How a predator fooled everyone
The Herald - Everett, Wash.
July 31, 2005
By Scott North
To his last breath, David Herget manipulated others.
He had distorted his family's love, pleading guilty a dozen years earlier to molesting a teenage female relative. On July 1, the convicted sex offender was back behind bars, this time accused of sexually abusing boys he met at church.
Herget, 62, of Mountlake Terrace carefully groomed the boys, plying them with pornography and cash, police discovered. He made sure they wouldn't tell by threatening to kill himself should the secret ever be revealed.
It appears Herget made good on his threat.
On suicide watch at the Snohomish County Jail in Everett, Herget on July 2 wound a strip of bedsheet around his neck. Investigators believe he used a jail sandal to tighten the loop, strangling himself as he sat alone in his cell.
The next morning, Mountlake Terrace police delivered the news to the families of the boys he had molested.
The teen who had broken the silence wept tears of confusion and grief, his parents said.
"I'm looking at this boy and I'm thinking, 'You should not have to deal with this garbage at such a young age,'†" his mother said last week.
The boy's parents spoke on the condition their names not be used. They hope that by sharing how a pedophile gained access to their son, other parents might be able to protect their children.
The couple readily acknowledged that they didn't appreciate the danger Herget presented. They knew he had been convicted of a sex crime, but also saw him as a longtime member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Mountlake Terrace, where they have been active members for nearly two decades.
They were gulled by Herget's willingness to help others, and the close ties that exist within that community of faith, the boy's father said.
Dozens of others - including a state lawmaker - also stood by Herget, records show.
It's sometimes difficult to recognize that a sex offender can outwardly be a nice person but also a pose a grave risk, said Lucy Berliner, director of the sexual assault program at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
The only safe approach is to "accurately and unflinchingly accept" that a sex offender can never be trusted to be alone with children, she said.
"If you let down your guard and allow a known sex offender to be alone with your children, you are experimenting with your child and essentially crossing your fingers and hoping your child won't be the one," Berliner said.
Herget was a self-employed computer expert and the father of four grown children. He was raised in Portland, Ore., one of six children in a devout Mormon family.
Herget's family declined to speak with a reporter. Court papers and interviews confirm that it was through the Mormon church in Mountlake Terrace that he met the boys he molested.
The boy's mother said she was never fond of Herget, who could at times be condescending and domineering. His wife, on the other hand, is as close as an older sister, she said.
It was out of love for Herget's wife and children that he was welcome in their home. Out of love, they stood by Herget when he was convicted in 1993 of sexually abusing a girl, the boy's parents said.
The boy's mother said her heart went out to the girl Herget molested. The child first disclosed the molestation to her. The woman said she'd also been abused when she was young. Together, they went to a church leader.
Herget admitted the abuse, and police were summoned. His written confession describes the victim as "young, beguiling and lovely," and his offense as a "dastardly deed."
Even so, Herget dawdled in negotiating a guilty plea in the 1993 case, Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Paul Stern said. Herget was angry that authorities had barred him from contact with his own children, who then still lived at home.
"I could not comprehend that anyone would tear us apart as a family," he wrote. "I am appalled that we would be cut off from each other. That type of thing only happened in Nazi Germany or in a godless communist Russia."
Herget sought a special sentence for first-time sex offenders deemed likely to benefit from treatment. Without it, he faced up to nine years in prison.
The court received dozens of letters from church members urging leniency. One was written by a Seattle police detective who belonged to the congregation. Another came from the parents of the boy who would later unmask Herget as a serial molester.
"Mistakes need to be paid for, but once they are paid for, a normal life needs to be allowed," the couple wrote.
State Sen. Paull Shin, D-Mukilteo, was then in his first term in the state House of Representatives. He knew Herget. On a state letterhead, he wrote prosecutors and a Snohomish County judge, requesting leniency.
"I feel that Mr. Herget is basically a kind and honest man," Shin wrote.
Shin said he was new to the Legislature at the time and would not write such a letter today.
"David Herget's wife and his children came to me in tears," he said. "I was very moved by that."
A prosecutor for nearly 24 years, Stern said it is common for people to seek mercy in sex cases.
"Lots of folks are very outspoken about what we should do with sex offenders, until the offender is someone they know," he said.
Stern supported sentencing Herget to treatment. He matched the profile of someone research suggests would be the least likely to re-offend. The girl he molested also wanted Herget to get treatment. That, Stern said, carried more weight than all the letters from church members.
In treatment, Herget told how as a child he had been abused for years by a male relative, records show. The judge received glowing letters about his progress, including Herget's reported recognition that his deviant urges could only be controlled but never extinguished.
Herget was removed from state supervision in summer 2001. He had to register as a sex offender, but had long since reunited with his family.
Excommunicated by a Mormon church tribunal after his conviction, Herget completed the process of penitence, counseling and introspection that allowed him to rejoin the church.
Officials with Herget's church declined to discuss his case. Instead, they provided papers describing in general how the church tracks members who have been convicted of sexual abuse and bars them from work with children.
Herget got around that barrier after 2001 by privately offering assistance as an unofficial volunteer, or by simply being close to the families of his victims. He offered help on scouting projects and provided rides to sporting events, police discovered. Sons were sent to Herget, offering help with yardwork he could not complete because of health problems.
Mountlake Terrace Police Chief Scott Smith said detectives identified at least seven boys Herget abused over the years. One boy estimated that at least 1,400 acts of abuse occurred, starting in summer 2001.
Herget's arrest came after three of the boys spoke with police. All related similar stories of how Herget began trying to molest them when they were young and overcame their reluctance over time, usually with pornography and money.
The abuse was uncovered when the parents of one boy checked the family computer and confirmed suspicions that their son had been visiting sex sites on the Internet.
A check of his e-mail showed frequent correspondence with Herget. The man encouraged the teen to lie to his parents, and talked of letting him do things he knew they would not allow, his father said.
That fit a troubling pattern, the boy's mother said. Herget ignored limits, buying her children gifts and attempting to arrange trips without permission.
"It just seemed he was trying to overrule our parental authority," she said.
Herget cried when the boy's father told him to stay away.
Additional digging led to other e-mail accounts for the boy, all set up by Herget. Messages in those accounts showed Herget was providing pornography, and hinted at worse.
One of the messages read: "You are a good young man. Please forgive me if you can."
The teen finally disclosed the abuse. Other children were being molested as well, he said, because Herget would sometimes involve multiple children in his acts of abuse.
Smith, the police chief, said Herget was able to manipulate people by using his church involvement.
"I'm sure their intentions were good, but I think the church - I don't care if it is Mormon, Methodist, Catholic, I don't care the denomination - they have a responsibility to protect their children," Smith said.
The boy's mother said she has learned how important it is to act on parental instinct. If it feels as if something is wrong, it likely is, she said.
"You've got to be the parent," the boy's father said.