Violent Predator 

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The first attack

When a rapist is released

California’s laws test whether sexual predators can ever be rehabilitated

At the foot of a fence around a small house in the desert, a protester cleared her throat. She wanted to scream loud enough for the man inside to hear.

“Raaaaaapist!” she shouted. “Go away, rapist!”

“No one in this world loves you,” her friend yelled. “You are a sexually violent predator!”

The shrieks were met with silence from the white, two-bedroom home outside Palmdale where Christopher Evans Hubbart has lived since his 2014 release from a California mental hospital.

Christopher Evans Hubbart is a convicted serial rapist who spent nearly two decades in state mental hospitals. (Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department)

Hubbart, 64, is one of the state’s most notorious sex offenders. Nicknamed the “pillowcase rapist” for his pattern of covering victims’ heads, Hubbart has admitted to at least 44 sexual assaults in Southern and Northern California.

Two decades ago, politicians portrayed him as a poster child for why California needed to lock up the most dangerous sex offenders even if they had finished serving their prison terms. Hubbart was the first person held under a law that allowed the state to confine sexually violent predators in hospitals if they have a mental disorder that makes them likely to reoffend.

Now Hubbart is testing a central premise of the law: That with intense treatment, some of the state’s worst sex offenders can be safely allowed back into society. So far, only a few have completed all steps of the treatment.

California spends more than $100 million a year on the program and locks up 560 sexually violent predators in state hospitals — all but one of them men. Only 34, including Hubbart, have been allowed to leave the hospital for a final stage of the treatment program that involves counseling and monitoring while living at home.

Christopher Hubbart's home. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Twelve of those have convinced a judge to release them without supervision. The state does not formally track whether they are arrested for new crimes; none is known to have reoffended.

In Hubbart’s home off a dirt road in Lake Los Angeles, state-funded security guards keep constant watch over him, partly to protect the public from Hubbart and partly to protect him from protesters who regularly gather outside. Demonstrators have successfully pressured a water company to stop delivering to the home and local law enforcement has investigated anonymous death threats against Hubbart.

A healthcare company overseeing Hubbart’s treatment expressed concern in court documents that the ongoing demonstrations were “wearing the client down.”

Hubbart has told his treatment providers that he knows the protests at his home stem from his own actions, according to court documents.

“But,” he added, “what can I do?”

Norma Valenti, left, and Beth Bagley shout outside Hubbart's home. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

In the winter of 1994, Hubbart, then 43 and behind bars, agreed to submit to an unusual recorded interview – one designed to train sex crimes investigators.

The lanky, 6-foot-4 inmate sat at a table in the visitors room at a prison in Vacaville, staring into a camera as a special agent with the California Department of Justice peppered him with questions.

In the video, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, he blinks often and speaks in a monotone as he describes growing up in Claremont, where he lived with his mother and stepfather after his parents’ divorce. He said he remembered feeling awkward and losing interest in school.

When he was 14 or so, he began sneaking into his neighbors’ homes out of curiosity about other people’s lives, he said. He cracked open closets to look for women’s bras, he added, and he imagined climbing into strangers’ beds hoping they’d mistake him for their husbands.

He spied on women in the parking lots of supermarkets and bowling alleys. When they went inside, he broke into their cars and checked their registration papers for home addresses. Then, he would drive to their homes and climb in through a window or walk through an unlocked door, waiting to ambush them when they returned.

Watch Hubbart’s interview: ‘It started off initially as curiosity’

In 1972, while working at his stepfather’s furniture factory, he was arrested for a string of sexual assaults. The 21-year-old pleaded guilty and was confined to a state hospital, where he was classified as a mentally disordered sex offender, according to court documents.

In 1979, he was released and moved to the Bay Area. Within months, he’d started to attack again. He was caught two years later, convicted of rape, burglary and other crimes and served nearly eight years in prison, court records show. Two months after he was released, he snuck up behind a jogger, pressed his hand over her mouth and grabbed her breasts.

Hubbart told the agent he often bound his victims’ hands with neckties he found in their bedroom closets and put pillowcases over their heads before raping them.

In the recording, he described a moment in 1990, soon after serving time for the Northern California attacks, when he woke up in the middle of the night in a hotel room having a panic attack. He said he wanted to do the thing that helped him feel relaxed: Break into a home. He didn’t do anything that night, he said, but felt trapped by his urges.

“Here it is again,” he said he thought to himself. “What’s going on? Is this ever going to end?”

Toward the end of the video, Hubbart told the investigator he was determined not to attack again.

“I believe it’s all behind me now,” he said. “I think it’ll be all right.”

Read more Forty years later, vivid memories of the Pillowcase Rapist

In 1996, before Hubbart could be released, prosecutors in Santa Clara County asked a court to send him to a state mental hospital under the state’s new Sexually Violent Predator law.

The measure took effect amid public outrage that sex offenders given relatively short sentences in the past were being released from prison. Serial rapists, such as Hubbart, now get life sentences.

In a civil commitment trial created by the new law, two state doctors testified that Hubbart had severe paraphilia — deviant sexual behavior. A jury decided he fit the criteria of a sexually violent predator.

At Coalinga State Hospital, Hubbart joined several group treatment sessions, including the “Meaning of Life and Happiness,” “Sexual Compulsivity Recovery” and “Exploring Beliefs About Women Using Art Therapy,” according to treatment documents. He worked as a janitor, coordinated volunteers to decorate his unit during the holidays and co-taught a watercolor painting course.

He was praised, according to treatment documents, for offering insightful feedback to his peers and challenging them when they displayed “distorted thought processes.”

The treatment program for sexual offenders is not designed as a path toward a cure, but rather a way to teach skills to lower the risk of reoffending. In 2012, a team of doctors and nurses decided Hubbart was ready to leave the hospital for the final stage of his treatment.

A judge approved his release and in the summer of 2014, after a state contractor conducted a lengthy search for someone willing to rent to Hubbart, he moved into his place on Avenue R, a road lined with torn mattresses and rusting car parts, outside Palmdale.

A sign advises passersby of closed circuit monitoring outside Hubbart's home. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Since then, the state has paid more than $832,000 to keep Hubbart at home, according to state records. Most of the money, more than $737,000, went to around-the-clock security.

John Bays, a retired parole officer whose caseload once included Hubbart, said he was incensed when he found out about Hubbart’s release.

“He doesn’t deserve it,” Bays said. “He had his shot and he had his shot and he had his shot again.”

Immediately after Hubbart moved in, protesters began to show up at his home. They made “Christopher Hubbart MUST GO!!!!” fliers and held a protest 100 days after his arrival, in a lot near his home, where they served hot dogs and held a raffle.

On a night last summer, a group of demonstrators huddled around a fire pit facing Hubbart’s home. They wore teal shirts that read, “Antelope Valley Communities Against Sexually Violent Predators,” and exchanged stories about a year of living with their unwelcome neighbor.

One of the local protesters, James Roberts, 49, who lives three miles from Hubbart’s home, said that sometimes, around 3 a.m., when he can’t sleep, he drives by Hubbart’s home and honks his horn once or twice – to remind him that he’s being watched.

“If we stop coming and he hurts somebody…” Roberts said, trailing off and shaking his head. He said he couldn’t live with himself if that happened.

Protesters sit outside an encampment where they keep watch near Hubbart's home. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Since Hubbart moved in, sheriff’s officials said patrol deputies have responded to 130 or so calls near the home, most of them from other neighbors complaining about noise made by protesters. One demonstrator reported that Hubbart’s security guards bumped him with their car. And in September, sheriff’s deputies cited a protester for trespassing onto the property while Hubbart was away from the home.

Protesters posted the home address of Hubbart’s landlord on a public Facebook page, according to court documents filed by Liberty Healthcare, the state contractor overseeing the treatment. One person made a threat to sheriff’s officials that Hubbart “will die tonight by an AK47,” the contractor records said, and officers have flown over Hubbart’s house to check for snipers.

On Halloween in 2014, a protester dug a grave across from Hubbart’s home and put up a tombstone that read “Serial Rapist Hubbart,” said Hubbart’s attorney, Christopher Yuen. Outside of court on the day of a recent hearing, the attorney said, a protester screamed at Hubbart, whose mother had recently died.

“Do you put a pillowcase on your mother’s grave stone?” the person shouted.

Hubbart, Yuen said, has earned the right to live in peace after spending so many years dedicating himself to treatment.

Bob Wells, right, Ed Frommer, center, and Glenna Manning, left, patrol the road near the Hubbart's home. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

“To have people outside your house every single day, screaming the most obscene, threatening, violent things at you, would wear on anybody’s soul,” said Yuen, a deputy public defender in Santa Clara County.

Hubbart wears a GPS ankle bracelet and authorities track his movements. He must submit to lie detector and drug tests and is required to follow a list of conditions that include avoiding television shows, movies or digital media that “act as stimulus to arouse.” His treatment includes psychotherapy and intensive group therapy, court records show.

Last year, the L.A. County District Attorney’s office asked a judge to have Hubbart returned to the hospital, saying he’d been neglecting to charge the battery on his GPS ankle bracelet and had contacted known criminals without approval.

“It is our belief,” a prosecutor wrote, “Hubbart remains at high risk of imminent re-offense.”

Yuen said his client was never planning to escape GPS monitoring and was always supervised by a security guard. He acknowledged that Hubbart had contacted a former inmate but it was someone he had met during treatment at Coalinga.

Details about Hubbart’s treatment and the results of lie detector tests are kept secret under state and federal laws protecting medical privacy. But Liberty Healthcare’s executive director wrote to the court that Hubbart’s therapist believes he is doing “far better than expected.”

In May, a Santa Clara County judge ruled that Hubbart made two statements last year that “raised some concerns about his treatment progress,” but that there wasn’t evidence that he was a danger to the health and safety of others.

Psychologist Amy Phenix, whose evaluation of Hubbart in the mid-’90s helped lead to his confinement, said he was dedicated to the treatment.

“Risk changes,” Phenix said, adding that rapists rarely reoffend after the age of 50. “He’s not that same person.”

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said she remains troubled by Hubbart’s case, especially how he once hunted for potential victims by focusing on homes with children’s toys outside.

“Who does that,” Lacey said, “except for a fictional character on ‘Criminal Minds’?”

She described Hubbart as “the worst of the worst,” adding that her office will ask that he be returned to the hospital if he violates his release conditions.

Hubbart sometimes talks about moving, his lawyer said, but knows how hard it was to find anyone to rent to him. He hopes to eventually find work, but now spends most of his time drawing or reading inside his house, and sometimes tends to his yard.

Last summer, amid the continuing protests, someone placed the torso of a female mannequin on an empty lot across the street from Hubbart’s house. It was naked from the neck down, and draped with a white pillowcase.

Last summer, amid continuing protests, someone placed the torso of a female mannequin on an empty lot across the street from Hubbart's house. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

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Read more: Forty years later, vivid memories of the Pillowcase Rapist

Design and development by Lily Mihalik and Evan Wagstaff.

Timeline: Arrests, convictions and releases

Jan. 22, 1951 Christopher Evans Hubbart is born in Pasadena.

Early November 1972 Hubbart is arrested on suspicion of raping several women in the Pomona and San Gabriel valleys.

Nov. 29, 1972 A Los Angeles County grand jury indicts Hubbart on several counts of rape, burglary, sodomy and assault with intent to commit rape. He pleads guilty to one count of rape, one count of burglary and three counts of sodomy. He is confined to Atascadero State Hospital as a mentally disordered sex offender.

November 1979 Hubbart is released on parole and moves to the Bay Area.

November 1981 Hubbart is arrested on suspicion of a second string of rapes. He is later convicted of rape, burglary and other crimes and sent to prison.

April 1990 Hubbart is paroled to Santa Clara County.

June 1990 Hubbart is arrested for attacking a female jogger and is returned to custody.

February 1994 A California Department of Justice special agent conducts a video-recorded interview with Hubbart that is intended as a training tool for sex crimes investigators.

Jan. 1, 1996 The Sexually Violent Predator Act becomes law in California after being signed by Gov. Pete Wilson, who mentioned Hubbart as an example of the type of “dangerous criminal [who] will no longer be released because the law is so absurdly lenient.”

Jan. 2, 1996 Prosecutors in Santa Clara County file a petition to have Hubbart confined as a sexually violent predator.

March 2000 A jury finds Hubbart meets the criteria for sexually violent predator and needs to be confined in a state mental hospital.

May 3, 2013 A Santa Clara County judge rules that Hubbart can be released to Los Angeles County to continue the last stage of his treatment program. The conditions of release include Hubbart promising, among other things, not to own binoculars, pick up hitchhikers or buy any pets without approval from treatment providers.

July 9, 2014 Hubbart is released from Coalinga State Hospital and into a home outside Palmdale.

August 2014 Protesters gather outside Hubbart’s home, one of many demonstrations that have taken place at the Lake Los Angeles house since his release.

February 2015 The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office asks a judge to have Hubbart returned to the hospital, saying he had neglected to charge the battery on his GPS ankle bracelet and contacted known criminals without approval.

May 11, 2015 A Santa Clara County judge denies the request and rules that Hubbart can remain in his home.