"I just want everyone to know who Matthew LaPlante is...
Matthew LaPlante isn't a journalist. He's out to hurt you... I believe this man is an ideologue who's out to hurt you, and he shouldn't be working in any major newspaper."
- Bill O'Reilly



KNOWN ASSAILANT AVOIDED PRISON FOR DECADES


By Matthew D. LaPlante
The Salt Lake Tribune  
Oct. 25, 2004

They were the same sturdy hands that had so captivated Jerrilynn Comollo as she learned to knit, crochet and sew as a little girl. But years later, when Comollo arrived at her grandmother's hospital bedside, those hands were bruised and scratched with deep brown crescents under her fingernails.

Alinda Ross Robbins McLean had endured a brutal attack. Over the course of several hours on the evening of Oct. 13, 1976, she was repeatedly raped and savagely beaten. And before Floyd Eugene Maestas left McLean's Salt Lake City home, he lifted a broken lamp from the floor and used the shattered bulb to gouge out one of her eyes.

Though toughened by years spent working at a children's hospital, Comollo still sobs at the recollection of cleaning the dried blood from under her grandmother's nails as the 79-year-old woman -- practically unrecognizable from the beating -- lay in pain.

"She had fought so hard that all that blood was way down into the quick," Comollo recalls. "You know, I just always assumed society would take care of him and keep him in prison."

She was wrong: Over the past 30 years — through at least a half-dozen similar attacks — charging decisions and plea negotiations have ensured Maestas has never been convicted of a single violent crime.

Without a record of violent convictions, the state's parole board has had a difficult time keeping him behind bars.

That has allowed Maestas to compile a history as one of Utah's most brutal serial rapists — a history that began before he attacked McLean and allegedly continued through Oct. 1, when police officers discovered the badly beaten body of 75-year-old Donna Lou Bott in the bedroom of her Salt Lake City home.

"That is his calling card"
It has been 30 years, but Bruce Hansen is still haunted by the memory.

Passing his aunt's house one weekday evening in 1974, he noticed the shutters were drawn and the home was dark.

"I usually visited her on my way home, but on that night I didn't," he says. "I still can't forgive myself for that."

That night, Hansen's 64-year-old aunt was raped and beaten by Maestas -- then only 17 years old. Among Donna Jensen's injuries were broken ribs, internal bleeding, deep bruises and multiple bite wounds.

"The doctors had to sew one of her nipples back on -- that's how bad it was," Hansen recalls.

After learning of the attack on the woman who had raised him and his brother as her own, Hansen set out to try to find the man responsible.

He said the police were not surprised when he passed along information obtained from some young neighbors, who told him they believed Maestas was the attacker.

"This I remember clearly," Hansen says. "The police officer said, 'That very well could be, because that is his calling card.' "

To Hansen it was a striking revelation: Apparently his aunt was not Maestas' first older victim.

And yet, in what would come to be standard treatment, Maestas was convicted only of burglary. While his juvenile records are not publicly available, The Salt Lake Tribune would report two years later that he had been sentenced to serve a maximum of five years.

He was paroled after serving 18 months. Three months later, he was arrested for the attack on McLean.

After pleading guilty only to theft in a deal that dropped rape and assault charges in that case, Maestas served less than six years — and wouldn't have even served that long had the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole not ruled that "the bargained penalties were way out of line when compared to some of those he was charged with."

"This guy needs to be put away"
Between 1984 and 1989, Maestas was released and returned to prison five times, for violating his parole, theft and burglary.

In the fall of 1989, as the nation focused on a disastrous magnitude 7.1 earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area, prosecutors in Salt Lake City were again eyeing Maestas in a series of burglaries and attacks against older women.

Maestas was suspected in at least three new burglaries. In two, the victims were assaulted; one was raped.

But it was a third case — a burglary in which Maestas was confronted by three sisters and chased out of their home before he could attack — that officials from the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office chose to prosecute.

The other cases were set aside. One was dismissed, the other never filed.

Loene Nelson still thinks fondly of Greg Skordas — then a deputy prosecutor and now a candidate for state attorney general — who treated her kindly and expressed more sympathy than did many others after she was brutally beaten in her Salt Lake City home.

But Nelson, now 69, is still not sure why charges were never filed in her attack.

"At the time, a detective showed me his rap sheet and said, 'Listen, this is all this guy needs to be put away forever,' " Nelson says. "I believed him. And my family and I thought things were going to be taken care of."

A contrite Skordas said he can't remember the factors in his decision to push for justice in only one of the three cases.

"I can't honestly give you a good answer — I just don't know why we did what we did," he said, noting that the case was 15 years into a past that included hundreds of prosecutions.

"It makes me just sick," he said. "You know, you try to be a tough prosecutor and to do what is right, and sometimes that means trying to hold him for as long as possible and that's the best you can hope for."

Convicted of theft, burglary and being a habitual criminal, Maestas was sentenced to one to 15 years.

"Obviously, we didn't get him as well as we should have," Skordas said.

"I wish we had a crystal ball"
Not only did Maestas' deals repeatedly transform first-degree felony charges of violence into sentences for second- and third-degree property crimes, he was never held for a maximum prison stay.

The one-to-15-year term Maestas earned in 1989 ended nine years later with parole in 1998. By April 2000, he was back in prison for breaking into the home of a middle-aged Salt Lake City couple.

That break-in resulted in one of the few convictions on Maestas' lengthy criminal record that does not involve an older female victim. He got a one-to-five-year sentence.

He was released from prison Sept. 7 — nine months before the full five years and without supervision, said parole board chairman Mike Sibbett.

Three weeks later, Bott was dead. She had been stabbed, beaten, strangled and raped before dying of multiple blows to her head and body.

"I wish we had a crystal ball for all the decisions we make, but we don't," Sibbett said, noting that the board makes over 11,000 determinations about prisoners and parolees each year. He said the board mainly considered convictions as it contemplated Maestas' most recent release. He wasn't aware that Maestas had been charged with another rape and implicated in Nelson's attack after he was arrested in 1989.

"We looked back and focused on the past 15 years," Sibbett said. "In those 15 years, he had two property convictions — both of them burglary convictions."

"I can't understand": Jerrilynn Comollo — the granddaughter of the woman whose eye was gouged out by Maestas in 1976 — tried to put the tragedy out of her mind after Alinda McLean's death in 1987.

But it wasn't always easy.

As Comollo, a longtime quilter, began working on a new project a few weeks ago, she thought about the gentle woman and her lovely old hands — and the man whose blood had spoiled them.

"It was just like it was yesterday," Comollo said. "I'm sure her nails were the least of her worries at the time, but I couldn't think of anything else to do. So I had the nurse bring in one of those hospital bowls, those bowls they give you to spit in, full of water and I sat there and cleaned her hands."

"She just kept saying, over and over, 'I can't understand why anyone would do this to me.' "

Standing by her grandmother's grave at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park, Comollo said she used to believe that good can come from any evil.

"You say that, if there is any good to come of something so horrible, at least it is that this won't happen to anyone else," Comollo said, looking away from the stone as tears filled her eyes. "When you learn that isn't true, then what do you have left?"