Man convicted of multiple child rapes ordered to live in San Bernardino County, deputies warn

Lawtis Donald Rhoden

Deputies in San Bernardino County are warning residents that a sexually violent predator convicted of multiple child rapes may be ordered to live in Twentynine Palms.

Lawtis Donald Rhoden, 71, has no ties to San Bernardino County and his most recent crimes were committed in Orange County, Los Angeles County, and Tennessee, the Morongo Basin Sheriff's Department wrote in a press release.

"San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson, Sheriff John McMahon, and other county officials strongly object to this Sexually Violent Predator being ordered to live in Twentynine Palms," the press release said.

Deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Morongo Basin Station will be going door-to-door, beginning Friday, in the immediate vicinity of where the proposed residence will be. They will attempt to contact several residents within the community to gather key demographics and vital information to oppose the relocation of the sexually violent predator.

Deputies said that Rhoden committed multiple child rapes.

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In Cocoa Beach, Florida in 1969, he lured a 13-year-old victim back to his apartment and raped her on three separate occasions. Rhoden was convicted through a plea agreement of one felony lewd and lascivious acts with a child under the age of 14 years and sentenced to 14 months in a state mental hospital and 12 years in state prison. 

Rhoden was treated in the state mental hospital for his inability to control his sexual drive for young girls and, although he had the opportunity to do so, he did not attempt to obtain assistance for himself following his release. After serving his prison sentence, he was paroled.

While on parole, Rhoden sexually assaulted four children in two states.

Rhoden was convicted of rape by force, forceful sexual penetration, sexual battery, and two counts of forcible rape stemming from crimes he committed in Orange County and Los Angeles County, California in April and June 1984. These sexual assaults were committed in three separate incidents against two 14-year-old girls and one 17-year-old girl.

While those crimes were under investigation, Rhoden went to Nashville, Tennessee where he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl in December 1984 and was subsequently convicted of rape and use of a minor for obscene purposes.

In all four instances of sexual assault, Rhoden held himself out as a photographer and, in an effort to lure in his victims, offered them modeling photoshoots. Rhoden drove up to each of his three sexual assault victims in Orange County and Los Angeles County while they were on foot when attempting to entice them into his car.

The State of Tennessee sentenced Rhoden to 20 years in state prison, the Orange County Superior Court sentenced him to 12 years in state prison, and the Los Angeles County Superior Court sentenced him to six years in state prison.

From March of 1983 until his arrest in Tennessee, Rhoden also defrauded people in California, Florida, and Texas of approximately $440,000. The major scheme involved inserting personal ads in newspapers, creating a relationship with women answering the ads, holding himself out as an investment broker or lawyer, and convincing the women as well as their friends to provide him with large sums of money to invest.

Rhoden was released from state prison in 2004 and detained in the Orange County jail based on an SVP petition filed by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. He was later found by an Orange County jury to be a Sexually Violent Predator under the state Welfare & Institutions Code and committed to the Department of State Hospitals for treatment.

In 2019, the Orange County Superior Court ordered Rhoden conditionally released into the community under the supervision of Liberty Healthcare. On February 5, 2021, the Orange County Superior Court found "extraordinary circumstances" existed to authorize relocating Rhoden outside of Orange County.

The Orange County Superior Court tentatively ordered Rhoden to live at a residence in Twentynine Palms on March 12. District Attorney Anderson has ordered deputies of his own SVP Unit to appear before the Orange County Superior Court on April 16 and oppose Rhoden’s release into the community.