Thursday, September 09, 1999

Why we can't let predators out of sight

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        They wanted us to think about a little boy who had been abused. And I could not. Because the man he had become was sitting right before me.

        Moments earlier, Ralph Lynch had been brought into Judge Robert Kraft's courtroom. The deputy removed his handcuffs. A water carafe and some glasses were on his table. The judge and all the attorneys call him Mister Lynch.

        All very civilized, considering that we know that he has raped and murdered a 6-year-old girl.

        He is wearing clog sandals and white socks, green gabardine pants and a cardigan sweater over a white shirt. Gray and pinched, he looks older than his 49 years.

        He is 6 feet, 5 inches tall and when he was arrested he weighed 220 pounds.

        Mary Jennifer Love was 31/2 feet tall and weighed 48 pounds on the day he raped and killed her. Everybody agrees that is what happened on June 24, 1998. Even the defense attorneys. But now the jurors must decide how severely he will be punished for his crime.

Expert witness
        Mitigation, they call it. “Ralph Lynch was sexually abused as a child,” said defense attorney Roxann Dieffenbach. “As an adult, we see the transformation of Ralph Lynch from victim to victimizer.” The jury can decide to lock the murderer up or sentence him to death.

        Jill Bley, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating sexual abuse survivors and sexual compulsivity, takes a seat on the witness stand.

        Across the courtroom was Mary Love's grandmother, Jeanette Love. The last time I saw her, she was wearing a blue ballcap and white Fila sneakers, searching through the underbrush and sliding down muddy gullies in Colerain Township's Triple Creek Park.

        This was back when hope was still alive. Fading but still alive. A sign on a neighbor's apartment read, “Hold on, Mary. Help is on the way.” Pink ribbons were strung around trees behind Mary's home in Springwood Village apartments.

        Darling little Mary, the one they called “the hugger.” Roller skater and potential first-grader and potential everything else. Potential.

        “I think it must have been someone Mary knows,” Jeanette Love told me. “She would not go with a stranger.” And, indeed, Mary did not.

        Ralph Lynch was a neighbor. He was, according to the prosecutor, also a volunteer in his church's nursery. Dr. Bley called this “cruising and grooming.” The sexual predator looks for victims, then makes friends with them, “grooming” them for his advances. Building a relationship.

        Now, the defense's expert witness tells the courtroom that Ralph Lynch was abandoned by both parents, that he was sexually abused by a teacher and a family friend. This expert witness, citing various tests and studies and years of interviews with pedophiles, reports calmly that in her opinion pedophiles “have to be in treatment for the rest of their lives.”

        Let's believe her.

Damaged lives
        Ralph Lynch was arrested for preying on children in 1991. He exposed himself to two little girls in a toy store. Makes you wonder how many lives he damaged in the eight years after we caught him, then let him go again. He ceased the court-ordered therapy two weeks after his probation ended.

        After Dr. Bley was excused, Ralph Lynch made his statement to the jury. He said he was sorry. “I tried to stop, you know, doing these things. But I didn't succeed.”

        Let's believe him, too.

        Should a sex offender's crime follow him around for life? Should we make sure that we know where he is, that he is not getting jobs at day care centers and in church nurseries? That he is being watched?


        And if we are tempted to forget that, to be our civilized selves, then we should think about the little boy who grew up to be Ralph Lynch.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at or call 768-8393. Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears regularly on WVXU radio, NPR's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine.