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Man exonerated, new suspect charged in middle-of-the-night child snatching

For one week in late June, convicted sex offender and parolee Larry K. Keiper managed to elude the watch of law enforcement authorities by cutting off the ankle monitoring bracelet that he had been ordered to wear.

In that time, police said, he managed to upend the lives of two Wheatfield families and almost succeeded in committing a heinous crime.

His exploits came to light Tuesday when prosecutors dropped all charges against a Wheatfield man wrongly accused of trying to kidnap his neighbor’s 6-year-old daughter and announced Keiper's arrest.

Keiper stands accused of entering a Ward Road home shortly after 3 a.m. June 28 and carrying a 6-year-old girl out of the house. The intruder dropped the girl on the steps and ran away after the girl’s mother chased him.

Keiper once committed a crime eerily similar to the Wheatfield incident. Prosecutors said he entered a North Tonawanda house in 2004 and was caught by parents in the bedroom of their 6-year-old daughter. His record also includes the rape of a 14-year-old girl in California in 1983 after entering her home, which is the crime that made him a Level 3 sex offender, the most serious classification.

Niagara County Sheriff James R. Voutour said that state parole officers lost track of Keiper, who is on parole for the 2004 North Tonawanda break-in, after he allegedly cut off the ankle bracelet that was supposed to monitor his movements.

He said the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision didn't inform his department about the Keiper situation.

"We didn't know where he was for a week," said Capt. Bruce Elliott, chief of the Sheriff's Office Criminal Division.

"I certainly am concerned, now that I know what I know," Voutour said. "I didn't know it was cut off, nor did anybody in my department.

"You don't cut it off because it's too heavy to wear. You cut it off because you have intentions to do something," Voutour said. "This guy's an animal, a prowler out in Niagara County, and almost raped a little girl. And besides that, he sent someone else to jail for 12 days. I'm not saying we would have prevented it, but our chances would have been much better."

Such situations can be deadly. In the Syracuse area in 2013, David Renz, a man on federal probation, slipped out of his ankle bracelet and kidnapped a woman and a 10-year-old girl in a shopping mall parking lot. He murdered the woman and raped the girl.

But Corrections and Community Supervision spokesman Thomas Mailey said the department did take steps to find Keiper and to notify law enforcement. That included conducting a search and notifying several police agencies.

"And, in response to the department providing the Niagara Falls Intelligence Center with a 'Wanted' poster, a 'Be On the Lookout' notice was dispatched to all local law enforcement," Mailey said.

Keiper, 64, whose last reported address was on Armory Place in Niagara Falls, was arraigned Tuesday in Wheatfield Town Court on charges of burglary, attempted kidnapping and child endangerment. He was held without bail, District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek announced Tuesday at an 11 a.m. news conference.

A legal source said Keiper's blood was found on the Wheatfield girl's pajamas. Wojtaszek wouldn't confirm that, but she said a DNA test was expedited on "forensic evidence ... that was recovered at the time of the crime."

The test results tying Keiper to the crime arrived at 11:30 a.m. Monday, Wojtaszek said.

She said she immediately made arrangements to have the charges against Salvatore Prezioso dismissed, which they were in an unscheduled appearance late Monday afternoon before Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon. Prezioso then was released after 12 days in the County Jail.

"Based on the forensic evidence, Salvatore Prezioso has been completely and totally exonerated in this matter," Wojtaszek said.

Meanwhile, Keiper was already in custody. He had been arrested June 29 on a criminal trespass charge in the Ward Road neighborhood where the attempted child abduction occurred the day before.

Voutour said the arresting deputies learned Keiper was wanted as a parole absconder.

"Some statements he made that we will not talk about led us to further investigation," Voutour said.

Wojtaszek said Keiper's alleged invasion was "completely random." He didn't know the victim's family.

"Salvatore Prezioso wishes to thank his family and friends who supported him and believed in him, and believed in his innocence during this traumatic experience. He is relieved that he has been exonerated," said Theresa L. Prezioso, his niece by marriage and co-defense counsel.

