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Notorious 'Hyde Park rapist' arrested on probation violation

The man known as the "Hyde Park rapist" has been arrested after Brevard County deputies said they found him with a 17-year-old girl his probation officer had said to leave alone.

Bobby Joe Helms, 52, was being held at the Brevard County jail without bail Sunday on a charge of violating his probation stemming from his convictions in a series of rapes on both sides of Tampa Bay.

But Helms' attorney contended Sunday night that arrest was improper. She said Helms' probation does not prohibit him from having unsupervised contact with minors.

"That's not a term and condition of his probation," said Tampa lawyer Jeanine Cohen, who represents Helms. "Your probation officer cannot add terms and conditions of your probation later."

Still, that might not be Helms' only problem.

At the time of his arrest on Friday, Helms was carrying more than 100 tablets of a prescription painkiller. He faces no charges related to the drug, which he told deputies was for his own use, but a sheriff's official said deputies are investigating how he got the pills and what he used them for.

"They believed it was more than you would have on yourself for personal use," said Brevard sheriff's Lt. Tod Goodyear.

Sheriff's officials began investigating Helms after hearing from police in the small town of Indian Harbour Beach that he had been hanging around with the 17-year-old girl, Goodyear said.

As a result, Helms' probation officer called him in for a meeting and told him, according to Goodyear, " 'Do not see this girl. Do not be around her.' "

Sheriff's officials also heard that several teenagers were frequenting Helms' efficiency apartment in Melbourne or accepting rides from him, Goodyear said.

Helms had been convicted of the 1985 rape of a 15-year-old Clearwater girl, so the Brevard Sheriff's Office began watching him with deputies assigned to a task force that targets gangs and violent crime.

"We felt from what we were hearing (that) we were about to have a major problem," said Goodyear, who supervises the agency's sexual offender registration and tracking unit.

On Friday night, deputies spotted Helms with the teenager in his car, pulled him over and arrested him on a charge of violating his probation, Goodyear said. The girl told investigators there was no sexual relationship between the two.

Instead, she told authorities she saw Helms, who was working at a Denny's restaurant, more as a mentor or counselor.

"What he could do counseling-wise for her, I have no clue," Goodyear said.

It is stupid for Helms to associate with females in their teens, whether 17 or 19, Cohen said. But she said "it's not a crime," it is not part of his probation and a probation officer cannot add it as a condition now.

Goodyear said it was his understanding that the probation officer had given Helms a lawful order to stay away from the girl, and a prosecutor said that if Helms did not comply with that order, then that would constitute a violation of his probation.

Until this incident, Helms had kept a job, was passing his polygraph tests and was participating in sex offender treatment as required, Cohen said.

"He's doing really well," she said. "He's been doing everything he needs to do."

Helms, who worked as a cook in a Clearwater restaurant, committed a series of rapes and burglaries in the Hyde Park area of Tampa in the mid 1980s.

In 1986, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison on a single sexual battery charge after he confessed to other attacks in exchange for the sentence. Citing a lack of evidence, prosecutors defended the deal. Coupled with a conviction for raping the 15-year-old, he served 14 years in prison.

Prior to moving to Melbourne last year, Helms had been incarcerated almost continuously since 1986.

He was released in 2002 but returned to Arcadia within a year after failing three polygraph tests.

Then, in 2007, a judge approved his monitored release after two doctors said Helms no longer posed a threat to the community.

But he was back in custody within seven hours.

The plan had been for Helms to move to a St. Petersburg mobile home park with other sex offenders and felons. But the park's management evicted him after four TV news trucks showed up for his arrival.

Before his move to Brevard County last year, Helms said he worked hard in treatment and had no intention of committing new crimes. He choose Melbourne to be near his siblings and away from his victims.

"It will put some distance between me and the people that I hurt," he said last year.

In all, it took seven attempts to find a community where Helms could find a place to live. Cohen has said some cities that had been considered for a placement had ordinances banning sex offenders.

Now she questions whether influential residents pressured authorities to find a reason to violate Helms' probation because of the notoriety of his case.

"Apparently, the community is really nice and well-off," she said, "so they don't want people like Mr. Helms there."

Notorious 'Hyde Park rapist' arrested on probation violation 06/28/09 [Last modified: Sunday, June 28, 2009 10:38pm]
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