Monday, August 17, 2009

Gordon Houston Admitted to Raping Daughter Will be Released from Jail

A 69-year-old man who admitted raping his daughter when she was a young girl will be released from jail this week after spending six months behind bars for violating his probation.

Gordon N. Houston pleaded guilty in June, 2008 to the aggravated sexual assault of his daughter, Rebecca, back in the late 1980s, and was placed on deferred adjudication probation for 10 years.

The policy of the Seguin Gazette Enterprise is to not divulge the names of victims of sexual assault.

In this case, Rebecca Houston, now in her 20s, said she wanted her name used in order to bring attention to sexual assaults that are not uncommon in this community and to stand up for other victims, let them know they’re not alone and that they’ll have support if they speak out.

It took Rebecca Houston years to make an outcry herself, she said, because of the effect of years of sexual abuse as a child.

“All of my earliest memories are of this (abuse). My brother and my sister-in-law took me to the sheriff’s office to make my statement,” Houston said. “I don’t think I would have been able to do it on my own without the support of people who love me.”

The case was indicted in 2006 on multiple counts, and all but one were dismissed in the plea agreement reached in June, 2008, between the office of former District Attorney Vicki Pattillo and defense attorneys Billy McNabb and Scot Courtney of San Marcos, in which Houston would carry no conviction for sexual assault — if he successfully completed the terms of his probation.

Probation conditions for a sex offender are extensive — 274th Judicial District Judge Gary Steel’s judgement filed July 20 that returns Houston to community supervision this week has been increased to 50 separate conditions, including committing no other offenses, having no association with others who commit offenses, no unsupervised contact with children, a year of electronic monitoring to begin immediately upon his release from jail.

He is also ordered to have no contact with and remain at least 500 yards from his daughter, to paying for her therapy or counseling and participating in sex offender treatment to include mandatory regular lie detector tests. He must also surrender his passport and cannot apply for another.

There was one further condition of Houston’s continued probation: that he spend six months in county jail — the maximum a state district judge can order under the law in a probation case. That six months is up on Tuesday.

In triple-starred, underlined bold-face italics near the end of the three-page judgment, Steel made one final note to Houston suggestive of what the judge’s attitude would be, should Houston be hauled before his bench again for violating the terms of probation.

“***Zero Tolerance — follow all sanctions and directives as indicated .... during the duration of your sex offender treatment program,” Steel wrote.

Pattillo, who now has a private law practice in Seguin, does not discuss criminal cases in the newspaper. Courtney, reached for this story, doesn’t discuss the negotiations or their outcome except to say that he believed at the time that both sides and the victim had agreed to probation for Houston, who is elderly and who had never been in trouble with the law before this offense.

Rebecca Houston says she didn’t quite understand what deferred adjudication probation would mean.

“I didn’t really expect that he would just get probation,” she said. “They explained to me basically it was probation with the option, if he messed up, that he goes to prison for a long time. Now, they’re saying he could be let go again, and that wasn’t the deal as I understood it.”

The way Gordon Houston “messed up” on probation was by failing to comply with conditions of his deferred adjudication by failing a polygraph test, failing to comply with treatment assignments as directed by his therapist, failing to make progress in his treatment and failing to disclose a sexual relationship with a mentally challenged 20-year-old woman to his probation officer or therapist, as required. He also admitted keeping a photographic negative of his victim, and admitted becoming aroused by it -- an admission his now-adult daughter testified “disgusted” her.

Houston’s therapist and probation officer recommended Houston be locked up for a period of time and then placed back on deferred adjudication probation and instructed to cooperate with his treatment, and while Steel had the option of adjudicating Houston’s case, entering a conviction and sending him away, court observers say it is uncommon for a judge to overrule the recommendation of the probation department.

In an adjudication hearing that began in May and was recessed into June so the judge and both sides could review more than 100 pages of case notes pertaining to Houston’s treatment, Courtney and McNabb went on the offensive in a confrontation with District Attorney Heather Hollub and her first assistant, Larry Bloomquist, who sought a long prison term.

The defense attorneys argued that Houston was complying with his conditions and his treatment — albeit maybe not as early or as quickly as he might have —and that it was Houston himself who offered up the admissions once he began cooperating with his treatment that resulted in the motion to adjudicate his case.

“What’s he supposed to think about ‘treatment’ in light of this motion?” McNabb asked the judge.

Hollub, who has made it clear she has concerns about Houston, said she accepted the outcome of the hearings.

“We respect Judge Steel’s ruling,” Hollub said.

Courtney said the same thing.

“The process works because the judge follows the law, and Judge Steel has absolutely followed the law,” Courtney said. “The time Mr. Houston has spent in county jail as a condition of his continuing on probation is the maximum amount of time the judge can set.”

Courtney noted the recommendation of the probation department.

“The judge relies on the probation department because they’re his eyes and ears,” Courtney said. “He did find there were violations, but the judge is there to look at the violations while on probation and not necessarily the original case and retry the allegations or the original charge. That’s not the purpose of this hearing. The judge is entrusted to look at the allegations in light of the evidence, and then decide of those allegations indicate the person should be sentenced to prison or for how long or that the conditions be amended in some way so that everyone’s interests are protected. That’s what Judge Steel did in this case, and I don’t think you can ask any more of a judge.”

Courtney said he understood, now, that Rebecca Houston is unhappy with the disposition of the original case.

“I don’t quarrel with that person, and I wouldn’t ever comment on how she should feel,” Courtney said. “But that being said, the process we’ve gone through is not a process to relitigate those original allegations. It’s just not.”

Probation for a convicted sex offender is not easy, Courtney noted.

“The conditions are onerous to say the very least, and that’s not to say that they’re unfair. You have to follow them,” Courtney explained. “I caution clients considering probation that it’s not a way to get a case over with. That’s just the beginning, and it will be a long road. If you’re not willing to do it, don’t bother (with probation). I think Mr. Houston has truly and will continue to redouble his efforts to comply with the court’s orders.”

Rebecca Houston isn’t so sure.

“If he’s going after a mentally slow girl, he’s still a predator and he needs to be put away, and obviously more counseling is not going to help and there will be more victims,” she said. “I really hate the fact that a man who has admitted to molesting children has been allowed out of jail. Even though he will have an ankle bracelet tracking him, that won’t stop him from being inappropriate with anyone he can get close to.”

She said she hoped others might come forward with information about her father.

“If more victims can find the courage to speak up, maybe he can be put away for good,” she said.

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