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April 17, 2014

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Past dogs sex offender living among fellow seniors

Voters of the Robert Gordon senior public housing complex have spoken.

Not surprisingly, they voted overwhelmingly Monday to make a grandmother president of their residents council board and gave a resoundingly loud no to one of her opponents, a convicted rapist.

Some female residents of the Las Vegas Housing Authority complex at Maryland Parkway and Stewart Avenue say they are petrified to live near 62-year-old Timothy Lee Smith, let alone make him their leader.

Smith, who was convicted of second degree sexual assault and unlawful imprisonment 12 years ago in Seattle and spent 5 1/2 years in prison, said he ran for office to convince his neighbors he is a regular guy.

His story echoes that of other convicted men who serve their time then struggle to assimilate back into society, only to find strong opposition.

In July 1995, Smith, acting as his own lawyer, was convicted of digitally raping a 22-year-old woman he had met that day. Smith was founder and director of a company that provided computer training to youths to discourage them from committing crimes.

Smith maintains the act was consensual. He said he is preparing a writ to file with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seeking to overturn his conviction.

Smith, who is listed on the Metro Police sexual offenders Web site as a "Tier Level 3" risk - the highest for potential to repeat - ran for president on the platform of residents' safety. The motto on his campaign fliers was: "With God on our side we should all have smiles on our faces."

Jane Martin, a 75-year-old resident of the Gordon housing complex, said there was nothing in Smith's campaign to smile about.

"Rape is a crime that has such a high rate of recidivism," she said. "Just having Mr. Smith living in the same housing complex frightens me ."

Roberta Medina, who on Monday was elected secretary of the Gordon Plaza tenants council, said had Smith also won his post, she would have immediately resigned.

"Seniors sometimes are as vulnerable as children and cannot protect themselves," said Medina, one of 60 people in the 250-tenant complex to sign a petition to kick Smith out of the facility.

"Rape is a crime of power and dominance. What more of a position of power is there than president?"

Smith does have at least one female friend in the complex - Kathy Jordan, the grandmother who was elected president. She received 52 votes to 16 for Gwendolyn Thomas and four for Smith.

"Yes, Mr. Smith committed a serious crime, but he also has paid his debt to society," said Jordan, who refused to use Smith's rape conviction against him during her campaign.

"I have opened up to him and I've talked with him. And I would like Mr. Smith to join in our activities. I ask the residents to give him a chance. We need more cooperation as a community, not divisiveness."

The tenant council performs duties ranging from organizing neighborhood ice cream socials to addressing the housing authority board for tenants.

Smith moved into Gordon Plaza two years ago. He said everything went well with his neighbors for about a year, until his profile was seen on Metro's Web site, complete with a photo and address, including the number of his building and the letter of his apartment.

Since then, he said, he has been shunned by many of his neighbors. They know little about Smith's life other than his rape conviction.

Raised in South Carolina, Smith said he played Little League Baseball. As a teenager, he was arrested about 50 times - Smith claims all were misdemeanor charges related to his participation in the civil rights movement. He said he was part of a group of youths from Columbia, S.C., that was bused in August 1963 to Washington, D.C., to hear the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his "I Have A Dream" speech.

After serving in the Air Force, Smith said , he went to school for computer training. He said his past jobs include working in the information systems office of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.; driving a cab in Philadelphia; and working as a lay minister in New Orleans.

Smith moved to Seattle in the late 1980s and, he said, he invested all he had into his Hope & Strength Organization to assist at-risk children in the black community. The business closed as a result of his conviction.

In April 1995 Smith was returning to his office when he ran into a woman at a bus stop and struck up a conversation .

Smith, who was and still is single, said they made a date for dinner, but they first stopped at his office to check his business phone messages.

The woman claimed she went to Smith's office to get motivational instruction and Smith refused to let her leave. She managed to secretly dial 911 on her cell phone, summoning police to the scene.

When the case went to trial in King County Superior Court three months later, Smith defended himself, though a public defender was assigned to stand by in case he needed assistance.

Smith cross-examined the woman for two days - grilling her with questions , including sexual ones - then called the woman as his only witness, peppering her with more aggressive questions.

"I was just trying to get her to tell the truth," Smith said Monday.

Though the case lacked strong forensic evidence, the seven-man, five-woman jury took just 2 1/2 hours to convict Smith.

After , several jurors told Seattle news reporters that had Smith allowed his public defender to handled the delicate cross-examination or handle the entire case, the verdict might have gone Smith's way.

Smith said he wishes people could just keep the past in the past.

"I thought that by running for president of the tenants council, I could get people to see me for who I am," Smith said. "If they could talk to me , they could judge for themselves that I am not the great danger to society the government says I am."

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