[Articles & Essays - F] [Register by subject - Fear]
Paul Franz, Sunday News & Lancasteronline.com, Aug 03, 2008
Tom Armstrong believes sex offenders have become the 'lepers of our society.' He believes men like the three he invited into his Mareitta home can change. His words can't convince those protesting in front of his house.
While he spoke, 15 sign-carrying protesters gathered on the sidewalk outside the house in the 700 block of East Market Street.
Owen, 51, said Saturday he wasn't upset by outrage over his arrival in Marietta, but criticized the way the American legal system treats sex offenders.
He moved to Lancaster County in 2001 hoping to begin anew, but his life here has been troubled.
Owen spent a year in Lancaster County Prison from May 2007 to April of this year only because he couldn't find approved housing. By that time, he had already served out his 20-year prison sentence for rape in the state of Illinois.
Owen was charged with rape in 1981, he said, after he was caught with a woman by her husband. A week later, Owen said, the wife filed a rape charge against him.
Paul W. Studdard, a former science librarian at Millersville University, was convicted of possessing child pornography on school computers. Richard Glen Barker was convicted of aggravated indecent assault of a minor.
Both Studdard and Barker were at the house Saturday but declined to comment.
Since moving into the large three-story blue-sided house in early June, the men have lived with Armstrong and his son. Armstrong said his daughter and wife are away taking care of his ill mother-in-law, who is in hospice care.
Armstrong said his family has been supportive of his decision to house the men. And, he added, he hasn't just picked up any ex-convict who has come to him for help.
Armstrong said he is a mentor to the men and accompanies them shopping and on church visits.
Not here - Others disagree.
The protesters gathered in front of Armstrong's house around 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
Many voiced concerns over the safety of children in the community.
Armstrong argues that the current situation is safer than if the three men were somewhere else.
Armstrong's house has 15 rooms and five bathrooms, more than enough space to accommodate the men, he said.
The home, which sits on the eastern edge of Marietta, is surrounded by similar houses and duplexes. It is just north of Sunnybank, an 1897 Greek-revival mansion designed by renowned Lancaster architect C. Emlen Urban for a lumber baron.
Armstrong has worked for eight years with the nonprofit Justice and Mercy group and said he is a mentor for seven other convicts in the county. He really began to pay attention to reforming ex-convicts after his brother, Max, was convicted of exposing himself to schoolgirls in Millersville in 1997.
Protesters were courteous and stood outside on the sidewalk holding signs and placards. Some passing cars honked their horns in apparent support of the protesters.
Owen walked outside several times and waved to the protesters, who largely ignored him. At one point, Owen started taking pictures of the
protesters, saying he was putting together an album of all the newspaper
A police officer in a cruiser kept watch at the end of the block.
Armstrong had set out a cooler with sodas for the protesters earlier in the morning.
An Old Testament verse from the book of Jeremiah printed on cardboard above the cooler read:
Below the verse, the message was:
Armstrong said he has received a lot of anonymous support, but also direct support from local churches and charities. He said that Marietta Community Chapel has told him the men are welcome at their church.
Three protesters were still outside Armstrong's home around 12:30 p.m. One engaged Armstrong in a heated argument as he walked in front of his home.
Armstrong moved the three men into his house in early June after they had left a halfway house in Conestoga Township.
Controversy surrounded the complex where they lived on Main Street. Residents and zoning officials pressured Armstrong to move the men out because the halfway house didn't comply with township zoning regulations.
He denied the men were "run out of town" in Conestoga, saying that the move was more of a consideration of transportation problems.
Marietta residents found out that the men had moved into Armstrong's home via the Pennsylvania Megan's Law Web site, which is maintained by the Pennsylvania State Police and lists offenders by their addresses.
Convicted sex offenders who live, work or attend school in the state are required to register on the Web site.
A cease-and-desist order issued by the borough on June 16 notified Armstrong that housing unrelated adults in his home is not permitted. Armstrong appealed the order.
A hearing on Armstrong's appeal will be heard by the borough Zoning Hearing Board at 7 p.m.,Wednesday, Aug. 6, at the Marietta Community House, 264 W. Market St.
Since the issuance of the order, Armstrong hired Lancaster attorney Jim Clymer to represent him at the appeal.
'I'm safe' Armstrong was confident that he'll win the appeal.
In the 1980s, he said, Marietta allowed three unrelated war veterans to stay at Armstrong's house in a similar capacity.
If the town rules against Armstrong Wednesday, he said he'll appeal.
[Articles & Essays - F] [Register by subject - Fear]