Evil Among Us
by Ken Driggs
[p.218] By October 1983 Kleasen had completed his federal sentence and was turned over to New York authorities. He was first assigned to the Attica Correctional Facility, scene of the infamous prison riot in 1971, then to the Auburn Correctional Facility. Almost immediately he petitioned the New York Parole Board for discretionary release.
Kleasen still refused to accept responsibility for his crimes. A report prepared for the board stated: “Kleasen denies his culpability in the instant offense indicating that he was the subject of harassment by authorities.” He again told how he had been beaten by ATF agents. He said they used the butt of a Thompson sub-machine gun on him in front of his wife Irene Fredriksson during the September 1971 raid of his home. He again claimed Fredriksson was so terrified by the ordeal that she returned to Sweden and was not available to testify on his behalf in the assault case. As Kleasen phrased it, he “decided to go to Europe instead” of appearing for his 1972 trial date. He also claimed the gun collection seized in 1971 by the ATF was worth a million dollars. With each retelling, the collection’s value increased. The parole board asked about the Texas murders. He said the murders were never proved and “that no people ever died.”
A few months earlier the Wayne County district attorney had written the parole board to oppose Kleasen’s release. The board appreciated who they had and how controversial his early release would be. “Your positive achievements are noted and considered,” the board blandly wrote Kleasen. “However, all factors considered your release would not be in the best interest of the community.” They urged Kleasen to continue with prison psychotherapy and set the next parole review twenty-four months off.
[p.219] Kleasen was transferred from Auburn to Attica briefly, then in April 1986 to Sing Sing. He wanted out of Attica because of what he called “brutal conditions.” He also suffered a heart attack there while carrying heavy materials, so his first month at Sing Sing was spent in a hospital ward. By then other inmates were calling the fifty-four-year-old Kleasen “Pops.”
Kleasen set his sights on his next parole possibility in 1987. Seeking to impress future parole boards at Auburn and Sing Sing, he participated in forty-five-minute psychotherapy sessions every two weeks. He continued to take the antidepressant Desyrel prescribed by psychiatrists for what he described as a “nervous condition.” Kleasen also suffered from a long-standing angina condition and took nitroglycerin tablets. He walked with a cane. Prison officials described him as overweight and he complained of a hearing loss in both ears “due to an accident.”
Kleasen refused vocational training, telling prison officials he did not need it thanks to his extensive “higher education.” He worked in the prison as a typist for $1.30 an hour. Not surprisingly, his favorite recreation was writing letters to friends. One of those pen pals was an Auburn inmate serving a life sentence for murder.
Kleasen had only two minor disciplinary infractions, one for smuggling, which was dismissed, and one for not having his inmate identification card on his person.
He tried again for parole in 1987. At the time he had no money to help him get established on the outside. He claimed all his holdings had been “seized” for back taxes. His inmate account showed a balance of $126.06. He also told the board he had completed a master’s degree in June 1986 while at Auburn prison and was about to begin a Ph.D. No verification was produced.
While at Auburn Kleasen had applied for admission to the University of Buffalo’s American Studies Department which apparently was available to inmates. He met with program administrator June E. License. A brief autobiography was required of each applicant, but Kleasen wrote twenty-eight pages. It was filled with stories of flying jet missions in Vietnam, meeting the queen of a Scandinavian country, [p.220] and living on the Texas death row. Only the last subject had any basis in fact. License remembered thinking Kleasen either lived an incredible life or had an incredible imagination. She later told newspaper reporters that “the parole people have a real challenge.” However, Kleasen did undertake some graduate courses while in prison.
If paroled in 1987, Kleasen hoped to return to Austin, Texas, where he could live with his friend Mark Finger, a short-order cook. Finger was a Pentecostal who met Kleasen in 1978 when his church visited federal prisoners in the Bastrop, Texas, jail. They had corresponded about once a month for years and Finger promised to help him find a job in Texas.
