ROCKFORD, Ill. — In the eerie silence of night, Lisa Spears was always a prisoner of her past, pacing the floors, checking the doors, sometimes even sleeping with her baby in the car, ready for a quick getaway.
It seemed like she'd never escape from a terrifying night 12 years ago. But then a letter came, offering her a way out. It would be scary. It would be humiliating. But she would face the man who raped her in 1979.
When it was over, Lisa Spears walked from a Peoria courtroom, knowing that George Ray Prince, the con her father welcomed into their home, the man who raped her when she was 16, would finally pay for his crime.
"Justice is sweet, even after 12 years," she says in her husky voice. "I still hate him and even though he got 40 years, I'd still like to torture him."
For Prince, the sentence means more time behind bars for a three-time sex offender, already serving 50 years for a 1983 rape. For Spears, it means deliverance, freedom to resume a life stalled long ago.
"It was like a rescue," says Spears, a 29-year-old single mother. "Inside, I was still screaming from what happened. It was like a scream I could never let out, that I could never voice, and I finally got to do that in a different kind of way."
"I wanted to make him pay so bad for what he did," she adds. "Coming forward is so hard . . . (but) I wanted everybody to know that ever thought, 'Man, this girl's weird because she shakes all the time, or she's shy all the time, or she doesn't talk to anybody.' . . . People had no idea what happened to me. . . . I just felt like the truth would set me free."
Lisa Spears' story is one of justice delayed, but not denied; of being on the right side of the law after watching her father, Leonard, walk the wrong side. He has spent much of his life in prison, including a stint for a robbery in which a policeman was killed.
Spears recalls her youth as a Dickensian tale of hardship and abuse, of an alcoholic, prostitute mother who brought men home, some of whom sexually abused her.
At times, the children were removed and separated to live in different homes. At times, Spears, the oldest of five, became caretaker and cook. She was a child without a childhood.
"All these years in my life I fantasized that my dad would come home and take me from all that, so it was real ironic that he brought someone in the house that ended up raping me," she says.
Two years after gaining custody of Lisa and a sister, Leonard Spears invited Prince to his Peoria home, apparently thinking he was helping a fellow con on the lam for burglary.
About a month later, on Aug. 13, 1979, Spears says she was sleeping when a naked Prince pounced on her and began choking and threatening to kill her. No one else was home.
She says she blacked out briefly and that when she came to, Prince apologized, then forced her to have oral sex and raped her, yanking her head back so tightly that clumps of hair fell out. He then asked for a pillowcase and began twisting it in his hands.
"I just kept thinking he was going to kill me," she recalls. "I just kept saying, 'Take the money and leave. I'll never tell nobody what you did.' He said, 'If you had a gun, would you shoot me?' I said, 'No, God would never let me do anything like that.' "
Prince fled in her father's car, abandoned it, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Spears was examined at a hospital, and her bruised body photographed; she refused to return home. She moved in with relatives in Rockford.
She was constantly on edge. She hugged the door in cars, ready to jump out in an instant. She couldn't bear the feel of turtlenecks. She trusted no man except her father, and he was back in prison within two years.
Her boyfriend left before their daughter, Angel, now 6, was born. Within two years, Spears was drinking heavily. She dabbled in cocaine. She slept days, she paced nights.
Sometimes, she'd sleep with Angel in the car. "I would lock all the doors," she says, "and roll the windows up because then I knew if anyone would try to get me, I could drive away and no one could hurt me."
Spears never knew that Prince was no longer walking the streets.
Authorities say Prince had been convicted in 1970 for fondling a child and, at the time Spears was assaulted, was a fugitive on charges of raping his 15-year-old daughter in Oregon. In 1983, Prince pleaded guilty in Abilene, Tex., to sexually assaulting a woman in a nightclub.
Michael Brandt, Prince's court-appointed attorney, argued that his client entered the Texas plea with the understanding that Illinois and Oregon would drop their charges. Oregon later did.
But Illinois had no such agreement.
Ultimately, the 49-year-old convict--acting, Brandt said, at the urging of a fellow inmate to clear the books--wrote Illinois authorities, demanding that the charges be dropped or that he be tried.
Spears agreed to prosecute, and a dead-letter case was very much alive.