STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
A Durango family who took in a convicted sex offender says there is nothing to worry about, but neighbors aren’t so sure.
William Vollert, 25, has been labeled a sexually violent predator, one of three living in La Plata County. As such, he must register every three months as a sex offender, and authorities must notify the public of his permanent address, which they did last week through The Durango Herald.
Vollert was 20 when he had sex with a 14-year-old girl. He pleaded guilty to attempted sexual assault on a child and was classified a sexually violent predator based on a psychological evaluation.
He was released from prison last month and is living freely at 10 Rio Vista Circle, a corner lot near 29th Street and East Fourth Avenue in north Durango. That puts him in close proximity to several parks, the Animas River Trail and within 1,000 feet of Riverview Elementary School.
He lives with Gerry and Lauren Geraghty, who have two boys, ages 7 and 9.
“I’m a Christian, and who did Jesus hang out with? He hung out with prostitutes, tax collectors and thieves,” said Gerry Geraghty. “We don’t see him as a threat. We see him as very respectful. We trust Will playing with our children in a supervised situation.”
But several neighbors are concerned. They are unsure why Vollert is allowed to live so close to a school and why Geraghty would invite a convicted sex offender to live with his children in the neighborhood.
“I don’t care how Christian you are – how much you want salvation – I really do believe that no matter what you believe, God really does look at brains every once in a while,” said Jane Periman, 84, who lives on the same street.
Vollert said he is not the violent predator society has made him out to be. He wants a fair chance to prove himself and build a new life.
“I don’t want society to think, ‘Oh, he’s a bad person. Keep kids away,’” Vollert said. “I’m not a bad person. I’m not a sexually violent predator. I am a sex offender. But I don’t think inside I am a sex offender, but society has put that label on me.”
Vollert grew up in Durango and attended Durango High School.
Geraghty worked at the high school as an in-school suspension teacher and oversaw a special-education program. He met Vollert in both of those settings.
Geraghty learned of Vollert’s criminal case and decided to foster a relationship in hopes of setting him on the right path.
“I was sending him different books and kind of mentoring him through the mail with the purpose of when he got out, we would have him in our home, because if he isn’t here, he’s going to be in a place like Spanish Trails or whatever, and he’s not going to have a rehabilitative life situation.”
Geraghty also arranged to have Vollert hired to work on a cleanup crew for bank-repossessed houses.
“Will is working for a Christian man with other Christian men as part of the work crew,” Geraghty said. “So it’s not a bunch of guys that are drinking, smoking, looking-at-porno type of thing. Will is working with people who have good values.”
Vollert moved into Geraghty’s basement Jan. 18. He eats breakfast and dinner with the family every day. At their house last week, the family hosted a Bible study, which included five families and a “boatload of kids,” Geraghty said. None of the families was fearful of Vollert, he said.
The family recently watched an episode of “Touched By An Angel,” a TV series about an angel who visits Earth to help people though hard times. Geraghty’s youngest son was “scrunched up in a chair next to Will” during the show, Geraghty said.
Two women showed up at Geraghty’s doorstep last week after reading about him in the newspaper.
“They said, ‘Wow, it’s great that you’re caring for him, but we don’t want him in our neighborhood,’” Geraghty said.
It was a difficult position to be in, he said.
“I think some people are really having a phobia, just because of that (sexually violent predator) title,” he said. “We’re not going to put Will in a situation where we’re saying, ‘Let’s go walk by the elementary school, let’s go play on the playground at the elementary school.’ That’s not healthy for anybody. Not that he’s necessarily going to be dangerous.”
The facts of the crime
Vollert admits to having a sexual relationship with his former girlfriend, a 14-year-old Durango girl. He said the girl’s father approved of the sexual relationship, and he thought that sufficed for consent.
But the girl’s mother, who was divorced from the father, thought otherwise and she notified police.
Vollert said he had sex three times with the girl. It was the first and only time he has had sex with a minor, he said.
“At that time, it didn’t seem that it was wrong to me because I had her dad’s consent, and she was my girlfriend, you know,” he said. “She wanted to sleep with me, too. It’s not like I did it against her will.”