Once again the parole board declined to release Kleasen, writing to him, “The panel notes your institutional progress but considering all factors cannot recommend discretionary release.” They notified Texas authorities and urged Kleasen to continue with therapy and medication.
Only twice during his time in New York custody did his records reflect any visitors other than for legal matters. Once a Quaker representative called on him, and once an unknown friend.
Kleasen continued to write his pen pals. One newly acquired one was a woman in Northern Ireland he met through a London-based International Pen Pals outfit. She was Ann-Eliza Young (not her real name). He explained his various prison addresses by saying he had a Ph.D. and was hired to teach college courses to inmates. He also wrote that his parents were Dutch-German, but that he was an English duke and his mother a duchess.
When Kleasen was sentenced in Wayne County, New York law required that an inmate who had served two-thirds of his sentence be paroled. Kleasen would reach that point on May 8, 1988.
Kleasen still wanted to be released to the Austin area, which was possible if Texas agreed to supervise him. Not surprisingly, Texas was not the least bit interested. A spokesman in Austin later told reporters, “He didn’t fit any of our criteria. He’s not a resident, he didn’t have a job in Texas, and he didn’t have any family here.” Kleasen wrote Mark Finger that “his heart was broken because they wouldn’t let me live in [p.221] Texas.” So it would be somewhere in New York.
New York parole officials were as alarmed as anyone at the prospects of his release. Robert J. Purcell, a parole officer working out of the Auburn Correctional Facility wrote a March 25, 1988, “Threat Documentation Report” in which he called Kleasen “an extremely dangerous individual with a great deal of underlying hostility.” Purcell went on to note that the soon-to-be released inmate had the “potential, as well as the capability, of carrying out any veiled threats” because he was a “master marksman and an explosives expert.”
Four days later a Syracuse area parole supervisor, Chester G. Fritz, wrote another report saying Kleasen was “an extremely dangerous individual with so many unresolved psychosocial problems that it is almost inevitable he will once again act out in a violent fashion at some future date.” Fritz’s office normally supervised inmates paroled from Auburn. He urged that New York and Texas authorities be given detailed information about Kleasen so his “movements may be known to everyone at the earliest possible time.”
A month before his release, the LDS church-owned Deseret News in Salt Lake City reported the impending parole in Utah under the headline “Man once sentenced to death for murdering LDS missionary to be paroled May 9 in New York.” New York Division of Paroles executive director Edward Elwin would only say that Kleasen was to be paroled to “an undisclosed city in New York.”
Texas authorities were notified of the impending release. Travis County prosecutors added to the growing hysteria in their interviews with New York press. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable if he was in the neighborhood. And, of course, the jury answered that question 12 or 13 years ago when they found he would continue to be violent,” Bob Smith, long retired as district attorney, told reporters. “This guy is probably the most dangerous person I’ve ever met.” Smith was further quoted as believing that Kleasen had no conscience whatsoever. In another interview he said, “I think once he gets out, he would have the propensity to try and do whatever he wanted. He lived for violence. His background indicates he’s a walking time bomb.” “It was a terrible murder,” added assistant county district attorney Phil Nelson, noting [p.222] that “a jury said that, and it’s always a shame to see a case come apart, but they do, and this one did.”
As Kleasen’s release neared, the parole board prepared another law enforcement advisory dated April 26, 1988. Continuing with the same tone, it warned that Kleasen had “pent-up hostility and a great potential for extreme violence.” It went on to say Kleasen “believes there are no innocent people and that all of society is responsible for what has happened to him in his life. He also is a master marksman and an explosives expert.”
Parole board officials quietly sounded out rural Wayne County as a release site but quickly dropped the idea after a heated response. The only connection Kleasen still had with Wayne County was the shooting; the family farm had been sold and Kleasen had no friends or acquaintances there.
