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Prison pregnancy raises paternity questions

Published Oct. 4, 2005

A woman who had a baby last year while she was an inmate at the Florida Correctional Institution in Lowell got pregnant while in a women's prison. No one disputes that.

How did it happen? Everyone disputes that.

Denise Parker, now 29, has been in prison since 1987. In 1994, seven years into her 40-year sentence for attempted murder and robbery with a firearm, Parker gave birth to a boy she named Timothy Elias.

Parker, who committed her crimes in Orange County, is trying to show that the baby's father is a corrections officer who she says raped her in an empty mess hall at Broward Correctional Institution.

That officer and the Department of Corrections have a different story. They say Parker got pregnant from having consensual sex with an inmate who was doing construction work at the women's prison.

A Broward County Sheriff's Office DNA test done in May offers a new twist: Neither the officer nor the male inmate fathered Parker's child.

"It does kind of beg the question, "Who is the mystery father?' " said Ernie Reddick, chief counsel for the Department of Corrections inspector general.

Like all pregnant inmates in the state Department of Corrections, Parker was transferred to Lowell, in Marion County, before she gave birth. And like dozens of other pregnant inmates at Lowell, Parker was approached by leaders of an unlicensed, unregistered, Christian-based network with offers to find a home for her baby.

But Parker, whose tentative release date with good behavior is set for 2010, resisted the network, which state officials now are investigating. Instead, she placed her child with friends.

Timothy is living with a couple near the prison in Lowell. Parker wants the couple to adopt her son, who could be 16 years old when she gets out.

Although her pregnancy has baffled state officials, Parker insists it is no mystery.

"I had a child," she said in an interview last week. "That baby is a life, a real breathing baby. It's proof right there. I've never had a furlough or a male visitor. You can't say it didn't happen."

Prison records show she first reported she was raped to the staff psychiatrist in June 1994. At the time, she was 11 weeks pregnant and unsure where to go for help, she said.

Her accusation that Correctional Officer Porter Williams raped her led to a Department of Corrections investigation. Her story goes like this:

She was standing outside, smoking a cigarette, one day in March 1994 when the guard asked her to get a mop bucket. She went inside the dining hall to get the bucket and the officer grabbed her and turned her around, she said.

"He didn't, like, slam me; he just grabbed me and put me against the wall and started kissing me," Parker told investigators, according to transcripts from the Department of Corrections. "And I was, like, "Don't do that; what are you doing that?' "

Parker said she told her attacker that she didn't want to have sex.

"And I grabbed his hand, and I was trying to push him, and he was like, "Come on, this is the only chance,' " she said. "I'm, like, I don't want to do this with you, Mr. Williams."

Several weeks later, Parker said, she determined she was pregnant. She said she told Williams.

"I went to him and told him I was pregnant, and he said to get out of his face," Parker said. "But I said, "It's not like I can go home and forget about it and hide it. What should I do?' "

Six days after Parker reported being raped, an investigator from the Department of Corrections headquarters in Tallahassee was at the prison in Broward starting a formal inquiry. The investigation took four months.

Investigators wondered why Parker didn't fight her attacker or at least call for help as soon as it happened, according to reports from the inspector general's office. She responded that she was scared.

"All he would've had to say was "She's lying' and I would've been locked up," she said.

Parker performed poorly on a polygraph test, causing state investigators to conclude she wasn't telling the truth.

But Fort Lauderdale lawyer Gloria Pomerantz, handling Parker's case on contingency, said she hoped to help the inmate gain credibility.

"I thought this was not just," Pomerantz said. "People in (prison) are a captive audience. They have no place to go. If a guard is bigger and the authority figure, they can't have any voice."

State investigators came to a different conclusion about Parker's case. Their reports show she got pregnant after having sex with an inmate from the South Florida Reception Center in Miami.

Investigators interviewed the inmate, Ernest Anderson, for the record after an earlier interview. The preinterview is referred to, but not included in, the official records of the case.

Anderson, 39, told inspectors that Parker had slipped under a fence several times to meet him. He said the two had sex inside the building that was under construction and that they met when Parker passed him a letter.

"I was working inside one day," Anderson told investigators. "She had wrote me a, she slipped me a note, she liked me and stuff, you know, told me that she ain't had a man in 10 years, you know. She said she sure would like to have sex with me."

Anderson declined to be interviewed for this story.

Officer Williams, who was helping to oversee the construction site where sexual contact allegedly occurred, was cleared of the rape accusations. But prison officials reprimanded him for not properly supervising Parker and Anderson and for failing to report to his supervisor after another corrections officer said she believed Parker and Anderson were having sex in prison.

Williams was transferred to the South Florida Reception Center, where, Williams said, inmate Anderson tracked him down to talk about Parker's pregnancy.

"He came to me," Williams said of Anderson during an interview with the Times last week. "He told me that I didn't know anything about this because each time he had sex with her I was at lunch."

Williams, 30, said another officer had watched as Parker climbed under the fence to rendezvous with Anderson. In the interview, the officer criticized the prison's administration for allowing women to work unattended.

"I normally keep a diary of all the events that happen out there," said Williams, who still works at South Florida Reception. "I advised them several times of certain things. They failed to act on it."

Joe Butler, who was superintendent at Broward at the time and now heads the Everglades Correctional Institution, didn't return a reporter's phone calls.

Williams said the rape accusations have harmed his reputation.

"It disappointed me working out there at Broward due to the fact that I've been an honest officer, an outstanding officer since I've been out there," he said. "It seems like every time an inmate comes forth with hearsay they believe the inmate first."

Williams' personnel file shows he has been an officer since 1990. His evaluations have been positive, and he had not received a reprimand until the Parker case. That's when prison officials cited him for not reporting that Anderson and Parker had been alone together.

From the point of view of corrections officials, that reprimand marked the end of the Parker mystery. But DNA tests conducted by the Broward County Sheriff's Office crime lab in May show the question may be far from answered.

The results, obtained by the Times from the Broward State Attorney's Office last week, eliminate both Williams and Anderson as the baby's father.

As a result, the local state attorney's office declined the case, saying there was no proof of rape.

"Now there's another person out there and credibility gets to be a problem," Assistant State Attorney Dennis Nicewander said. "Neither of the suspects that turned up fathered the child."

Parker and her attorney dispute the DNA findings, which were arrived at using blood samples from Parker, the two men and baby Timothy. Broward Sheriff's Office DNA specialist Lynn Baird said she stands by the tests, conducted at the request of both Parker and Williams.

"If she's claiming we did something wrong, she's welcome to send the sample someplace else," Baird said.

State prison officials don't know what to think.

Informed last week of the DNA results, Reddick, of the inspector general's office, said he would have to do more work.

"I'll get a hold of those results, and we'll look at them," Reddick said. "We'll try to get to the bottom of it."