Vollert added: “I realize now that it was wrong, but back then, I didn’t realize that it was wrong. She was my girlfriend. I was young, she was young. It was three months before she turned 15. It’s not like I went after an infant or a child or somebody real small. She looked like she was a mature lady.”
District Attorney Todd Risberg said 14-year-old girls can’t consent to having sex with someone more than four years older.
“Kids are much more suggestible, and we need to protect them in that sense,” he said. “Kids just don’t have the resources to make good decisions when they’re that young. That’s why we treat them differently.”
Vollert was charged in 2008 with sexual assault on a child. He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of attempted sexual assault on a child in a plea agreement with the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
He was sentenced to 10 years of intense supervised probation for sex offenders, which included wearing a GPS ankle bracelet that allowed authorities to track his movements.
Vollert cut off the ankle bracelet and tossed it in a lake, said Cpl. Suess Beyer, who oversees the sexual offender registration program for the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office.
He was sentenced to two years in prison and released on parole in 2011. He lived in various locations throughout La Plata County, including at Spanish Trails Inn & Suites on north Main Avenue in Durango.
He was caught drinking alcohol – a violation of his parole – and sent back to prison to serve the remainder of his prison term, about nine months.
Child sex offenders are at the bottom rung in the prison social order, Vollert said. He got into fights for refusing to show other prisoners his “paperwork,” which would have identified him as a sexually violent predator, he said.
“A lot of stuff happens there to sex offenders because of that label,” he said.
Having served his time, he now is free to live where he wants. He no longer is on parole and can be around children, Beyer said.
His only requirement is to register as a sex offender and keep authorities informed of his whereabouts or any significant changes to his appearance.
“As long as we know where he is, that’s 100 percent better than him disappearing because then you don’t know where he is,” Beyer said.
Vollert was required to take a psychological evaluation that helps probation officers better understand his behavior and risk for recidivism.
The probation department determined him to be a sexually violent predator, which is a legal recommendation that the judge can apply.
Vollert now is one of three “sexually violent predators” and one of 146 sex offenders living in La Plata County.
The label has little to do with his crime, Beyer said. Rather, it is based on a psychological evaluation.
“It wasn’t a violent crime,” the deputy said.
Vollert said he always has been in special education and struggled with reading the questions on the risk-assessment evaluation law enforcement gave him.
“I thought it was a regular test or whatever, so I just guessed on it, which ended up them saying I was a SVP – sexually violent predator,” he said.
Vollert can retake the test for about $1,000 to try to have the title removed, he said. He must register as a sexual offender for a minimum of 10 years before he can petition to be removed from the list.
Geraghty said the label is a misnomer.
“He’s not a pedophile,” he said. “He has not been convicted of a crime as a pedophile. He didn’t snatch a child off the street.”
‘Where does he go?’
Geraghty said he considers Vollert an orphan. He was given up for adoption and did a stint as a foster child. His birth dad once gave him a methamphetamine pipe as a birthday gift, he said.
Geraghty quotes Mother Theresa to explain his motives: “The greatest disease and the greatest suffering is to be unwanted, unloved, uncared for, to be shunned by everybody, to be just nobody.”
The neighbors who have questioned Geraghty about Vollert moving in seem almost threatening, almost like they’re not going to accept it, Geraghty said.
“Where does he go? Does he go homeless? Does he go to Spanish Trails? If he’s in Spanish Trails, he can still come over and rob your house. You don’t have to be a next-door neighbor to do that,” he said. “Society says, ‘Yeah, it’s great, but not in our neighborhood.’
“He’s a part of that society that is unwanted,” he added.
Vollert said he heard his name on the radio, warning the community that he is a sexually violent predator.
“By them doing that, it just makes me want to stay in my house and stay in my room because I’m afraid to go out,” he said.
He said the social stigma that comes with being a convicted sex offender is worse than a murderer or a drunken driver who has killed someone.
“People look at me different, and people say, ‘Hey, look, there’s a sex offender. Keep our kids away from him.’ I don’t get a fair shot to make it in society because of that.”