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[whitespace] Accused child molester may have preyed on his own family

An alleged victim is suspect's daughter

Los Gatos--One of the Los Gatos girls allegedly molested by a Santa Cruz man was his biological daughter.

Lee Thomas Bjorn, recently arrested in Los Gatos, is the father of one of the two girls whom he allegedly molested in the 1970s, according to Pam Kato, Santa Cruz County Assistant District Attorney. At the time, both girls were under the age of 14.

The names of Bjorn's alleged victims, who are now adults, have not been released. "They're Jane Does and that's kind of where I want to leave them," said Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Victoria Brown.

Bjorn, 54, was arrested by Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police detectives on Feb. 13. The self-employed contractor/carpenter is charged with 11 counts of molestation in Los Gatos and five counts of molesting three girls in Santa Cruz County over the past 20 years. He is currently being held at Santa Clara County Jail without bail. Bjorn has yet to enter a plea.

Records indicate that Bjorn has a criminal background, but was never convicted for most of the charges filed against him. In 1982, he was arrested twice, one arrest for child molestation. However, both cases never went to trial in Santa Cruz County. In the early 1980s, Bjorn was arrested and convicted for a weapons violation, says Rodd Joseph, sexual assault investigator with the Watsonville Police. In 1992, Bjorn was again arrested in Santa Cruz County, but the case was dismissed.

Also, in the early 1990s, Arizona police had a file on Bjorn. "Seems like they were waiting on some information from California, but they never got it. They never followed through," said Diane Thomas of the Graham County, Ariz., Sheriff's Department.

Bjorn is originally from Safford, Ariz., where he owns land and family members still live. "Some people in the area remember him from way back," Thomas said. He also has family members in Southern California and Washington state.

Kato says that Bjorn's strategy is, through his work as a contractor, to befriend and date single, divorced, or separated women, who have children. Bjorn starts to support these women and their families financially, and then moves them into his trailer in the Live Oak area of Santa Cruz County. "He preys on women who need the support, or don't turn away the support," Kato said.

Although the relationship may end, Bjorn continues to support the family. He offers to babysit the children while their mother goes out with friends, or on dates, and then allegedly molests the girl, Kato said.

"He's not a real great guy," said Joseph.

Watsonville Police arrested Bjorn twice in January, on different counts of child molestation; each time he was set free on a $250,000 bail.

According to Kato, Santa Cruz courts are unable to issue no-bail warrants. As a result, Bjorn had eluded the police by disappearing after a bail bondsman posted the money.

Bjorn's lawyer for the Santa Cruz County cases, Peter Chang, says that a fair trial is impossible because of a law passed in 1999 that eliminates a statute of limitations for child molestation cases. Chang says that, since the Los Gatos cases occurred 25 years ago, fairness is not an option. He said, "The problem is, how do you defend against something that happened 25 years ago?"

Chang says he also thinks that authorities are trying to exhaust Bjorn's resources. Instead of arresting Bjorn on all the charges at once, Chang says that Watsonville police chose to arrest him twice and forced him to post total bail of $500,000. "It seems to me that every time he bails, they arrest him again," said Chang. "To me, that constitutes harassment."

Currently Bjorn has no legal representation besides the appointed public defender in Santa Clara County, because he can't afford his own lawyer. "I think the police just don't want him to be able to hire a good lawyer," Chang said.

A jurisdiction dilemma arises since Santa Clara County has already started proceedings and has custody of Bjorn, while an upcoming preliminary hearing is scheduled in Santa Cruz County for March 5. "We just have to decide who's going to go first," Kato said.

Kato says that the best option would be for both counties to relinquish jurisdiction and hold one trial in either county. She thinks that it would be better to do so, in order for the jury to be fully informed of all of Bjorn's activities. "But the defense probably wouldn't want that," Kato said.

Chang agreed, "Then it would be really be a mess ... an endless trial."
Gloria I. Wang

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Web extra to the March 1-7, 2001 issue of Metro.

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