"Notwithstanding this just result, Mr. Prezioso suffered the indignity of being publicly labeled as a predator. He spent 12 days in the Niagara County Jail for a crime in which he had no involvement," Theresa Prezioso said. "These false accusations laid upon Mr. Prezioso and their subsequent consequences were incredibly painful for Sal and his family. Sal is hopeful that this nightmare will serve to remind the public that a rush to judgment is never fair, that an arrest is not tantamount to guilt. Sal's case underscores how eyewitness identification can be unreliable, particularly under certain circumstances, such as those that existed in this case."

Her co-counsel, Robert Viola, said he wasn't sure the falsely accused man's reputation could be restored.

"There's always going to be people who say, 'You were charged,' and aren't going to read how the case got dismissed or thrown out. They'll think he got out on some technicality. I think you can't unring the bell. Once you've been charged and arrested, there's some stigma there," Viola said.

The defense lawyers said the mother's identification of her neighbor as the abductor wasn't solid.

"It was 3 o'clock in the morning, it was dark," Theresa Prezioso said. "There were many holes in it."

Wojtaszek said the mother was "devastated" to learn she had put her innocent neighbor in jail.

Wojtaszek emphasized that Prezioso was arrested based on "probable cause," and Viola said a false arrest lawsuit could be hard to win.

"It would be a difficult burden (of proof) at this point, based upon what we know, but it needs to be looked at closely," Viola said.

A Ward Road woman told sheriff's deputies that she woke up about 3:20 a.m. June 28 and saw her daughter being carried down the front steps of her home by a man, whom she identified as Prezioso, her next-door neighbor.

The intruder dropped the girl on the steps when the mother chased him. Prezioso was quickly arrested and charged with first-degree burglary, attempted second-degree kidnapping and child endangerment.

The Niagara County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Unit visited the crime scene again Tuesday afternoon. The Ward Road house is about a tenth of a mile north of the North Tonawanda city line, on a 40 mph, two-lane road lined with houses, behind which sit fields and farmland.

The victim’s family could not be reached for comment. A resident of the property where Keiper is accused of trespassing also declined comment.

Keiper's criminal history includes a pair of four-year prison sentences for burglaries, one in 1971 in Niagara County and one in 1978 in Erie County. He violated parole on both sentences, according to records of the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

Keiper then moved to California, where he was convicted of the July 8, 1983, forcible rape of a 14-year-old girl after entering her home. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison, but was paroled in 1997, according to the California sex offender registry.

Returning to Western New York, Keiper was arrested Aug. 1, 1997, after being chased by four officers and a police dog investigating a series of six burglaries on 72nd Street in Niagara Falls.

The Buffalo News reported at the time that two women in separate houses told police that they were awakened by the break-ins and identified Keiper as a man carrying a flashlight in their homes. One woman said she woke up to find Keiper pointing the flashlight at her as she lay in bed.

Keiper, who at the time listed an address on 76th Street in the Falls, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of attempted second-degree burglary. On Dec. 2, 1997, Niagara County Judge Charles J. Hannigan sentenced him to seven years in state prison. He was paroled in 2003.

On Sept. 23, 2004, Keiper, then living on Ontario Avenue in the Falls, broke into a home on Ruie Road in North Tonawanda, where residents said they found her in the bedroom of their 6-year-old daughter at about 3 a.m.

He had not yet been charged with that crime when Amherst police captured him two days later after a Bauman Road homeowner said he caught Keiper shining a flashlight through a bedroom window. Keiper was charged with two burglary attempts that night on Bauman Road.

On Aug. 23, 2005, Niagara County Judge Peter L. Broderick Sr. called Keiper "a professional burglar" and sentenced him to 12 years in prison for the Ruie Road break-in.

He was paroled in 2015 and headed for eastern Pennsylvania, where he was arrested Sept. 8, 2015, in Bucks County on prowling and loitering charges for looking into house windows at night, according to the Lehigh Valley Express-Times.

That led to his re-imprisonment in New York as a parole violator in January 2016, but he was paroled again Dec. 7, 2017, according to Department of Corrections and Community Supervision records.

Wheatfield man charged with trying to kidnap 6-year-old neighbor

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