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Ex-deputy convicted of molesting boys lands in court again

A former Leon County sheriff's deputy who didn't get any jail time for molesting boys eight years ago is returning to court, accused of breaking his promise never to do it again.

Marshall L. "Toby" Frinks III pleaded guilty to eight counts of child molestation in 1988 and _ with the help of high-ranking state officials _ received 18 years of probation and no jail time.

But Frinks will be back in Leon County Circuit Court in September, accused of having violated the main condition of his probation: to stay away from boys under 18. He was arrested in May 1995 and charged with violating his probation by having an affair with a Tampa boy.

News of Frinks' arrest last year outraged the families of his victims and dredged up painful memories of the 8-year-old case, which divided an affluent northeast Tallahassee neighborhood and the church at its heart.

Until his arrest, Frinks was regarded by many as a role model for the children in his neighborhood and at Killearn United Methodist Church, which his family attended.

His mother described him as such in a 1988 statement found in her son's court file. On 14 typewritten pages, Donna Frinks recounted some of the details of her son's life, from the difficulty he had losing his baby teeth to the loneliness he expressed in telephone calls home from his college freshman dorm room.

As a volunteer counselor at the Methodist church, Frinks planned youth retreats, helped with Wednesday night dinners and attended weekly Bible study.

The 2,000-member church, which stands at the end of a winding boulevard lined with trees and brick mansions, was "the focal point of Toby's spiritual and social life," his mother wrote.

That church was also where his problems surfaced one day in March 1988. A teenage boy approached a church youth counselor and told him he had masturbated and performed oral sex with Frinks. The counselor told the pastor and, after checking around, the pastor asked Leon County Sheriff Eddie Boone to come to the church.

Within hours, detectives had questioned seven boys. All told a nearly identical story. By midnight, Frinks had been arrested and fired.

Prosecutors eventually agreed to Frinks' offer to plead no contest to eight counts of molesting children but wanted Frinks sentenced to prison. That decision rested with Judge L. Ralph Smith, a former general practice lawyer who at the time had two years' experience on the bench.

The judge later wrote he considered several factors in deciding Frinks' fate. His age: 24 at the time of sentencing. His spotless record. His early admission of guilt and effort to seek treatment.

Finally, the judge considered 30 letters asking that Frinks continue treatment in Tampa and be spared prison time. The letters included two by then-Education Commissioner Ralph Turlington and state universities Chancellor Charles Reed.