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Victims' Rights : After the '78 murder of her granddaughter, Patti Linebaugh took up the fight to protect other children from molesters.

April 01, 1993|ROBYN LOWENTHAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In a different world, Patti Linebaugh would probably be attending her first grandchild's high school graduation this spring. But on March 14, 1978, 2 1/2-year-old Amy Sue Seitz was kidnaped from her baby sitter's yard in Camarillo. Two days later the toddler's raped and tortured body was found in Topanga Canyon.

Instead of watching Amy graduate, Linebaugh awaits the end of an appeal process so she can witness the execution of convicted murderer Theodore Frank, 58, who lives on San Quentin prison's Death Row.

"As a result of the last 15 years, I'm beginning to question our courts in giving the death penalty, because of all the delays," said Linebaugh. "It's a continuous prey on victims. It never ends."

Linebaugh admitted to burnout after spending eight years as a militant advocate for children's and victims' rights. She appeared on eight or nine major television network shows, among them "20/20" and the "Today" show.

In 1980 she, Irving Prager, the original prosecutor on the case, and others established Society's League Against Molestation (S.L.A.M.), whose mission was to protect children by raising public awareness about molestation and to strengthen related laws. At one time there were chapters in 43 states. And in 1985 Linebaugh, Teresa Saldana, and other victims' rights advocates received commendations from President Reagan.

"Child molestation was something behind closed doors--be it incest or a case like ours," said Linebaugh. "Many attendees of our meetings were senior citizens who had been molested as children and had kept this a secret all their lives."

Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury credited Linebaugh's efforts in the adoption of new statutes in California written by Prager and fellow prosecutor Ron Sabo. The new legislation strengthens laws relating to the prosecution and detention of child molesters. "Hundreds of child molesters would have gone free if it were not for Patti and people like her," said Prager, now assistant dean at the University of La Verne College of Law.

Nevertheless, Linebaugh resigned as S.L.A.M.'s director in 1988 to focus on her family and profession. But frustration over Frank's latest appeal motivated Linebaugh to discuss the case.

We met in Camarillo at Interstate Escrow, which she manages. Facing her desk are group portraits of her five children (ages 26 to 36) and her remaining 13 grandchildren, who range in age from 6 months to 14 years. Linebaugh confided she does not display a photo of Amy because it would be a painful reminder to relatives.

Linebaugh speaks softly. At times, painful memories diminish her voice to a tremulous whisper. "Amy died," she said solemnly. "I don't dwell on the circumstances involved around it. Because if I do, I lose it.

"People often ask me, 'Why are you always the speaker?' " she continued. "My daughter Sheryl was only 17 when she had Amy. She turned 20 just two weeks before Amy's death. She tried to keep a low profile." Linebaugh added that her daughter, who also lives in Camarillo, has since married and has three school-age sons unaware of the tragedy.

"Amy disappeared about 10 o'clock in the morning," recalled Linebaugh. "There is an alley behind the house. The investigator's premise is that Frank called her over to the fence. And of course being a child, she had no fear.

"My son Jim and I were the only ones who saw Amy. We identified the body."

Upon learning Frank's background, an outraged Linebaugh sought stronger legislation.

"He had seven prior convictions for child molestation," she said. "He admitted to molesting 150 to 200 children. He had pled out each time. He never stood trial before our case. He was a suspect in two previous murders where he had fled the states. And the statutes of limitations had passed."

She added that Frank, six weeks before abducting Amy, had been released from Atascadero State Hospital's Mentally Disturbed Sex Offender program as a completely rehabilitated, model patient. Ironically, he was arrested after a former Atascadero inmate recognized Frank from a composite drawing created by one of two girls Frank molested in the San Fernando Valley.

"There was nothing I could do as far as Amy was concerned," Linebaugh said. "But I felt a responsibility to the public and the families of victims.

"I always felt if someone had taken the initiative to plead for stronger laws . . .," she added, her voice trailing off.

Linebaugh's family members are coping in private. Her son Jim, who was a high school senior at the time, became a juvenile officer with the Oxnard Police Department.

"My daughters aren't over protective," said Linebaugh. "But this has really frightened them. My 13 grandchildren are not left with anyone other than immediate family for any reason.

"If you don't keep the awareness out there, people forget. And I don't want them to forget Amy. I don't want them to forget the child of today who can also be victimized by the Theodore Franks."

* FYI

For more information about legislation relating to child molestation and victims' rights, write S.L.A.M., P.O. Box 102, Camarillo 93011.

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