Judge Warned Parole Board Of 'Mudman'

Posted: May 10, 1995

Carbon County Judge John Lavelle says he has never met so dangerous a

criminal as Robert "Mudman" Simon.

In 1982, Lavelle sentenced Simon to the maximum of 10 to 20 years for the murder of a Drexel Hill woman. Ten years later, when Simon became eligible for parole, Lavelle sent a letter strongly warning state officials not to let him out.

"I consider him one of the most dangerous individuals who ever appeared before me," Lavelle wrote in the May 7, 1992 letter. "This man has no respect for human life and I believe that it would be only a matter of time before he would kill again."

Saturday night, authorities say, Lavelle's prediction came tragically true.

Eleven weeks after being paroled, Simon was arrested on charges of murdering Franklin Township police Sgt. Ippolito "Lee" Gonzalez. Arrested with Simon was fellow Warlocks motorcycle gang member Charles C. "Shovel" Staples.

Authorities believe it was Simon who shot Gonzalez after he pulled over their car, although the investigation is not complete.

Simon's parole - and relocation to a South Jersey area frequented by the Warlocks - have stirred a wave of criticism. The governors of both Pennsylvania and New Jersey called yesterday for reports on their state's handling of the case. And relatives of the slain woman said yesterday they had been devastated to learn of Simon's arrest.

They said that was the first word they had that Simon had become a free man.

In an interview yesterday, Lavelle said he took no satisfaction in having his fears borne out.

"It's a very sad day not only for the Gonzalez family, but also for anyone who has the misfortune to run into Mr. Simon," he said.

In nearly two decades on the bench, he said, he had rarely objected to the release of any prisoners he had sentenced.

"I do not make that statement very lightly, or without a great deal of thought," he said of his letter. "This is my 17th year on the bench, and I have kind of seen it all."

Simon, though, was a special case.

Lavelle recalls Simon's murder trial in Jim Thorpe, Pa., as the only case in which he wore a flak jacket under his robe, a precaution recommended by state police.

Simon sat through the trial wearing sunglasses, a red bandanna and a look of indifference. When it came time for him to testify, he swept aside the proffered courtroom Bible and said: "I don't use those," Lavelle recalled.

And when Lavelle sentenced Simon to the maximum penalty available, "he looked up at me, said 'F- you,' and turned his back for the rest of the proceedings," the judge said.

It was in Lavelle's courtroom that Simon was convicted of murdering 19- year-old Beth Smith Dusenberg. According to testimony, Simon shot Dusenberg in the head when she refused to have group sex with gang members. Her body was found seven years later in a Luzerne County mine pit.

At the time of his trial, Simon was nearing the end of a five- to 10-year sentence for armed robbery in Schuylkill County. He had been in state prisons almost continuously since 1972. Had he been convicted of first-degree murder in Dusenberg's killing, as sought by the prosecution, he would have been imprisoned for life.

The jury, however, elected to convict him of a lesser degree of murder. As a result, he became eligible for parole in 10 years, and served about 12 1/2 before he was paroled on Feb. 18.

His release came after three previous rejections by the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole.

Among other things, the board was concerned that Simon would again associate with the Warlocks. Inexplicably, the board allowed Simon to be released to Williamstown, Gloucester County, an area long associated with Warlocks activity.

Lavelle said he wrote his 1992 letter after the board notified him that Simon would soon be considered for parole. "There was no acknowledgement of receipt of my letter," Lavelle said.

Board members rejected Simon's bid for parole in May 1992. They also turned him down twice in 1993, partly over concerns that he refused to sever ties with the Warlocks.

Board representatives did not return a telephone call yesterday seeking comment.

Dusenberg's mother also strongly opposed Simon's release. Last summer, the victim's mother, father and sister all wrote to the parole board, she said, and asked to be kept apprised of Simon's status and any future bid for parole.

The family was never notified, Dusenberg's mother said yesterday. She and a sister of the victim agreed to be interviewed only if their names were not published.

The mother said she was "devastated" to hear that Simon had been arrested for killing a police officer. "How could this happen?" she asked. "The man has already killed, and he's killed more than once," she said.

Dusenberg's sister said the family had received a letter dated July 15, 1994, stating that Simon's parole request had been denied.

"Due to your efforts, parole for Robert Simon has been denied at this time," she quoted the letter as saying. "That's the last we heard of it. We thought he was in jail, rotting away," the sister said.

The mother said she has called Gov. Ridge's office to demand an explanation and was waiting for a response. "I can't tell you how angry I am about all of this," she said. "The governor has to tell me what happened." She said her family still lives in fear of the Warlocks.

Ridge requested a report on Simon's release by 5 p.m. yesterday. Spokesman Tim Reeves said the governor had not seen the report before leaving for a speaking engagement in Philadelphia last night, and he did not know if Ridge would release the report or make a statement about it today.

In another development, the New Jersey Senate's Judiciary Committee yesterday launched a probe into the actions the state Bureau of Parole took in accepting Simon in February.

"We need to know why New Jersey officials agreed to locate this defendant in (Williamstown), given the reports that the Warlocks motorcycle gang has a presence in the area," said state Sen. John Matheussen (R., Gloucester).

"Clearly his contact with the Warlocks was a concern of the Pennsylvania Parole Board, which refused to parole him twice because of concerns he would rejoin the Warlocks in that state," Matheussen said in a written statement.

Gov. Whitman's press secretary, Rita Manno, said Whitman was calling for a full report on the parole bureau's decision. "The governor wants to know every move we've made since we first heard of Mr. Simon," Manno said. She said the governor asked for the report from William Fauver, the commissioner of the Corrections Department.

Victor D'Ilio, the chief of the parole bureau, said yesterday that his staff apparently never checked to see whether there was Warlock activity in the area before approving Simon's release. New Jersey and other states routinely accept paroled prisoners from other states so that they in turn can send prisoners out of state, D'Ilio said.

"We know that we pretty well followed procedures," he said. "We lived up to our supervision standards."

Without added staff, D'Ilio said, his agency would be unable to improve its supervision of released prisoners.

"If you give me another hundred parole officers and I have them go out and intensify their supervision, yeah, I think I can do a better job," D'Ilio said. "But if you are telling me I have to use the same resources, then there is a problem that can and in fact does occur."

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