GARNER — Randy Robertson wants to open a doughnut shop. He can’t get a job, and he sees the business as a chance to provide for himself, his wife and their daughter, who turns 3 in August.
He also said he understands why he can’t interact with customers, why he must wear an ankle monitor for the rest of his life and why many would be repulsed by him.
Robertson, 52, is a registered sex offender and is on probation. He was convicted of taking indecent liberties with a minor after molesting a 14-year-old boy in 2010. He was also convicted of the same crime in Wake County in 1980.
At J’s Delicious Daylight Donuts, which sits between Lowes Foods and Planet Fitness at the corner of Aversboro Road and Timber Drive, Robertson plans to keep the company’s books and make doughnuts before the store opens. He also vows not to interact with customers.
The store is slated to open July 1, and it has been scrutinized by town and county officials since an anonymous tip about Robertson’s past and his plans surfaced late last week.
Robertson and his wife, Stacey, whom he married in 2011, say they have invested $200,000 to start the business. The money, he said, was a combination of personal savings and loans from friends and family.
“I want to provide for my family. I’ve got to do something,” Robertson said.
The Robertsons’ plans are legal. They applied for and received a business license from the Town of Garner, which did not require a background check. The town has determined it won’t – and probably can’t – block the store’s opening.
Wake County Assistant District Attorney Melanie Shekita, who handled the 2010 case, opposes the store but said her office does not have a legal basis for an injunction to prevent the business from opening since no laws have been broken.
“I think it shocks the conscience that Daylight Donuts would allow him to open such a thing and put ‘family friendly’ on it,” Shekita said. “The victim and the family know, and they’re beside themselves.”
Shekita said an eatery that didn’t specialize in implicitly child-attracting sweets would have been a better choice, and that Robertson knows if he breaks the law, it will be dealt with swiftly.
“He understands the terms and conditions and assures the probation officer that he will abide by them,” Shekita said. “I’ve told his probation officer that we will watch him like a hawk, as well.”
In 2010, Robertson was caught on a security camera at Garner United Methodist Church tickling a 14-year-old boy and touching him inappropriately. His church, St. Andrews United Methodist, was visiting on a joint event. Robertson took a plea deal and he was sentenced to 30 days in jail, along with therapy and five years of probation, which runs through December 2015.
Along with ankle bracelet monitoring and therapy, Robertson’s probation bans him from socializing or communicating with anyone under the age of 16 unless accompanied by a responsible adult aware of his past abuses. His business can’t hire a minor. And he can’t leave Wake County without permission.
His 1980 conviction landed him about 40 days in jail.
The Robertsons said they chose to open a doughnut shop largely because Robertson developed a passion for baking while taking culinary classes during his 2001-08 tenure as an information technology teacher at Wake Tech Community College. The two also cited a lack of doughnut shops – especially small, locally-owned shops – in the area.
“He can’t find a job. How can you expect to live if he can’t get hired by anybody?” Stacey Robertson said.
Robertson acknowledged his urges and said he takes responsibility and has remorse for his crime.
“It was a poor choice. It was a terrible choice. It wasn’t a mistake, it was a choice,” Robertson said. “I did what I did because I wanted to do it.”
He said in group therapy sessions he tries to keep others honest, too. Since he cannot contact the victim, he views the only hope he has of approaching restitution is paying it forward.
“It’s by modeling the correct behavior, helping other people through their work, calling their hand when they’ve got this distorted thinking. I’m going, ‘well hey, you’re saying the same thing I said,’” Robertson said. “They’ll tell their story, ‘well you know it was just an accident, and I’ll say that’s (bull).”
He said his therapy consisted of a number of factors: overcoming denial, accepting responsibility, finding the root causes in his background, dealing with anger, having a relapse-prevention plan and learning empathy and the damage he has caused without it.
“Had I had the empathy, I wouldn’t have committed the offense,” Robertson said.
UNC-Charlotte psychology professor Richard McAnulty has specialized in sexual misconduct and offenses for more than 20 years, and has done research and work as a clinical psychologist. He understands why there is anxiety over sex offenders, but said a public “witch-hunt” and a “lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key” sentiment don’t accurately address the reality of the problem.
“We know that treatment does make a difference, it does lower relapse rates and recidivism. That’s well-documented,” McAnulty said. “Most of them don’t re-offend. There is a small percentage of sexual offenders, perhaps 10 percent, who are predatory and a high risk of re-offending.”
Emphasis today is on treatment, he said, where offenders are taught to address problems, avoid risky situations and control urges. Cures are no longer considered a viable pursuit. Research shows, McAnulty said, that public sex offender registries are ineffective at deterring recidivism, with some unintended negative consequences.
“It just makes us feel better,” he said.
McAnulty said his research suggests that social relationships such as a successful marriage and large gaps between offenses lower the likelihood of relapse. He called Robertson’s acceptance of responsibility another positive sign.
“That shows the person is owning up to it and taking responsibility. That’s not something people do naturally,” McAnulty said. “Most offenders deny or at least try to minimize.”
Robertson maintains the two crimes 30 years apart are his only criminal acts. He said that he didn’t deal with his urges for decades in large part because he hadn’t been arrested.
The crimes have cost Robertson the majority of his friends and have also placed a stigma on him that he knows he’ll never shake. McAnulty backed his assertion that even finding a therapist that will help can be difficult. He also said it’s clear that not all sex offenders are alike, and that popular stereotypes find little support in research.
Phillip Anthony, an attorney who lives a few houses down from the Robertsons and attends St. Andrews, said he never sees anyone visiting Robertson except his father. Anthony also said he has spoken to him a handful of times since 2010 and that he’s been cordial and helpful, but they aren’t close friends.
“I feel for him,” Anthony said. “I have a daughter. That stuff worries me, too. But this guy has the modern equivalent of the Scarlet Letter.”
Anthony said he doesn’t know how Robertson is going to succeed, and that some will “do everything they can to tear him down.” He said he told Robertson that he was going to run into problems with his business, especially in a small, interconnected town like Garner. He also said he wants to see Robertson get an even shot.
“He’s trying his best to turn his life around. I don’t know if he’s going to be able to do it because the odds are stacked against him,” Anthony said. “If I was him I’d want to drive a truck in Alaska, but they won’t let him do that.”
Police Chief Brandon Zuidema spoke to Robertson after learning about the situation June 20. Zuidema did not express major concern for public risk in the shop’s operation as long as Robertson does not violate his probation.
“We’ll be monitoring that situation,” Zuidema said. “We’ll be making sure he obeys his probation, and also making sure his rights as a prospective business owner are protected as well.”
Council member Buck Kennedy said the town needs to work to protect all parties, but he also acknowledges the public sentiment against those who have committed sex crimes against minors.
Council member Gra Singleton said that council should not directly act and that legally Robertson can own the shop. But he also questioned Robertson’s choice of opening a family- and child-friendly business that sells sweets.
“Some people won’t go because of (Robertson),” Singleton said. “That’s their choice.”
Robertson hopes the community can provide some kind of support to people who have troubled pasts, saying complete rejection only would build resentment and could impair the recovery and adjustment of people like him.
“But on the other hand, I completely understand that one in three people have been affected by some kind of sex offense. They’re angry,” he said. “So I’m sensitive to that fact, too.”
Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland