People don’t think highly of sex offenders.
Just the word “sex offender” next to a person’s name is enough to inspire hatred, damnation and the occasional run of vigilante justice.
Included among the sex offender-haters are their fellow inmates in jails and prisons.
This is not news, of course. That sex offenders are beaten in prison on a regular basis is seen as a sort of truism (that might not be quite as true as we think), and I’ll go out on a limb and say that some folks are kinda okay with that.
Anyway, the hatred most inmates have for sex offenders is rarely as public and clear as it is in the courtrooms that sex offenders share with other inmates.
It usually goes something like this: A bunch of inmates are scheduled to see a judge for a short pre-trial hearing. The jail guards chain them up and walk them to the courtroom, where they sit in the jury box and wait their turn.
The inmates don’t always know which crimes their box-mates are accused of committing. Remember, there are 350-400 people at the Minnehaha County Jail at any given time.
So that’s how we get to Justin Steenstra. Steenstra admitted to raping two 11-year-old girls repeatedly while living in Brandon.
By the time Steenstra’s case was up Wednesday, nearly all the spectators who had been in the courtroom was gone. Steenstra’s fellow inmates were still there. Among them were two prison inmates with histories of forgery, meth use and burglary and a guy accused of shooting a man in the arm and leg with a pistol.
When Salter read the charges against Steenstra, the inmates looked up, wide-eyed. As the prosecutors recounted the disturbing details of Steenstra’s case, two of the inmates stared at Steenstra, occasionally shaking their heads.
The hatred on their faces was pretty visceral, but they were more composed than others have been. I once went to an arraignment for a guy named Sandor Czekus, who has since been convicted of raping an ex-roommate’s daughter, and a guy had to be removed from the box because he kept taunting Czekus.
Czekus asked the judge for protection, which he informed the defendant would be the responsibility of the jail staff.
The most famous sex offender in South Dakota history, twice-convicted murderer and rapist Donald Moeller, experienced his share of verbal abuse at the hands of other inmates.
In court paperwork filed as part of his death penalty appeal, an investigator wrote that Mr. Moeller had ceased leaving his cell for his solitary recreation time because the other inmates howled insults at him as he walked by.
His last words, recorded last October by our own Steve Young, were a reference to the taunts of the other inmates, who began to cheer at 10 p.m., the hour of Moeller’s scheduled execution.
Moeller had apparently told Warden Doug Weber a half hour before hand that he didn’t have any last words.
Even so, as the sound of the cheers seeped into the execution chamber, Moeller found something to say: “Hear my fan club?”
(Credit for the headline on this post goes to former courts reporter Josh Verges)