Seven years in prison taught Lonnie Green to own up to his past and not to be ashamed. So when a Mart resident recently complained to the city council after learning Green — a registered sex offender — is employed by the city’s public works department, Green said he knows that no matter how much he alters his attitude, his sex offender status will always cause problems.
“You have to know yourself,” he said. “People will always hate on you, but just as many people that talk down on you, there’s another to talk you back up. That’s pretty much how I look at life.”
At this week’s Mart City Council meeting, Kellie Green, 38, who is no relation to Lonnie Green, stood before the elected officials holding up an enlarged photo of her 12-year-old daughter.
“How has the council worked toward her safety?” she said. “Can you tell her that you had the safety of the children of Mart in mind when you hired this person?”
Kellie Green demanded that Lonnie Green be fired.
The mother of six children said the council needs to realize the city can’t absorb the liability of keeping him as an employee.
Hiring one sex offender sets a precedent that hiring all sex offenders is OK, she said. If one child is hurt because of that practice, the repercussions, financially, legally and publicly, would devastate the city, Kellie Green said.
“I don’t know Lonnie Green. He could be a great guy,” she said. “But I still think anybody who thinks it’s OK to have sex with a 14-year-old girl, there’s something wrong with them.”
Death or prison
Lonnie Green, 33, grew up a Mart football star. He had dreams of playing professionally. But things weren’t as bright as they seemed, he said, adding that he sees now, one way or another, he was headed toward death or prison.
On Sept. 10, 1999, when Green was 17, he had a party with his friends for which he provided alcohol. A 14-year-old girl attended, drank some, and at some point Green and the girl ended up in a bedroom, according to court documents.
Green initially claimed the two didn’t have sex, but he admitted to giving the girl alcohol, court records state. Green later admitted the two had sex and that the girl also had sex with another man at the party, reports state.
Court documents show the girl’s father went to police about three days later and the girl admitted to having sex with both men. The age of consent in Texas is 16 years old.
Green pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a person under the age of 17, a charge that carries up to 20 years in prison. But Green received 10 years probation. A second charge of sexual assault on a minor, a separate incident that happened before the September event, was dropped when Green pleaded guilty.
But Green violated the conditions of his probation three times by visiting Mart High School and missing curfew, according to Tribune-Herald archives. The judge sent him to prison.
He served seven years, was released in 2008 and is required to register as a sex offender yearly for life.
“There are times, a lot of times, I still feel incarcerated,” Green said. “I can’t be free.”
Some residents of the town have stood by and supported Green through his transition from rising star to inmate to husband and father, and now to city employee. Mart doesn’t have a policy restricting sex offenders from holding city jobs.
Mayor Pro Tem Henry Witt III said if officials thought any city employee was a danger to the public, the person would not work there.
Green was hired by the city in November, is one of three public works employees and makes $9 an hour.
‘Won’t look past the label’
“You’re always going to have people who won’t look past the label and who will condemn him for the rest of his life,” Witt said. “Then you’ll have people who will consider the circumstances surrounding his situation, get to know him as a person and realize he is just a guy who is trying to pick himself back up for and work hard for the betterment of his family.
“For the sake of my own family and the lessons I will teach my children about believing in the good in people, I am glad to be a part of the latter group.”
But the 33-year-old councilman has personal ties to Green.
Witt’s parents legally adopted Green’s two youngest brothers, with their mother’s blessing, because the family was struggling financially.
Green and his common-law wife, Goldie Hill, 33, have lived in Mart for most of their lives and have three children, ages 2, 10 and 15. Green also has two sons with another woman.
The year before joining the city, Green worked in West Texas oil fields, but said his family asked him to come home.
As a public works employee, Green said, he does “pretty much everything,” from fixing water and sewer lines to working on the roads. Green said he took a large pay cut to work for the city, but the job was never about the money. He said he has a passion for his hometown and a dream to bring it back to “where it once was.”
It’s a vision Witt shares. Just the other day, the councilman said he saw Green riding a horse down the road with his youngest daughter aboard.
Hill said her husband is a family man, protective, fun and a little goofy. She said their 2-year-old is Green’s shadow. Laughing, Green acknowledges he sometimes embarrasses his 15-year-old daughter by dancing when her friends are around.
Green’s boss, public works supervisor Jason Lehrmann, said Green often has helped him by picking up his children when needed. Lehrmann, 32, said he is a protective father and doesn’t think twice about allowing Green around his children because of how much he trusts him.
Green said it has been difficult to find work, to keep a place to live and to conduct life “as a normal person” with the sex-offender status hanging on his back. While in prison, Green said all he could think about was his family, God and what he needed to do to get right.
“In order for me to get right, to be right, I have to do right,” he said.
