When convicted rapist Lawrence Napper was released from prison in April 2000, he was considered so dangerous that he was placed in a state-of-the-art satellite tracking program that recorded his movements 24 hours a day.
The system did its job, noting every time Napper violated the terms of his parole by entering an area he was not supposed to — such as the Houston college where he abducted a female student two decades ago and raped her, landing him in prison in 1981.
Under Texas law, parole officers should have arrested Napper after the first violation. But he logged no fewer than 444 violations in just nine months, and was not picked up.
Then, despite his violations, he was rewarded by being transferred to a less-restrictive monitoring program. One month later, according to police, he snatched a 6-year-old boy from a Houston street corner and sexually assaulted him.
Parolees Given ‘Exclusion Areas’
Napper was one of 25 paroled killers, rapists and sex offenders under high-tech satellite monitoring in Texas. While standard electronic monitoring can detect only whether a parolee is at a given location (such as home or work), the satellite system can tell exactly where the parolee is at all times. Texas is one of 27 states using the satellite system to monitor parolees.
The system, developed by Pro-Tech Monitoring of Tampa, Fla., consists of a tamper-resistant ankle bracelet that is connected wirelessly to a tracking device that can be worn on a belt. The tracking device incorporates a GPS receiver and a cell phone. The receiver takes in signals from the Defense Department's network of GPS satellites 12,000 miles away in space, then triangulates them to determine the parolee's location. The cell phone transmits the location as often as every minute to monitoring stations where parole officers track the parolee's movements on computer screens. The system also records the parolee's movements, so officers can review them subsequently.
Parole officers can designate certain places in a parolee's area to be "exclusion zones." For a child molester, for instance, local schools might be designated off limits. If the GPS coordinates show that the parolee has entered a designated school, the monitors see an alert on their screens, with the arrows flashing red. The unit itself also beeps, to remind the parolee that he or she is entering an exclusion zone.
Parole officers can access parolees' tracking information from a laptop in the field, and can even tell how fast a parolee is driving. The unit is designed to broadcast an alert if someone tampers with it or tries to take off the ankle bracelet.
Parolees who live with the system say it's better than the alternative. "I would prefer this over prison anytime," said John Zadrayel, a convicted sex offender who is on parole in Tampa after spending 13 years in prison. "I go straight to work. When I get off work, I go straight home and that's it."
Another offender in the Tampa program, Demetrius Daniels, is undergoing the monitoring in lieu of jail time after he was charged with having sex with an underage teenager when he was 20. "It gives you another chance at life to see how you do, to see if you're going to take this chance and make the best of it or make the worst of it," he said.
444 Parole Violations, No Arrest
Napper had been in prison twice and was considered so dangerous that he was denied parole five times. He was eventually released in April 2000.
Under the terms of his parole, he was supposed to be strictly monitored. He could go only three places: home, work and the parole office. But the satellite tracked him going into many neighborhoods where he didn't belong. "The maps just showed him all over the place," said Allison Taylor, who was in charge of Texas' GPS monitoring program at the time.
The system indicated that Napper had driven past schools and playgrounds, sometimes sitting outside schools for half an hour at a time. He had also driven around Texas Southern University, the same campus where he had abducted the student two decades before.
All were violations of his parole, but Napper was never arrested. Then, on Feb. 11, 2000, shortly after Napper was under less restrictive monitoring, a 6-year-old boy was abducted while walking home from a convenience store. The boy showed up at home the next morning and said he had been sexually assaulted. After jurors heard that DNA evidence connected Napper to the crime, they convicted him of kidnapping and sexually assaulting the boy. Napper, who denied the charges, was sentenced to a life term.
Taylor was not in charge of Napper's monitoring, and after his arrest she investigated why the program had failed to stop his violations. She found that Napper had a total of 444 violations. Records showed that parole officers had obtained 13 arrest warrants, but that all the warrants were withdrawn, allowing Napper to remain on the streets.
Taylor says she learned that at least a dozen other parolees in the Texas program had racked up 100 or more violations, but that their warrants were withdrawn too. She told Primetime she believes that her superiors at the Texas Parole Division had made a policy decision not to pursue the GPS tracking violations because it might lead to parolees being returned to prison — which would make the system look like a failure on paper.
Taylor and other people involved in the Texas justice system told Primetime there was a lot of concern at the Parole Division about making the division's numbers look good — by not sending parolees back to prison. The Texas Parole Division declined to do an interview for Primetime. Andy Kahan, the victims' rights advocate for the City of Houston, said that until the Feb. 11 abduction, Napper would actually have been considered a success for the program, despite his hundreds of violations. "He wasn't sent back to prison. That's the bottom line," Kahan said.
Taylor resigned from the Parole Division in 2001 in what she says was a protest prompted by the Napper case and others.
"We knew something bad was eventually going to happen," she said. "It was only a matter of time."