Next they planned to place Kleasen in Rochester at the Cadillac Hotel. When hotel manager Donald Stubbs realized who Kleasen was, he refused him, later telling the Austin American-Statesman, “He was a walking time bomb, every police officer on the Rochester force was carrying his picture.” In fact, Rochester police chief Gordon Urlacher and other law enforcement had been tipped off about Kleasen’s possible arrival. They raised such an alarm that the parole board was forced to drop Rochester as a placement. “I think it’s outrageous that this man can be assigned into this community without any input from local officials,” Urlacher complained. Happy now that Kleasen would not be his problem, he told reporters, “If you yell loud enough, they’ll hear you. I feel bad for Buffalo, but I feel pretty good for Rochester.”
So it came down to Buffalo. About a month before his scheduled release date, Kleasen had told his parole officer Robert Purcell he now preferred his hometown as a placement. No one appreciated what a circus was in store for them. Kleasen could not help but become aware of the controversy over his release. “I didn’t bother watching TV,” he would later say, but added, “I heard most of the TV reports from the guys in the prison yard.”
Buffalo greeted him like a leper with open sores. The local newspapers were soon comparing his situation to that of California [p.223] ex-convict Lawrence Singleton who was run out of several communities after his parole from a sentence for the rape and mutilation of a teenage girl. The screaming began a couple days before his actual release.
On Friday, May 6, the Buffalo News first announced his arrival in a headline: “Convict With Record of Violence Will Spend His Parole in Buffalo.” That day Kleasen was driven from the prison at Auburn down the New York State throughway to Buffalo by three state parole officers. They left early in the morning, stopping only when they accidently hit a deer—a strange omen for a man who had previously loved poaching. By late morning, they pulled up to the General Donovan Building in downtown Buffalo. State parole offices were located on the fourth floor.
The specific conditions of Kleasen’s parole were that he be in his approved residence from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., that he not leave the county without prior permission or enter Canada which had expelled him years earlier, and that he make weekly office reports to his parole supervisor. He also had to comply with all the mental health treatment requests of parole officials including medication.
At the Donovan Building no one had planned for the army of television trucks and reporters that laid siege the instant they figured out Kleasen’s whereabouts. The parole office was paralyzed while they tried to figure out how to sneak him out of the building. Albany was called but had nothing to offer. Through the day Kleasen rambled incoherently about how the most important thing was for him to visit his late mother’s Buffalo area grave as Mother’s Day approached.
Kleasen was smuggled out of the office building in the afternoon. They first took him to a Seneca Street rooming house, but there the owner withdrew his offer of shelter when he figured out who Kleasen was. Kleasen would later recall that when they arrived in Dunkirk a Channel 7 television truck was already camped out waiting for them, so the party did a 180-degree turn and headed back into Buffalo’s center city.
Finally he was deposited in the rundown Main Street Towne House Hotel. State officials came to the hotel office and told the clerk [p.224] they wished to register a “guest,” not an uncommon procedure because of the nearby state hospitals.
Several plainclothes officers were stationed at the hotel, both to keep an eye on Kleasen and to protect him. The officers shadowed his every move. “Whenever he went anywhere, we followed him and kept him out of hardware stores,” police commissioner Ralph Degenhart joked.
That night reporters caught one exhausted parole official on his way home, regional director Peter K. Blaauboer. He refused to say where Kleasen was. “I’m not saying anything further,” he snapped. “I’m exhausted after two days of this, and I’m going home.”
Later that evening more television reporters showed up outside the Towne House Hotel. They told employees a “walking time bomb” was inside. For a while hotel workers thought this was a decoy operation and that the infamous parolee was really elsewhere. The next morning at 6:00 a hotel clerk dialed Kleasen’s room. A groggy man answered, obviously dragging himself out of a deep sleep.
The siege was on and continued through Saturday. Kleasen ventured out of the hotel at 8:30 in the morning, walking to a post office to mail a letter and then to a convenience store looking for breakfast. He was followed all the way by a herd of plainclothes police and newspeople who later reported what he bought as well as the store clerk’s reaction to being in his presence. “I wasn’t scared, I made myself ready for him,” clerk Mana N. Alasri told a Buffalo News reporter. Kleasen also claimed that a Channel 7 television crew shadowed him as well.
