he was discharged from McDuffie's facility. When Terry came back for visits, however, McDuffie recalls that the teenager would drive up in a car -- Deen's car.
"It just got crazy," McDuffie says.
Terry tells of initially returning to his home after his discharge, then deciding to take Deen up on her offer to move in with her.