In October, Nathan Larson traveled to Colorado Springs, where an El Paso County jury faced the decision of entrusting him with the care of his infant daughter.
Larson is a 35-year-old part-time accountant who lives with his parents in Virginia and is engaged to a citizen of the Philippines. He's also a felon who once threatened to kill President George W. Bush, and although he wouldn't call himself a pedophile, he admits to having sexual feelings toward both adults and children.
Larson says he doesn't think he would molest his own daughter but isn't sure, since he's "never been in that kind of situation before." He does, however, think it's OK for adults to engage in sexual acts with children, as long as there is what he refers to as "consent," although the age at which a child can "consent" to such activities depends on the child, he says, because some children are "precocious."
Any traumatic outcomes from these acts, he believes, are mostly the result of a child feeling betrayed or of the shame enforced by societal norms.
"I think society should ... leave it to individuals to experiment," he says. "That's the only way we'll gain more information and learn what the truth is."
Larson was facing what is legally termed a "dependency and neglect" case, and had requested a jury trial. These are civil cases aimed at protecting kids from neglect and abuse. They don't determine the custody of a child, but they can prevent a parent from taking immediate custody, says El Paso County Attorney Robert Kern.
It was Kern's job to prove that Larson posed a "prospective harm" to his then-8-month-old daughter, and it's hard to imagine how Kern could fail. He called on multiple arguments during the trial, including the fact that Larson was open about his attraction toward children, both in person and online.
For instance, Larson once took to the web to discuss "boylove," explaining that he is interested only in girls.
"The way I feel about it is that if I had a son, I don't think I would have any interest in engaging in those activities with him," he wrote. "My attitude would be, if he's going to [be] involved in incestuous activities, that may as well be with a sibling or his mother or something."
"The jury was visibly disgusted," says Kory Phairchyld, who testified at the trial about Larson's tendencies.
Larson's own legal papers revealed arguments that claim he has a right to free speech (even on pedophilia), that pedophilic desires are common, that pedophiles comprise a stigmatized sexual orientation deserving of civil rights, that molestation doesn't necessarily lead to psychological damage, and that the age of consent is historically and currently inconsistent.
Moreover, Larson doesn't seem clued in to the repulsion people commonly feel toward child molesters. In a phone interview with the Independent, he says he had held out hope that the jurors would see his point of view, especially since he had only met the girl once, in a supervised visit.
"I could see it going either way," he says, "because there hadn't been any harm done."
The jury, unsurprisingly, didn't think Larson would make a fit parent.
Kern won his case, and Larson's daughter continues to live with her maternal grandparents. But, Kern warns, "At any point, the child could be returned to him."
See, dependency and neglect cases aren't aimed at removing a parent from a child's life; they're aimed at reuniting them. If a parent is found unfit, like Larson, they are ordered by a judge to go through various programs that might transform him or her into a better parent.
Larson says he's been ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation, followed by a treatment plan.
"This isn't the end of the case," Kern says. "This is the beginning of the case."
Larson's daughter, whom the Independent will not name because she is a juvenile, was born into fraught circumstances that culminated in her other parent's suicide on June 3.
Obituaries list various names for the other parent, including a birth name and the legal name at the time of death, Augustine Larson. But close friend Kory Phairchyld says that he was a transgender man who preferred to be called "Finn." Larson refers to his ex as "her" and uses the name "August."
For purposes of this article, the Independent will use the name "Finn" and "he," as the reporter was introduced to the subject as such earlier this year.
Phairchyld, who is also a transgender man and a leader of the local group Queer Collective, says the last months of Finn's life were traumatic. Phairchyld says Finn suffered from mental health problems, including PTSD, which he says Finn said stemmed from an abusive relationship with Larson.
Finn did have a restraining order against Larson, though Larson claims that their rocky marriage, which lasted less than a year, only included verbal altercations.
In an email that was an exhibit for the case, however, Larson admits to abuse, including raping Finn, and apologizes that his desire to molest their children caused Finn stress.
"It didn't concern me that given my history of raping you, as well as the gravity of what I was proposing doing with the children, I might irreparably destroy our relationship and any prospect of my ever seeing the children (especially unsupervised)," he wrote.
And in a legal document that Finn filled out to waive child support in February, he writes of Larson, "During our relationship, he was severely emotionally and sexually abusive towards me. He stated multiple times that he wanted to have sex with a child. He talked about how he would manipulate and trick the child into giving him sex, told me he wouldn't love the child if they did not have sex with him, and stated he had no interest in children other than sexual ... [He] raped me until I was pregnant and stated his intention to have sex with my child after she was born."