One night of this circus was enough for the hotel. They told parole officers to get Kleasen out. An indignant clerk at the hotel told a reporter, “As a citizen and someone from Buffalo, I would not want a man who killed other people here. For the safety of our guests, the management asked him to leave.” One roomer had jokingly asked if guests would be issued chain saws while they stayed, a reference to the erroneous link between Kleasen and the movie The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Hotel managers did admit that Kleasen had not actually been a problem.
[p.225] Kleasen was in his room getting ready to take a bath when parole officers, among them Richard Low, and police told him to get dressed because they had to check out. Kleasen was told he was going to a hospital. Parole officers were trying to buy time to secure a placement while hoping the public outcry would diminish. “We got to check you out,” Kleasen was told. “But I have already been checked out,” he protested. Low then told him he was under arrest and handcuffed him. It seemed to Kleasen forty armed law enforcement officers looked on through the motel room door.
An unhappy Kleasen was taken in a car to the Meyer Hospital where he was briefly examined by three psychiatrists. The parolee was not impressed. “They got three shrinks there and they talked to me for about three or four minutes and then they signed some papers. The next thing I know, they put me on a gurney, strapped me down, and put me in an ambulance,” he later said. He was taken to the Erie County Medical Center’s emergency psychiatric unit at 400 Forest Avenue.
Parole officers had used Kleasen’s past psychiatric history and what they described as his incoherent ramblings to persuade the necessary two physicians to involuntarily admit him for evaluation. A psychiatric center official at first told the press, “Based on what we’re seeing, we have determined he needs treatment.”
In order to hold Kleasen for an extended period, the evaluation would have to find that he was mentally ill and that as a result of his illness he would be a danger to himself or others. It is not enough to be just emotionally disturbed.
At first hospital spokesmen said Kleasen would remain with them at least two weeks; parole officials breathed a sigh of relief. “There is no decision we can make on this case until we know about his stability and whether he is on the appropriate medication,” Elwin told the press after an Albany staff meeting on the snowballing controversy. “This we will only find out after they have done a workup at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center.”
Elwin stood by the decision to hospitalize Kleasen. “While he did not do anything unusual, he was being followed around town by the press and TV, and we felt that with the added pressure it would be wise [p.226] to have him looked at,” Elwin said. “It’s just a general concern. There was no acting out on his part.” Kleasen, he acknowledged, had not been very happy about it. “He didn’t make any objection. But it was not a completely voluntary thing.”
“We don’t know what the doctors will do,” said Donald Gawronski, a regional parole board administrator. “It’s in their court now.”
Local law enforcement were only mildly placated by the involuntary hospitalization. “Do you want him living next to you?” asked Erie County sheriff Thomas F. Higgins. “That’s what it boils down to. I’m supposed to say he’s rehabilitated, it’s all right for him to live here. But if I don’t want him as my neighbor, what right do I have to foist him upon you?” Police commissioner Ralph V. Degenhart was likewise unpersuaded by the hospitalization. “We want nothing to do with him here,” he said, adding that he hoped the parole board would “put him on an island some place.”
Among the precautions undertaken was assigning police to guard the home of a retired officer, Sergeant John C. Rapp. Seventy-two and retired from the force since 1967, Rapp had served on the homicide squad and was a polygraph operator. He had known the parolee for nearly fifty years, beginning when Kleasen was a small boy growing up on Victoria Avenue. He moved about seven houses down from the Kleasens in 1940. Rapp had arrested or participated in arrests of Kleasen at least three times. In one of those encounters in 1958 or 1959, Kleasen had reportedly threatened to kill him and his family. The retiree recalled Kleasen to reporters as “a genius no matter what he does.” Rapp was on vacation in Texas when Kleasen was paroled, but police protection was assigned to his home even while Kleasen was hospitalized.
