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Kidnaper Due for Parole Is Barred From Coronado

October 12, 1985|ARMANDO ACUNA | Times Staff Writer

Convicted kidnaper Robert Gene Edwards, who grabbed a 3-year-old girl from her family's Coronado motel in 1981 and then kept her in a box for nine days and in his bed naked for nine nights, will be paroled on Jan. 8, the state Department of Corrections said Friday.

However, under the terms of his three-year parole, Edwards, 50, won't be allowed to live in or visit Coronado, department spokesman Les Johnson said in Sacramento. What hasn't been determined, Johnson said, is whether Edwards will be released elsewhere in San Diego County.

Coronado residents have mounted an extensive campaign to keep Edwards from returning to the area.

"He definitely won't be paroled to Coronado, and he won't be able to visit there," Johnson said. "What hasn't been determined is whether he'll be released in San Diego County . . . it's a big county and it's possible he could stay somewhere else."

The department's standard practice is to release a parolee back to the county where he lived when he broke the law.

A final decision on where Edwards will be paroled probably won't be made until a few days before his release, Johnson said.

In part, the decision to bar Edwards from Coronado was in response to the outpouring of community outrage, manifested by thousands of petitions and hundreds of letters.

Officials at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, where Edwards is imprisoned, Friday calculated Edwards' release date as Jan. 8. The calculation takes into account an August court order requiring the state to credit Edwards for 480 days that he was imprisoned between his two trials.

Coronado Police Chief Jerry Boyd, who in 1981 arrested Edwards when the chief posed as a relative carrying about $2,000 in ransom, said he was elated at the news that Edwards won't be allowed back in this community of 19,000.

"Number 1, I think this will give people here peace of mind again," Boyd said. "And No. 2, I'm glad because there will be less of a drain on police resources because . . . we have as much responsibility to protect him as we have to protect the community from him. There were lots of people who wanted to get him."

On Aug. 8, 1981, the burly Edwards, a part-time handyman, took a 3-year-old girl from her family's motel room while her parents were unloading groceries from the car. The Provo, Utah, family was spending a summer vacation in Coronado, as it had done regularly for many years.

Edwards took the girl to his apartment just a block from the motel. The girl's disappearance touched off an extensive shore-to-shore search of the island for the next nine days.

The kidnaping generated considerable publicity, making headlines almost daily.

Finally, Edwards phoned the family and demanded several thousand dollars in return for the toddler. During the exchange with Boyd at the old ferry boat landing, Edwards was arrested.

It was then learned that Maria had been kept in the dark during the day under a window seat in the apartment. At night, the little girl was forced to sleep naked with Edwards. The girl told psychologists that Edwards sexually abused her.

The girl was unable to testify, however, breaking down and crying during a pretrial hearing. She began crying when a prosecutor asked her where she lived.

During the first trial, Edwards' defense attorney said the mastermind behind the kidnaping was a mystery man named "Juan." But he was never identified.

Edwards was convicted of kidnaping for ransom in 1982 and sentenced to life imprisonment. But the conviction was overturned by an appellate court in 1983 because the judge made a mistake in his instructions to the jury.

At his second trial last year, Edwards again was convicted, but this time for simple kidnaping. He was sentenced to seven years in prison, the maximum allowable for such a kidnaping conviction.

During the second sentencing hearing, held last January, it was revealed in a probation report that Edwards had been convicted in 1955 of kidnaping two sisters, 7 and 8 years old, in Nebraska. He raped the older girl and then took a pistol and shot off the head of a doll belonging to the 7-year-old.

Bernard Revak, the deputy district attorney who prosecuted Edwards at the second trial, said Edwards threatened to shoot the girls if they talked about the kidnaping. Edwards served seven years in a Nebraska state prison before he was paroled and moved to California.

Revak, who today is a lawyer in the U.S. attorney's office in San Diego, said Friday he considers Edwards a "clear and present danger to society." What worries him, he said, "is what's going to happen the next time. Who's going to lose a little girl or a little boy?"

Revak said there is a loophole in the law that works against the public's interest in cases such as Edwards'. While people convicted of sex crimes must register with authorities in their county of residence, even after their parole has expired, there is no such requirement in kidnap cases involving children, Revak said. "It's something which has to be remedied," Revak said.

For a group of Coronado citizens who have followed the Edwards case closely since the kidnaping, the news that Edwards would be barred from their city was greeted Friday with relief.

"I think our actions paid off a little bit," said Karen Adams, a member of Friends of Children, a group formed after the kidnaping. The group gathered 7,000 signatures on petitions and sent them to officials such as Gov. George Deukmejian.

The city's only newspaper, the Coronado Journal, a weekly, Thursday carried two front-page articles on the Edwards case and printed a clip-out letter addressed to the director of the state Department of Corrections, which readers could sign and send, asking the department to release Edwards in Northern California.

"We had to deal with that morally," Adams said. "We don't want him released anywhere. I'd like him out of San Diego County. We know it's not nice to say to someone, 'Here, you have to take him.' "

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