Yesterday, I wrote about Russell Burton, who got away with violent sex crimes in two different states thanks to a sympathetic judge, an apathetic military command, and a psychopathic appeals system.

Burton is in good company. With sex offenders, in particular, there always seems to be somebody willing to step up and offer a helping hand. Such behavior is not limited to ladies who latch onto serial killers like frowsy pilot fish. Distinctively non-marginal people like college presidents and judges often assume the role of head cheerleader for some of the worst repeat offenders.

Cause, meet effect. When Miss Lonelyhearts licks her Enjoli-scented pink envelope and seals it with a kiss, she is merely swaying the boundaries of rationality. Respected public figures sway parole boards.

A recent string of rapes in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood illustrates the point. There is something jarring about reading a narrative of serial rapist Lavelle McNutt’s past accomplishments, especially coming from people who obviously still admire him, but coverage like this offers real insight into the ways powerful people enabled certain serial offenders:

Early success a distant memory

List of trouble: Disgraced West Point cadet labeled a ‘sex fiend’ faces new criminal charges.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Friday, April 03, 2009

As a teenager, Lavel McNutt seemed branded for success.

He was a Maryland high school football star, made high marks in his classes and got into the prestigious U.S. Military Academy with the help of a nomination from the vice president of the United States.

“He was one of the best [high school] receivers back then, I think, in the state of Maryland,” said Scott Swope, who was the team’s quarterback and is now a strength-and-conditioning coach for University of Maryland athletic teams. “He was very fast. He had great hands.”

He was very fast and had great hands.

But McNutt’s life has been defined not by accomplishments, but by what he has done wrong. Public documents and decades-old news accounts depict McNutt as a disgraced West Point cadet whose successes were overshadowed by emotional problems that drove his sexual impulses.

Today, he sits in the Fulton County Jail awaiting a court hearing in two separate criminal cases, including an attempted rape at a Buckhead-area apartment complex. They’re the latest in a string of criminal charges —- many of them sex-related or involving women —- going back to his college days in the 1970s.

More charges are likely, Atlanta police said. They have identified McNutt as a suspect in at least four attacks on women since August, crimes that had sex-crime detectives suspecting that a multiple rapist was targeting women in the Buckhead area.

A tipster who led police to McNutt last month offered incriminating details about him. The caller reported that McNutt kept items in his car used in such assaults, including duct tape, wigs, lubricant and sex toys, court documents show.

The caller, whose identity has been withheld, also said McNutt blamed his wife for his misdeeds, claiming “she would not engage in sexual intercourse with him,” documents show. Yet McNutt’s sex crime convictions began long before their marriage in 2002.

When a sex offender blames his wife for his crimes, that’s a sex offender talking. But what happens when other men agree with him?

In 1975, he was appointed to the academy at West Point after then-Vice President Nelson Rockefeller nominated him as a prospective cadet, according to newspaper accounts. McNutt became a starting defensive back on Army’s football team midway through his freshman season, newspaper accounts said.

But his West Point career ended abruptly the following spring, when he was charged with raping two women three weeks apart, a Smith College student who came to the West Point campus for a dance and a 30-year-old housewife from a nearby community. He was convicted of both attacks and became the first cadet ever to be court-martialed for rape, The New York Times reported at the time. McNutt, then 18, was kicked out of the Army and sentenced to five years in a military prison.

By 1979, he was attending Morehouse College.

1975: two rapes, five years, out in three or less, then admission to Morehouse. What was Morehouse College thinking, admitting a twice-convicted stranger rapist? Obviously they were not thinking of the young women attending nearby colleges.

The desire to re-cast rapists as victims is a powerful American prejudice, but unlike many other prejudices, this one will get you far. Academia, law schools, bar associations — try sympathizing with rape victims in such settings. But spend weekends volunteering in a reading program for rapists? You’re draped in caché.

By 1979, he was attending Morehouse College when McNutt was convicted of aggravated sodomy of a Delta Airlines flight attendant at a hotel near the city’s airport, court documents show. On the day he was given a seven-year prison sentence, a minister who knew McNutt well testified that he had “grave emotional problems” that began in childhood.

Since then, McNutt has mostly been in prison, county jail or on probation, court records show. He has at least nine convictions in metro Atlanta, including two on Peeping Tom charges and two for loitering and prowling.

Nine convictions. Let’s see a list of the judges who continued to let this man go.

“It’s a shame,” his high school buddy Swope said. “What a tragedy to have a life like that.”

A correction: it is no “tragedy” to be a violent predator of women, hating and hunting them down. Tragedy implies undeserved suffering.

During a 1996 conviction for stalking and aggravated assault, court papers state that McNutt had been diagnosed with “sexual deviance,” but did not elaborate.

“Your honor, the defendant’s a sex fiend, obviously,” a county probation officer, Jeffery Kahn, told a Fulton County judge. “And I have some grave concerns in this case about the safety of this community with a man like this running around.”

But run around, McNutt did.

When not locked up, McNutt gravitated to jobs in Atlanta’s food services industry. He managed a cafeteria. He managed a Wendy’s restaurant. And, most recently, he was a manager at Fox Sports Grill in Atlantic Station. But McNutt struggled to support himself financially. When arrested last month, McNutt was living at his mother’s condo and driving his mother’s car.

Don’t these restaurants do background checks? My rapist was working in a fast food restaurant and stalking women customers. Here is a link to the National Crime Victim Bar Association. There’s nothing like the possibility of a civil suit to focus the mind when faced with the decision about whether to hire a serial rapist to manage your female employees and interact with your female customers.

Are we supposed to feel sorry for McNutt because he was driving his mother’s car? To be continued . . .

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I am going to be in transit and not blogging over the next few days. On Monday, I will post more about McNutt’s criminal record.