There were other rumors that Kleasen had threatened various court officers in Wayne County. A parole board advisory went to the sheriff there, spreading the paranoia.
About the only good news for Kleasen at this point was a Sunday morning newspaper article stating that he had not been the inspiration for the cult movie classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. At least two Buffalo television stations had presented this as fact and accompanied [p.227] their news coverage of his release with clips of the leatherfaced protagonist from the movie revving a chain saw.
Once Kleasen became the subject of involuntary hospitalization proceedings, he had a right to counsel to defend against them. If he was indigent, as Kleasen was, the court would appoint a lawyer for him. David Jay, a tenacious and well-known Buffalo civil rights lawyer, was assigned the case. He quickly proved to be a vocal champion for his client.
Jay immediately went on the offensive. He told a clamoring press that Kleasen was a “public relations hostage” who was committed to the psychiatric center because state officials wanted him off the streets. Public officials were “stirring up hatred” to prevent anyone from being released from prison, Jay said. “If people don’t like these parole laws, they should change them,” he challenged.
But Jay went on to express confidence in the system. “I believe that the legislators and the people who implement parole have their heads on straight and can withstand populist uproars and demagoguery from whatever quarter.” More important, Jay challenged his client’s involuntary hospitalization and a court hearing was scheduled.
Then suddenly the hospital released Kleasen. “After an extensive evaluation by staff physicians at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, it was determined Mr. Kleasen no longer met the standards for involuntary retention,” a Buffalo Psychiatric Center spokeswoman said, adding that the parolee was no longer dangerous to himself or the community. Jay was convinced the release had more to do with the scheduled hearing than any change in Kleasen’s condition.
With Kleasen’s discharge, parole officials had few options left. By Thursday, May 12, Kleasen was placed in the downtown City Mission which provided shelter and food for over 200 transients. The City Mission was run by Rev. Bob Timberlake, who was deeply committed to serving the unwanted and volunteered to take this man who had few friends. Parole officials now acknowledge that the City Mission “really did us a favor.”
Bob Kleasen, the crazed band saw murderer as portrayed by the media, was a long way from the pathetic, worn-out man now living in [p.228] the City Mission. During his prison years, Kleasen had ballooned to over 300 pounds. His steady diet of prescribed anti-depressants had had the unfortunate side effect of contributing to his weight gain. This didn’t mean he couldn’t still be dangerous, but he certainly didn’t look the part.
Kleasen had refused to talk to the press during the chaos that preceded his coming to the City Mission, but his first day there he was trapped in another siege. He decided to let himself be interviewed for a couple of hours in a conference room. He would talk to the media one at a time, no tape recorders or cameras allowed. Jay had not yet arrived to talk him out of it.
Kleasen told reporters he hoped his answering questions would get them to leave him alone, which indicates just how out of touch he was. “I just want to end this monster business,” he said with real feeling.
Reporters described him as looking much older than fifty-five with gray hair growing out in a brush cut. He walked with a cane and talked of his heart attack at Attica during which he fell backwards over a steel staircase. He wore dark blue pants, a white t-shirt, and a dark green jacket for the interviews. He described the media feeding frenzy as “a very traumatic experience,” adding, “I’m free now. I don’t want you chasing me all over the place. I just do not want people chasing me about.” Asked if the hysteria over him was justified, Kleasen said, “People who know me need no explanation, and the ones who are my enemies—no explanation is possible.”
But the delusions were still there. He told reporters he had a master’s degree from SUNY-Buffalo and a Ph.D. from the University of Copenhagen. “I would like to have a low profile job,” he went on to tell the Buffalo News. “If there is anybody out there who would like to offer me a job …” Kleasen wanted to leave Buffalo. “If a job was offered to me and agreeable to the Parole Commission, I would leave immediately,” he said. He claimed to be a teacher by trade. “I want to live a productive life,” he said. He emphasized that he would serve out his two years of parole “to the letter.”
