NOTE: Cherie Town was interviewed for a polygraph test in 2011. A previous version of this story misstated the year as 2001.
WENATCHEE — The first woman charged in the Wenatchee Valley’s infamous sex-ring prosecutions wants to shed the title of “sex offender.”
Since pleading guilty to two counts of child rape in 1994 — later thrown out in a rare plea agreement while she was in prison — Cherie L. Town has had to register as a sex offender on a yearly basis. In August, she filed a request in Chelan County Superior Court to be released from the duty to register, noting that the statutory 10-year period has passed.
By law, a sex offender is allowed to request a waiver to the registration requirement if they have not been convicted of any crime for 10 years since their conviction. Town is considered a Level 1 sex offender, the classification least likely to re-offend.
In court Wednesday, Town, now 54, said she meets all the requirements to be free of registration.
“I’ve had no other criminal record since my release,” she told Superior Court Judge Lesley Allan. “I went to school at WVC to get skills for work. I’m looking for work at this time.”
But Chelan County Deputy Prosecutor Roy Fore, who handled a number of the 1994-1995 cases, said Town’s lack of psychological treatment often required for sex offenders, and her relationship with a fellow convict, weigh against her.
“There are things that weigh in Ms. Town’s favor,” he told Allan. “However, I find myself on balance feeling that she hasn’t shown she should be relieved.”
Town is representing herself, with assistance from employment counselor Pamela Sorlagas. She declined to be interviewed after leaving court Wednesday.
Town and her husband, Meredith “Gene” Town, were the first two people arrested by Wenatchee Police Detective Bob Perez in a wide-ranging sexual abuse probe which ultimately ensnared 42 Chelan and Douglas County residents, 28 of whom were convicted or pleaded guilty. Of those, 17 cases were overturned on appeal, and other defendants accepted plea deals to far lesser charges.
The cases were criticized by judges and legal advocates at both the state and federal levels. Defendants sued municipalities, police officers and their own former lawyers, winning millions in settlements. Changes resulted in state law regarding foster care, sex-abuse investigation and mental-health institutionalization involving children.
Like many targeted in the sex ring cases, the Towns were poor and otherwise disadvantaged. Cherie Town is developmentally disabled, as were the children identified as victims in the case.
Gene was arrested in April 1994, after Cherie told a rape-crisis counselor he’d molested their children. Four days later, Cherie herself was arrested on identical claims. Based on investigative work by Perez, then-Chelan County Prosecutor Gary Riesen charged Gene Town with 14 counts of rape and molestation against seven children, and Cherie with nine counts of rape and molestation.
Gene Town pleased guilty to child rape and molestation, Cherie to child rape. They were sentenced to 20 and 10 years in prison respectively. Cherie also testified against a former tenant in the Towns’ home, Michael Rose, saying he too sexually abused their children.
But evidence emerged that they, their children and other defendants were coercively questioned by Perez and bullied into signing statements the detective typed for them. Once they reached court, the Towns said, their defenses were mishandled by their appointed lawyers.
In 1999, the Towns asked the Washington Court of Appeals to overturn their convictions. Ultimately, both entered Alford pleas that December to lesser charges — maintaining their innocence while agreeing they would probably be found guilty at trial — in exchange for early release from prison.
Gene Town’s plea involved a misdemeanor violation of a protective order. But Cherie’s plea to first-degree child molestation, a felony, left her with the duty to register as a Level 1 sex offender in whatever community she resided. She has lived in Wenatchee since her release.
Town was also barred from unsupervised contact with minors during her two-year probationary period. In 2000 she admitted letting the children of a friend sleep in her Wenatchee home overnight, and was sentenced to 20 days in jail. At the time, her corrections officer said “there is no reason to believe those children were touched in any way.”
The Towns were in divorce proceedings when they were arrested. Their marriage was finally dissolved in 2000.
In court, Fore told Allan that Town is in a long-term relationship with another former sex-ring defendant, Lawrence E. Steinborn, whom she considers her fiancé. Steinborn, now 60, signed a confession for Perez and pleaded guilty to child molestation in 1994, offering testimony against other defendants in exchange for leniency.
One of the three victims in his case later told authorities that they’d falsely accused Steinborn. However, the Court of Appeals found no grounds to overturn his case.
“This is an issue to the state — that she is still involved with this man who is a convicted sex offender,” Fore told Allan.
Fore also said an evaluation by counselor Marshall Kirkpatrick recommended Town undergo standard sex-offender treatment, a requirement that was not placed on her when she was released from prison. He also said Town told a polygraph examiner in 2011 that she’d always denied the charges against her, but admitted to abuse in interviews with Fore during the original prosecutions.
Town did not address those claims in court, telling Allan she had not seen the polygraph and evaluation report. Allan provided her copies and set another hearing for Monday. Town offered documents to support her petition including transcripts from her Wenatchee Valley College classes and letters of recommendation.
One letter came from Pastor Roby Roberson, who alongside his wife was acquitted of multiple charges of child rape in the Perez investigations and won a $700,000 settlement after suing the city of Wenatchee for negligence and violation of his civil rights.
Town is not the first sex-rings defendant to challenge her registration requirement. In 2009 Sadie May Knowles, named Sadie May Hughes when she pleaded guilty to first-degree child molestation in 1996, won freedom from registration before Judge Allan. It was her second petition; the first was rejected by Judge T.W.“Chip” Small in 2007.
Knowles, who now lives in Tacoma, took a plea to avoid a second charge of first-degree child molestation and a charge of first-degree rape. Like Cherie Town, she is developmentally disabled and said she did not understand the case against her.
Jefferson Robbins: 664-7123