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INNOCENCE LOST

ELEVEN TREATMENT PROGRAMS LATER, TEENAGER SPENCER DAY WAS STILL MOLESTING CHILDREN. NOW HE'S IN PRISON UNTIL 2058.THIS BOY'S LIFE LAST YEAR 17-YEAR-OLD SPENCER DAY MOLESTED THREE MORE BOYS. OLD HABITS ARE HARD TO BREAK.

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In a two-week period beginning in mid-October 1993, Spencer Day went on a crime tear that was as remarkable for its workaday brazenness as it was for its repugnance. On October 19 he pulled an eleven-year-old boy off Wood Street in Fort Collins and forced him to perform fellatio, later strangling him into unconsciousness. Six days later he did the same thing to an eight-year-old boy in Boulder--although not strangling him--while the boy's sister stood just several feet away and watched. On the evening of October 29 he forced a ten-year-old boy into his Jeep Comanche pickup truck at knifepoint, drove into the hills outside Fort Collins and made him perform oral sex. He was arrested less than an hour later, after a high-speed chase with the boy still in the truck.

Spencer Day was no stranger to the local police. His criminal record dated back to 1988 and included charges of arson, burglary, criminal mischief, indecent exposure and, in 1991, reckless endangerment stemming from an incident in which Day lit a teenager's hair on fire with a cigarette lighter.

The horror of his recent crimes, combined with his long police record, earned Day a 64-year sentence from a Fort Collins judge this past summer. Two weeks later, after publicly musing that perhaps society would be better off if Spencer Day were castrated, a Boulder judge added forty more years to the sentence, although that time will be served concurrently. On the day he was taken into custody, six years had passed since Spencer Day's first arrest--and barely one month since his seventeenth birthday.

If Spencer Day weren't so young, if his crimes weren't so awful, if his prison sentences weren't so long, he would be no different from the dozens of other criminals who appear before judges every day in Colorado. But that is not the case. According to current sentencing guidelines, chances are good that Spencer Day will not be out of prison until he is fifty years old.

To his victims and their families, that is a relief. "I'm kind of glad he's put away and that he got 64 years," one of the Fort Collins boys said on the day of Spencer's sentencing. "Now I don't have to worry anymore."

That's unlikely. Anger, confusion and worry are likely to be the boys' lifelong companions. Reading through police interviews with Spencer's victims is disturbing and unspeakably sad. The clear images of the children's innocence, measured by the simplicity of their language and their utter lack of suspicion, are impossible to shake.

When Spencer approached the boy and his sister in Boulder, according to police reports, he told them he was looking for his lost dog. The girl, sitting in a red wagon, picked up a metal tube and began looking through it, as if it were a telescope, wanting to help search for the dog. In an interview after his assault, one boy described the incident by saying that "maybe a little bit of restroom came out" of Spencer's penis. Another boy said, "He put his thing in my seat."

Equally disturbing about Spencer Day's case, though, are the implications for what can be expected of the 2,300 sex offenders currently in the state's prison system (see sidebar, page 18). By the time of his spree, Spencer Day had displayed plenty of warning flags. He was kicked out of three preschools. He had gone through eleven separate treatment programs, ranging from A Clockwork Orange-like aversion therapy, complete with violent electric shocks, to group counseling, to one-on-one therapy, to stints in psychiatric hospitals.

Cliff Reidel was the Larimer County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Spencer. He calculates that the family spent more than $400,000--much of it covered by insurance--on counseling and treatment trying to get Spencer under control. Obviously, nothing worked.

That the various attempts to pry Spencer Day from his awful obsession failed so tragically is troubling. After nearly nine hours of prison interviews, one thing that is abundantly clear is that Spencer is a highly intelligent person; one of his former teachers calls him "brilliant." So what motivated him? How does a child start building a police record at age twelve?

What was Spencer Day thinking?

For the moment, Spencer Day lives in the Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center, a two-year-old complex crouched next to the state prison on Smith Road, directly east of Stapleton International Airport. His room, like everyone else's, is a small cinder-block affair with a tiny window tucked into a corner. Next to his bed are two science-fiction novels. On his desk is the Bible.

In addition to speaking, we have exchanged letters. "Please make mention that I have given my life to Jesus and have received his salvation into my life," he wrote early last month. "For it says in the Bible that if I confess Jesus among men then Jesus will confess me to the Father in heaven."

Initial police reports compiled from interviews with Spencer's victims describe him as being of medium height, but they turned out to be inaccurate. Spencer is a big kid, over six feet tall, duckpin shaped. The first time we meet, in September, he wears the standard prison uniform: orange jumpsuit, clunky black shoe-boots and, today, a brown canvas coat; it had snowed the night before.

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