Again he was asked about the murdered missionaries and again he dismissed the matter. The evidence was circumstantial and no bodies [p.229] or witnesses were ever found, he said. “How can you say people are dead? I don’t know anything about it.” Kleasen did add that he felt sorry for the missionaries and their families.
“Texas is not a benevolent state,” he continued. “I was a Yankee in Texas. If there was any validity to the charges, I would have died on death row.” Perhaps he was thinking of his death row friend Ronald O’Bryan who was executed in 1984. Nor did he claim to be a Mormon. He told reporters he had been a Quaker for twenty years, having joined the Society of Friends in Denmark.
Sheriff Higgins, hoping to get a “feel for the situation,” also paid Kleasen a visit that day with two deputies in tow. “Really looking at him, I personally couldn’t have any problem with him myself,” he told reporters. Higgins described the real Kleasen as a “middle-aged fat man with a big belly.” “I don’t think he could run very fast. I don’t think he could do many things physically that a normal person could do. I don’t know if his physical capabilities would allow him to do many things,” the sheriff explained. “Am I personally in fear of him? No. I can’t tell other people not to be. I wouldn’t worry about him myself,” the sheriff said. He later opined “I don’t think he will do anything to jeopardize his parole. He is not stupid.”
Jay finally arrived and ended all the interviews.
Kleasen was not immediately popular with Mission residents. Reporters fanned out to interview anyone who would talk and found plenty who resented Kleasen’s being there. “It does kind of bother me,” one said. “I’m all for kicking him out of Erie County.” But others were sympathetic. “He served his time,” one told the Buffalo News. “I know how the man feels. They should leave him alone.” One Mission administrator, Rev. Jerry Spaeth, said, “When they come to the City Mission and they behave themselves, we allow them to stay. It’s quite a hard thing for a fellow to go through.” Bob Kleasen had found a home.
Kleasen had the misfortune of being paroled during television sweeps weeks when Buffalo stations were prepared to do just about anything for ratings. Kleasen was followed everywhere by reporters of every stripe. His every move, no matter how inconsequential, was reported at 6:00 and 11:00 each evening.
[p.230] In an especially inflammatory twist, two local stations accompanied their coverage with film clips The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Stern-faced anchors claimed Kleasen was the inspiration for the film. In fact, the movie had no connection to Kleasen and Buffalo television news departments had made no attempt to document a link. A Buffalo News television critic, while not defending Kleasen, castigated the coverage in a Sunday commentary a week into the episode, calling it “an absolute disgrace.” The critic, Jeff Simon, said, “Watching the Kleasen story on TV news was like having someone throw lit cherry bombs in your lap every night.” Simon also pointed out the Texas Chain Saw Massacre error.
While Kleasen was hospitalized, reporters had tracked down the Fischers in Milwaukee. Cathy Fischer told the Austin American-Statesman she was opposed to the death penalty but wished Kleasen were serving a life sentence. “It’s too late for us, but he’s going to do this again and some other family will have to go through what we went through,” she told the reporter. “Somebody’s got to be aware of what he’s capable of doing. I know he’s going to be under supervision, but no one can watch him all the time. He ran off once from New York. What’s going to stop him from doing it again?”
The following week the Buffalo News called Cathy who expressed the same concerns. “My fear is that he’s going to get out and do this again.” She told the reporter of her ordeal sitting through the 1975 trial until she fled in tears, unable to listen to any further testimony. Her pain remained. “He never paid the price. It’s like my son had no rights. Mark paid the price, we’re still paying the price.” But she made it clear she did not want revenge. “I really am against the death penalty, I didn’t want that to happen to him,” she said. “But I also don’t think he should be let out on the streets either. There has to be something else that can be done.” Cathy, who worked at a midwestern hospital at the time, doubted that Kleasen’s mental illness ever would be safely contained. “Schizophrenia is not a disease you treat with a 10-day supply of antibiotics and it’s over with,” she told the Buffalo News. “I just can’t see that man out on your streets again.”
