Dark History Eludes Church's Eyes
Man and woman in molestation case already had notorious records of abuse
By Kirk Mitchell, Denver Post Staff Writer
FORT LUPTON — The new members of a small Christian congregation had a commanding knowledge of the Bible and an easy rapport with a small group of earnest teenagers.
In September 2000, Vance Martin and soon-to-be wife Marla Dracon quickly assimilated into the fold of the Living Water Assembly of God evangelical church. They attended Sunday church services, he pitched for the church's softball team, they met with a prayer group, and he later taught the Bible study class for teens.
But there was much that pastor Scott Krabbenhoft and church members didn't know about the seemingly spiritual couple. And they didn't find out until after the molestation on Sept. 26 of a 14-year-old girl.
Both Martin, 35, and Dracon, 31, had served prison time and were on parole. Martin was convicted of molesting two young girls, and Dracon was convicted of child abuse related to the beating death of the 8-year-old son of her live-in boyfriend.
Martin fled Fort Lupton in early October, shortly before a warrant was issued for his arrest Oct. 26. He has been charged with child sexual assault, sexual assault by someone in authority, failure to register as a sex offender and for being a habitual sex offender.
The last time authorities heard from him was Oct. 4, a week after the 14-year-old girl was molested, when he asked his parole officer in Mississippi to process his parole discharge papers.
Dracon was arrested Oct. 24 and is being held in Weld County Jail on a complaint that she violated conditions of her parole, for traveling to Tennessee and for associating with Martin, a known felon.
Krabbenhoft and several Living Water church elders have since discussed how to react to increasing press inquiries and to explain to the congregation why a proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing was able to slip into their flock.
Didn't check registry
Krabbenhoft acknowledges he didn't check the Fort Lupton sex-offender registry before allowing Martin to teach a class. (He initially told The Denver Post that he had checked the registry.)
But even if Krabbenhoft had checked the list for Martin's name, it wouldn't have been there. Martin never registered with Colorado law enforcement officials, as required by law.
The pastor could have discovered Martin's past had he checked several public or private databases that charge up to $5 a name to see if someone has a criminal history. Some churches perform such checks regularly.
The church now has signed up with a private company that will enable it to check the background of anyone placed in a trust relationship with children, Krabbenhoft said.
"We would like to think we could trust people, but unfortunately, there are further steps we have to take to ensure our safety," he said.
Krabbenhoft and the entire congregation didn't notice that while Martin was worshiping with them and sitting across the dinner table from them at church socials, his landmark criminal appeal case was frequently front-page news or on TV programs across Colorado.
Because of a July Colorado Supreme Court ruling on conflicting state law in Martin's appeal case, parole and prison terms were reduced for up to 1,500 sex offenders.
"We just made zero connection" between the sex-offender controversy and parishioner Martin, Krabbenhoft said.
But what baffles Krabbenhoft most is how Martin lived and worshiped among them without parole officers in two states—Mississippi and Colorado—knowing.
"Nobody had a clue"
Martin's parole officer believed that Martin was living with his father 1,160 miles away in Cleveland, Miss., a river delta town of about 10,000 people, Mississippi Department of Corrections spokeswoman Claire Papizan said.
"Nobody had a clue whatsoever" that Martin was living in Colorado, Papizan said.
In 1993, Martin had sexually fondled two preteen girls in Denver. Initially he served a probation sentence, but when he allegedly molested more children, he went to prison for a five-year term in 1997, Supreme Court records show.
In January 2000, Martin was placed on parole, and two months later he transferred to Mississippi under terms of an interstate compact.
Martin fooled his parole officer into believing he was living in Cleveland by visiting monthly with the officer and paying a $25-a-month supervision fee, Papizan said.
"We have a parole officer who physically saw him once a month," she said.
The parole officer also made two surprise visits to Martin's home in June and December of 2000 and found him at home both times, she said.