Finn also states that she told Larson she had miscarried after leaving him and that Larson did not know the child existed. Indeed, when the reporter met Finn earlier this year, he asked that the child not be photographed for fear that the "abusive" father would seek custody. Larson was informed of the child's existence after Finn's death.
In the last months of Finn's life, Phairchyld says he struggled to help his friend, taking Finn to various mental health centers, only to be turned away. Eventually, the problems became pronounced enough that authorities removed Finn's daughter from his care and sent her to live with her maternal grandparents.
Child Protection papers from the time allege abuse and neglect, and reference Finn's unstable mental condition. Finn was eventually admitted to a mental health program before taking his own life.
Phairchyld says he had hoped a couple from the local LGBT community who were close with Finn would be able to adopt the girl, but he's simply relieved that the child is safe.
"At least we know that she's not the subject of abuse at this point," he says. Adding, "The thought of [Larson] taking that child to Virginia alone was terrifying."
Court documents show that Larson viewed his case as a small piece of a larger civil rights battle for pedophiles — which Phairchyld says he found outrageous.
"He really saw his daughter as the easy pawn for that," he says. "He really wants to be the martyr."
Kern agreed that Larson seemed to want to use the opportunity to make a point — though he says many parents behave similarly (though with different subject matter).
"The feeling was definitely that this was an opportunity for a forum," he says, "and I would say that a parent using this process as a forum isn't really unusual."
While there is a Constitutional right to parent your child, Kern says courts in dependency neglect cases are required to think about the best interests of a child, not a parent.
Ultimately, though, the court tries to reunify a family, as that is often thought to be the best outcome. In many cases, that includes counseling and treatment — for instance, help with kicking drug or alcohol addiction. But a parent who is outspoken about his or her pedophilia is unusual to say the least.
Larson will likely get testing and treatment in Virginia. If he successfully completes it, he can continue to seek custody of his daughter, and he says he will continue to fight as long as he believes he stands a chance of winning.
"I'm kind of just taking it one step at a time," he says.
Larson says he feels like his rights are being trampled — both as a parent and as an individual. For instance, he says he feels the ban on child pornography is an attack on his First Amendment rights.
Paul Isenstadt, a local licensed clinical social worker who previously served as the director of programs and residential services at Comcor, Inc., has been working in his business since 1965, and doing sex offender evaluations since 1980.
People who truly have pedophilic disorder — they act on sexual urges for pre-pubescent children — are exceedingly rare, he says.
But they often find ways of justifying their behavior — such as Larson's belief that a child can "consent" to sexual acts. (Children are not developmentally capable of consenting to sexual activity.)
The current philosophy, endorsed by the Colorado Sex Offender Management Board, is that pedophilia in adults cannot be cured, but can be managed.
Isenstadt says a variety of methods are used, including drugs that suppress sexual urges and various forms of conditioning — this usually means subjecting someone to an arousing story or image and then causing them to associate it with something unpleasant. For instance, a subject might be asked to use smelling salts made from decayed cow placenta.
Isenstadt says that it's rare for a person to have pedophilic urges, especially exclusively — often a subject is attracted to adults and children, as Larson is. But when they do, he says it's referred to as pedophilic sexual orientation. The people he has counseled with this condition tend to have been molested as children (Larson has no recollection of being molested), though Isenstadt stresses that the vast majority of children who are molested do not grow up to be pedophiles.
Recent research suggests that the brains of pedophiles are different, suggesting a biological component. In fact, pedophiles appear to have lower IQs, on average, than other sex offenders and the population as a whole, according to research by Canadian doctor James Cantor.
Despite the apparent unchanging nature of the condition, Isenstadt says it's obviously something that must be controlled. The trick, he says, is to convince people with such urges to play them out only in their minds, or as he puts it "to live in their heads."
"Is there a risk?" he asks. "Certainly. Does that mean the person will act on their interest? Not necessarily. And that's where the controversy comes into play."
Isenstadt, however, says he would never recommend placing a child in a home with someone who is outspoken about his urges to molest children.
In an August letter to Finn's parents, Larson articulates his opposing viewpoint, saying government should allow children to be raised by their parents, regardless of the circumstances.
"They should just leave it to natural selection to weed out the parents who will destroy their kids, rather than intervening," he says. "[F]or example, we won't need to worry about Casey Anthony passing on her infanticidal tendencies to her daughter, since her daughter is dead now."