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Captive of Fantasy

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.

 

At Grover's first preliminary hearing on September 14, Habern won concessions from Grover's therapist that Grover might very well have been fantasizing or even hallucinating rather than actually planning a crime. At no time did Grover actually say he was going to use a knife, only that he had fantasized about using a knife, Scott Hickey acknowledged.

A portly man with a thick shock of dark hair, Grover sat quietly through his hearing. At the end of it he testified that he made his stories up "so Dr. Hickey wouldn't get mad at me."

A key question was whether Grover had actually gone to the alleged victim's door. Evidently confused by the couple's foreign names and not knowing which one was female and supposed to have been the target of the proposed rape, the parole division had subpoenaed the Pakistani man who lived down the street to testify. That man said he had never seen Grover in his life, that he and his wife left for work only a few minutes apart in the afternoon, and that his wife had never mentioned a man coming to the door.

The parole officer who said she had interviewed the man, Rebecca Lawrence, called in sick and did not show up for the September hearing. Hearing officer Mike Downs ruled that there was no probable cause for revoking Grover's parole and sent a report to that effect to the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

The board reviewed Downs's report and told him to conduct another hearing, leaving Grover in jail for another month. For the next hearing, Downs was instructed to interview the woman who was supposed to be the victim. On October 22, Downs held the second hearing. Like her husband, the Pakistani woman said she had never seen Jose Grover in her life. She also confirmed that she and her husband left for work within 30 minutes of one another.

Habern was not at all happy that the state was getting another pass at his client, but at least he could cross-examine Rebecca Lawrence, the parole officer who had called in sick at the previous hearing. Lawrence flatly contradicted the testimony of both members of the Pakistani couple.

Lawrence recalled that the man had said the pair left home several hours apart. "He told me his wife was afraid of a man in the neighborhood," Lawrence testified, "and that if he came back she would call the police."

At the hearing, Habern called for the parole division to conduct an internal investigation concerning the discrepancies between Lawrence's testimony and that of the Pakistani couple. Lawrence's supervisor said she would make no comment about the matter.

Just to make sure he had everything right, hearing officer Mike Downs called psychologist Scott Hickey to the second hearing. Hickey confirmed that on further thought he didn't think Grover was a menace. "Yes," he said, "we are talking about a fantasy here."

After Hickey's testimony, Downs again ruled that there was no probable cause for Grover to have his parole revoked.

But the ruling doesn't mean Grover will be released. The Board of Pardons and Paroles has 30 days to consider Downs's recommendation. Frances Tabers says she is considering a lawsuit on behalf of her brother and mother. Their mother is suffering high blood pressure, Tabers says, and the neighbors shun her because parole officers have spread the word that her son is a dangerous rapist.

Jose Grover is so easily led and so childlike, says his sister, that she is not really sure he committed the crime that landed him in prison. He was not identified by the victim, she says, who said only that a large Hispanic man attacked her. Grover's court-appointed attorney, Tabers says, pleaded him guilty within two days of his arrest in 1984, without consulting Grover's family.

 

Habern wonders why a man of Grover's limited mental abilities was put into a therapy group of offenders of normal intelligence in the first place. Such a vulnerable man was a potential sexual victim, he points out, and had been abused in prison.

Grover cried for the first four days he was in jail, his sister says, because he thought the therapist he trusted had betrayed him. Once he had announced his finding to Habern, hearing officer Mike Downs turned to Grover and told him clearly and distinctly, "I am recommending that you be discharged."

Grover seemed to understand. But it probably didn't sink in too well, since after the hearing he was still wearing orange jail scrubs, and the closest he could get to his mother was waving to her through two thick glass windows inside the ninth floor of the Harris County jail.


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