He said he has spent a lot of time mentoring youth in hopes of keeping them from making bad decisions like he did. He said he tells young people to keep their head on straight, to never give up and to always stay focused.
“Not being focused got me into this,” he said.
Green said he came from a broken home. He didn’t have a father, and while his mother worked three jobs to provide for her four boys, they still struggled financially. In high school, he started hanging with the wrong crowd.
He still has dreams in which he is playing professional football, and some days he finds it hard to stay strong and keep his head up, Green said.
“Sometimes, Jason (his boss) knows, it’s hard and we talk, and he gets me through it,” Green said. People ask him a lot about what happened in his past, and those who aren’t asking questions usually have their own version of events, he said.
“I’m tired of having to relive something I’ve paid my debt for,” he said. “I feel like, if I keep giving and keep giving and keep giving, God’s eventually going to give me something.”
Residents with concerns about Green being on or near their property are welcome to alert city officials, Councilman Witt said. Because Green is not on probation or parole, the city is not required to send out notifications about his status, he said.
Mart runs background checks on all employees, Witt said. Laborers are hired by department heads who answer to the city council.
Besides having no policy prohibiting sexual offenders from holding city jobs, Mart also does not prohibit people convicted of felonies from working for the taxpayers.
“In the case of employment, all circumstances surrounding a person’s past transgressions, as well as the person’s current disposition, should be taken into account,” Witt said. “All things considered, I personally do not feel Lonnie Green is a danger to the public,” Witt said.
The city of Waco, in contrast, will not hire anyone who is a registered sex offender, said Abby Grillo, the city’s employee relations manager. The city performs background checks and also has policies about hiring felons, which include not employing a person who has been convicted of a felony within the past five years.
Mart City Councilman Kevin Schaffer, 36, said part of him thinks Mart should have a policy, but another part thinks it can “box yourself into a situation.”
“What he did was wrong. I think it was wrong. I’m not here to defend it. But at the same time, I don’t think he poses a danger to the citizens,” Schaffer said. “I think this would be a different situation had it been a 6-year-old girl versus a 17-year-old guy and a 14-year-old girl. He’s not a pedophile.”
But resident Kellie Green reminded the council at its meeting that she and her husband helped elect the current council members and supported the city’s new sex offender ordinance.
In May, Mart City Council unanimously approved an ordinance limiting where sex offenders with offenses against minors can live within the city limits. The ordinance is stricter than the state law the town had been operating under.
It prevents offenders from living within 1,000 feet of any place where children normally congregate. Now, knowing that a city employee falls into that category, it appears the council members have a double standard for people they know, she said.
“What this means is that the public image gets a boost for implementing a protective city ordinance while overtly the city hires a convicted felon sex offender, whose charge was against a 14-year-old, with no limits as to what property he is allowed to access as part of the water department,” she said.
Witt said the purpose of the ordinance was to keep pedophiles away from children.
“Not every sex offender is a pedophile. But every pedophile is a sex offender,” Witt said. “Thus the need for a broad ordinance that encompasses all sex offenders. We can’t enforce an ordinance on a case-by-case basis. However, background checks and other measures give us the ability to hire on a case-by-case basis with all things considered.”
Schaffer said having Lonnie Green work for the city doesn’t conflict with the ordinance.
“He’s grandfathered in, but if he ever moves, he’ll have to move to a new town or a place in Mart that he’s legally allowed to live,” Schaffer said.
Since appearing before the city council to complain, Kellie Green claims she has received numerous threatening electronic messages from supporters of Lonnie Green.
“I’m not out to get Lonnie Green,” she said. “It’s not a witch hunt. It’s the bigger picture, and no one gets that.”
Verna LaStrapes, 69, said she has known Lonnie Green since he was a little boy.
“He has a right to have a good, decent life because he is a decent man,” she said. “For some people to try and hurt him like this when they do not know the story, they’re only seeing black and white and there’s a lot of gray in this story.”
LaStrapes, who has lived in Mart almost her whole life, said the community always has been known for taking care of poor and neglected children. Green and his three brothers fell in that category, she said.
Their bond started early and continued through the years. LaStrapes said it has been a privilege to watch Lonnie Green become the man he is today.
“He’s sweet. He’s lovable. As a little boy, and even now, he will go a half a block to come and hug me,” she said. “He’s a very caring, giving person. When he was little, and he probably still does, he wrote poetry. He’s very feeling.
“He’s intelligent. He could have had life give him better cards and dealt him a better hand. He could have been a pro football player. He’s a good man. He loves kids. He loves animals. All he’s trying to do is have a good family and have a good life, and people keep trying to knock him down, and it’s not right. It’s not right.”