But Martin wasn't receiving therapy, Papizan said. Had he been getting weekly or biweekly counseling, it might have been harder for him to commute between states, and any absences could have resulted in parole revocation.
At least part of the time he was in Colorado, Martin was supposed to be in Memphis, Tenn., on approved visits to his mother's house. During the two years he was on parole in Mississippi, he was granted six such visits: four 30-day trips and two two-week visits, Papizan said.
"Living two lives"
"This is really, really bizarre," Papizan said. "He's been living two lives, I guess."
Martin was living in Fort Lupton, a half a continent away from where he was supposed to be. Getting caught in Colorado without permission could have earned him a return trip to prison, said Colorado Department of Corrections spokeswoman Alison Morgan.
But of all the risks Martin took, none was greater than the company he kept, according to officials.
At least as early as September 2000, Martin was attending the Assembly of God church with Dracon, whose infamous child-abuse case generated nearly as much publicity as Martin's.
In September 1994, Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter called the slaying of Andrew Spencer "the most heinous form of child torture we've seen in our office in a long time."
The 8-year-old had bruises from head to toe, including the bottoms of his feet and his penis, according to Denver District Court records. The injuries were in different stages of healing.
Witnesses reported repeatedly seeing the boy's father, Allen Spencer, beating the child. They told of hearing admissions from Dracon that she beat the boy as well, court records say. Police said Dracon admitted seeing the child get spanked and that she spanked the child as well, a police report says.
The boy's body had 19 imprints, apparently made by a galvanized steel pipe found in the apartment where he lived with his father. His intestine was split in half.
Allen Spencer was convicted of child abuse resulting in death and second-degree murder. His sentence was 96 years in prison.
Originally charged with child abuse resulting in death, Dracon pleaded down to a charge of simple child abuse and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
She was paroled in 1998 and moved to Weld County. Her plea-reduced charge was by state law not considered a violent crime and did not require stringent parole supervision, as would a more serious offense, Morgan said.
It is unknown exactly how or when Martin met Dracon.
But by living with Dracon, Martin risked being discovered by Dracon's Colorado parole officer, who could make surprise visits to the parolee's apartment if deemed necessary, Morgan said.
But Dracon was the ideal parolee, attending church, working full time and making every appointment with her parole officer, Morgan said. There were no red flags, and no indication surprise visits were needed, she said.
Several parole officers, who supervised Dracon at different times, never learned that Martin was living with Dracon or that the couple filed marriage documents in Boulder in June.
Morgan said Dracon's parole officer had 50 people to supervise in nine counties. Because of the distances between parolee homes, "it's not easy to cover all the territory," Morgan said.
Claimed to have a calling
When Dracon and Martin attended the church for the first time, Krabbenhoft sent a couple to their home with cookies to welcome them.
Quickly the new couple, who claimed to be married, became regulars, and it wasn't long before Martin told Krabbenhoft about his calling.
"He felt like God was leading him to teach in a lay capacity," Krabbenhoft said. But the church has a policy not to allow new attendees to teach until a relationship and trust are established, he said.
Nearly a year later, Krabbenhoft needed a replacement to teach the youth Bible study class and Martin agreed to fill in temporarily, he said.
"He appeared to be spiritually mature," Krabbenhoft said. "He had a good knowledge of the Bible."
But Krabbenhoft had no idea about Martin's past.
Dracon acknowledged knowing Martin had been in prison and was on parole and may have known he was a sex offender, according to Fort Lupton police Detective John Atkins.
On the night the girl was molested, the Bible study class was canceled, and Martin invited the victim to his house with her sister to watch movie videos, Atkins said.
Dracon was at home for the movies but didn't go with her husband when he drove the girls home, Atkins said.
Martin took them for ice cream. While in his car, Martin molested the 14-year-old, Atkins said, and told her that is what would happen to her if she dated non-Christian boys.
When the girl told Krabbenhoft what happened, he went to police. The church is providing counseling to the girl and her family.
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