Charles Dean is 65 years old now and bears little resemblance to the mugshot taken in 1983 when he was at the center of one of the decade’s most notorious sex crimes. The head of curls is now shaved close, and his dark, trimmed beard now falls in long, straggly, gray strands.
This aged, haggard version of Dean was back in State Supreme Court recently. He was to the courtroom from prison to receive his official designation as a sex offender – one of the final steps before he is freed on parole.
Dean is scheduled for release Oct. 30, after serving 33 years of a 25-to-50-year sentence for kidnapping a 10-year-old girl from her Towne Gardens apartment on July 5, 1983 and holding her captive for 10 hours while he raped and sodomized her.
The abduction was sensational news for local media. That is why a WKBW-TV camera crew was at the apartment complex later that evening when the girl’s distraught father, Willie Williams, and about 20 others tracked down Dean. While the mob kicked and beat Dean, the outraged Williams stabbed the man he thought had raped his daughter. Dean suffered two wounds in the abdomen, and the TV cameras recorded it all.
This was before ubiquitous cell-phone cameras, CCTV or home Internet, but the video went the 1980s version of “viral.” National news outlets picked it up and Williams’ case became a cause.
The New York Times reported that people around the country wanted to help pay Williams’ bail. The New York paper even quoted Buffalo Mayor Jimmy Griffin sticking up for him.
“This thing has cut across the whole community. It’s a human thing. I feel it,” Griffin said. “I’ve got two daughters, one 13 and one 11, and if a guy raped my daughter, he would have got the same thing from me.’’
Dean spent 10 days recovering in the hospital before he was moved to the jail, where he stayed with bail set at $250,000.
For the next year, news coverage of the case seesawed between the abduction and sodomy charges against Dean and the prosecution – some said persecution – of Williams.
Williams, who worked as a truck driver and moonlighted as street preacher Reverend Willie, was unrepentant, even after he was indicted on charges of attempted murder, assault and weapons possession. With help from a legal defense fund set up by Common Council member David Collins, he hired a young attorney named Paul J. Cambria.
The courts looked relatively kindly on him. Three months after Williams was indicted, Erie County Judge Rose D. LaMendola dismissed the attempted murder charge on procedural grounds. Williams pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge and was sentenced to one year of probation in June 1984. According to reports in The News at the time, the judge told Williams she couldn’t condone “street justice” but she understood he was “a religious man who got carried away.”
Then it was Dean’s turn in court.
A heavy-drinking unemployed drug user with a hefty criminal record, Dean was described by a psychiatrist in his trial as a man “programmed to be a criminal.” And that psychiatrist, Dr. Bruno G. Schitkeker, was hired by the defense.
There were numbers to back that up. Dean had been arrested 28 times on 54 charges between 1970 and 1983. He had served 29 months on a four-year sentence for felony rape in 1974, and at the time that Williams’s daughter was attacked, Dean was free on bail on charges he sexually assaulted his girlfriend’s 15-year-old sister. The girlfriend bailed him out.
That was his last taste of freedom.
The girl who was abducted identified Dean at his trial, and that identification was held up later on appeal. Dean had argued that police had shown her his photo and “distinctive” hairstyle, tainted the testimony. During her testimony, the girl began crying on the stand and said she just wanted to go home.
Tests by central police services corroborated the girl’s account of sexual assault.
Dean was convicted of burglary and two counts of sodomy.
During his trial, he went on short hunger strikes to protest the handling of his case. He objected to the defense devised by his court-appointed attorney, Gary Wojtan.
Wojtan decided not to dispute the facts of the attack and instead took the difficult route of trying to prove mental incompetancy.
As he has done from the beginning, Dean continues to protest his innocence now that he is nearing release.
And at Dean’s hearing in September, prosecutor Jeremy Murray was going over the checklist of reasons Dean should be classified a level three sex offender.
Dean’s new attorney, Michael Poretta, pointed out that when the victim was examined after the assault at Children’s Hospital, doctors found “no issues” in her physical condition, such as tearing, redness or swelling.
Dean leapt on that in court, telling Justice John A. Michalski there was no way a grown man could have sodomized a child without leaving physical evidence.
Underneath a knit skull cap and bulky green state inmate jacket that looked two sizes too large for him, Dean became animated.
“I’ve been trying to fight this case since I’ve been incarcerated,” Dean said. “Where it stands now, I’m trying to get out, and I’m getting a lawyer. I’ll fight this till I die.”
However, he also admitted to the judge that he had no funds to hire an attorney to pursue his innocence.
Protestations aside, Murray said Dean’s record gave him a sexual offense score of 130 — 20 points more than needed to be classified as a Level 3 sex offender. Even without that score, Dean automatically would be Level 3 because of his previous rape conviction, Murray said.
“We are not here to re-litigate the defendant’s trial,” Murray said.
After speaking his piece, Dean seemed to realize that as well and he conceded he might not have much time for his fight.
His attorney said Dean suffers from sciatica, rheumatoid arthritis, cataracts and hepatitis C. Side effects from the hepatitis C treatment also give him trouble, Dean said.
“I saw the doctor at the prison, and she told me bluntly to get my affairs in order,” Dean complained. ”I don’t see no end to it.”
If Dean is released as scheduled on Oct. 30, he will have served 33 years, three months and 15 days for his crime.