Crime

Whatcom County child molester tries to withdraw plea, gets prison instead

McClatchy

A Whatcom County man convicted of molesting two girls must serve 15 months in prison, a Superior Court judge ruled this week.

A girl told her counselor in October 2013 that Chad Eugene Fitzgerald, 37, had molested her two years earlier when he was staying at her home. She recalled waking up one night to find Fitzgerald rubbing his privates — or something that didn’t feel like a hand or fingers — against her bare feet at the bottom of her bed, according to charging papers. The girl reported she fell asleep with her socks on. She moved her feet, and Fitzgerald left to go to the kitchen.

She was younger than 16 years old at the time of her report.

As the investigation moved along, a second girl talked with detectives a few months later, claiming Fitzgerald molested her when she was about 9 or 10 years old in the early 2000s. She woke up on a couch to find Fitzgerald sexually touching her, she reported, and telling her not to resist. She said it happened five to 10 other times. She wanted to forget it happened and did not make a report at first.

Fitzgerald was charged with four felony counts of child sex crimes.

A Department of Corrections report identifies four other accusers. Fitzgerald was a juvenile, in his teens, when two boys told their mother they had been sexually touched by him. Both boys were younger than 6. Fitzgerald was arrested, but charges were dropped when he passed a polygraph test, according to what the boys’ mother told a Corrections investigator. Court records of the case no longer exist.

Another young man came forward in early 2014 to tell the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office he had a “foggy” memory of Fitzgerald molesting him when he was younger than 8 years old. But he convinced himself it was a dream. No charges were filed.

Another boy in his teens recalled one time, a few years ago, when he woke up to find his shorts were pulled down, and someone rubbing his leg. He heard a clinking sound. The boy picked up a flashlight and saw Fitzgerald, who was wearing a metal belt, adjusting his pants. No charges were filed in that case, either.

As he awaited trial in April 2015, Fitzgerald suffered a brain abscess that has led to seizures, headaches and — according to him — memory problems. (One psychologist suggested Fitzgerald’s behavior might be “malingering,” the medical term for exaggerating or faking.)

Fitzgerald has not admitted to the abuse, and claims to not remember what happened because of the memory loss, according to the Corrections report. His attorney asked for Fitzgerald’s competency to be reviewed at Western State Hospital, and in February a judge found “no credible cognitive or memory symptoms that would preclude him from effective assisting in his defense.”

In April, Fitzgerald entered an Alford plea — a plea in which a defendant acknowledges there’s enough evidence that a jury would likely convict — to two counts of third-degree child molestation. It’s considered a conviction.

This week at his sentencing Fitzgerald heard tearful testimony from the girls and their families about how the abuse had shattered childhoods.

“Chad, I will never forgive you for what you did,” read a letter from the older victim. “You gave me a life sentence.”

When it was his turn to speak Fitzgerald tried, awkwardly, to withdraw his plea. Instead of making a statement, he gave two brief handwritten letters to the judge, refusing to let his public defender, Shoshana Paige, read them first.

In the letters he claimed the offenses couldn’t be proven, that his public defender let him down, and he had been threatened at the courthouse.

Superior Court Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis handed the letters to Paige and the prosecutor, since both attorneys get to view all documents filed into the public record. The judge gave Fitzgerald a few minutes to talk with his attorney in a back room. By the time they returned Fitzgerald decided not to withdraw his plea.

The judge approved the plea deal. Fitzgerald must serve 15 months behind bars, plus 36 months on probation. He’s not eligible for treatment in prison because he hasn’t admitted to the offenses.

fatal2
This Chevrolet Suburban driven by Larry Fitzgerald, 71, crossed the centerline of Mount Baker Highway on Mother’s Day 2017 and drove into the path of a westbound Toyota Yaris, side-swiping that car and causing it to roll, according to the Washington State Patrol. Washington State Patrol Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

In May, Fitzgerald’s father, Larry Fitzgerald, 71, was among three people killed in a car crash on Mount Baker Highway. He now must find another place to live once he gets out of prison because he had planned on staying with his father upon his release.

Fitzgerald also must register as a sex offender once he’s released from prison.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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