A man convicted of raping children in multiple states could be ordered to live in Twentynine Palms, despite having no connection to the area.
Last week, Orange County Superior Court tentatively ordered Lawtis Donald Rhoden, 72, to live in Twentynine Palms.
Rhoden has been convicted of underage sexual assaults in Orange County, Los Angeles County, Tennessee, and Florida since the late 1960s.
San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson, Sheriff John McMahon, and other county officials said they strongly object to the court's decision.
District Attorney Anderson has ordered deputies of his own Sexually Violent Predator Unit to appear before the Orange County Superior Court on April 16 and oppose Rhoden’s release into to the community.
In addition, deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Morongo Basin Station will be going door-to-door starting in the area of where Rhoden's proposed residence will be starting on Friday. This will be so deputies can attempt to contact residents within the community and gather key demographics and vital information to oppose the relocation of the sexually violent predator.
Officials also revelated that they are scheduling COVID-compliant town hall meetings. More information on these meetings will be released soon.
Residents can also email concerns and opinions to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department at email@example.com or send a letter to:
San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office
303 West 3rd Street, 4th Floor
San Bernardino, CA 92415-0502
Attn: Deputy District Attorney Maureen O’Connell
Rhoden's criminal history dates back to 1969 when he lured a 13-year-old victim back to his apartment in Cocoa Beach, Florida and raped her on three separate occasions. He was convicted and sentenced to 14 months in a state mental hospital and 12 years in state prison.
Rhoden was released on parole following treatment. He sexually assaulted four children in two states while on parole.
Officials revealed that the sexual assaults were committed in three separate incidents against two 14-year-old girls and one 17-year-old girl. He also sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl in Nashville, Tennessee while those other sexual assaults were being investigated.
In all four instances of sexual assault, Rhoden held himself out as a photographer and, in an effort to lure in his victims, offered them modeling photoshoots. Rhoden drove up to each of his three sexual assault victims in Orange County and Los Angeles County while they were on foot when attempting to entice them into his car.
The State of Tennessee sentenced Rhoden to 20 years in state prison, the Orange County Superior Court sentenced him to 12 years in state prison, and the Los Angeles County Superior Court sentenced him to six years in state prison.
From March of 1983 until his arrest in Tennessee, Rhoden also defrauded people in California, Florida, and Texas of approximately $440,000. The major scheme involved inserting personal ads in newspapers, creating a relationship with women answering the ads, holding himself out as an investment broker or lawyer, and convincing the women as well as their friends to provide him with large sums of money to invest.
Rhoden was released from state prison in 2004 and detained in the Orange County jail based on an SVP petition filed by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
He was later found by an Orange County jury to be a Sexually Violent Predator under the state Welfare & Institutions Code and committed to the Department of State Hospitals for treatment.
On October 25, 2019, the Orange County Superior Court ordered Rhoden conditionally released into the community under the supervision of Liberty Healthcare.
On February 5, 2021, the Orange County Superior Court found “extraordinary circumstances” existed to authorize relocating Rhoden outside of Orange County. A month later, the court tentatively ordered Rhoden to live at a residence in Twentynine Palms.
Stay with News Channel for continuing updates.
This is not the first time a convicted sex offender with no ties to the area was proposed to be moved to the High Desert.
A man convicted of molesting a 10-year-old girl in Ventura County was proposed to be moved to a residence in Joshua Tree, however, community outrage helped prevent the move.