By now Kleasen had become a political issue and public office [p.231] holders of Erie County scrambled on board the media band wagons. It probably didn’t help that New York governor Mario Cuomo vetoed a bill to restore the death penalty that week. It was his sixth veto of such a bill. His predecessor Hugh Carey had also vetoed death penalty bills six times.
Erie County executive Dennis Gorski publicly demanded an explanation from state officials as to why Kleasen was dumped on his county instead of another. Gorski was incensed that Rochester had succeeded in driving Kleasen out of Monroe County and into Buffalo. He demanded to know “why the citizens of Monroe County are entitled to any greater protection in their homes than are the citizens of Erie County.” He decried Erie County being used as “a testing grounds for Kleasen’s mental health.”
Buffalo mayor James Griffin addressed another public letter to the parole board protesting Kleasen’s release to his community. In what seemed more like a press release, he wrote that Kleasen had “been diagnosed as having an anti-social personality disorder, along with schizoid personality disorder, and is on medication. … Mr. Kleasen did not respond to treatment in jail and should be considered extremely dangerous. It is felt that because of his fascination with guns that he will attempt to obtain some type of weapon, and he is considered a master marksman and explosives expert. We do not want this person in our city.”
New York State assemblyman William Hoyt, a Buffalo Democrat, told reporters, “It’s as if the criminal justice system has gone amok. I’m going to do everything I can to see this decision reversed.”
Buffalo politicians decided to sue the state in an effort to rescind Kleasen’s parole to the community. The suit had more to do with politics and providing a release for public anxiety than with winning. “Politicians do political things,” Jay said when told of the suit. “All it’s doing is stirring up hatred and a feeling in the population that maybe parole is bad and that all people should stay in jail.” After telling reporters that Kleasen had served his time and state law required his supervised release, Jay further pointed out that his client was from Buffalo. He was not arbitrarily dropped in the community. If people [p.232] don’t like those laws, legislators should change them, Jay said.
After Erie County filed suit, Jay went on the offensive with a suit of his own. He filed against county executive Dennis Gorski and Sheriff Higgins for, in Jay’s words, orchestrating a campaign of “hate and disinformation which has made a mockery” of Kleasen’s legal rights. They sought $500,000 in damages. The efforts of local politicos to force Kleasen out of Buffalo had gone “beyond the bounds of common decency” and were aimed at “whipping up public opinion,” Jay told reporters. Kleasen had paid his debt to society and was entitled to a presumption of no new wrong doing since his release, Jay said.
Parole board documents on Kleasen had been leaked so regularly to the press that few things had not been exposed during the public debate. Jay challenged this practice as well. For his part, while going into court Kleasen told reporters, “I just want to live in peace. I have every faith in the court and every faith in my lawyer.”
New York Supreme Court judge Vincent E. Doyle, Jr., was assigned the cases. (The Supreme Court is a local trial court in the New York system.) Doyle promised to rule quickly on Kleasen, whom he called “a man without a city.” Doyle observed, “I share their apprehension” about Kleasen, but said he was from Buffalo and “has more ties to this area than anywhere else.”
On Wednesday, May 19, 1988, Doyle threw out the Buffalo suits and ruled that Kleasen could stay. He noted that under New York law Kleasen was “entitled to release from the state correctional facility.” In denying the injunction sought by the county executive and sheriff, Doyle wrote: “Mr. Kleasen’s danger to the community is not at issue, nor is the right of a community to bar certain individuals from its area at issue. Likewise, past crimes attributed to Mr. Kleasen by the media, but for which he stands innocent in the eyes of the law, are not at issue. What is at issue is the legal capacity of the plaintiffs here to challenge the discretionary action of the New York State Parole Board. The wisdom of the Parole Board’s actions is not for this court to review and where public outcry is made against the agency’s policies, representatives of the legislative branch should be pressed to enact appropriate legislation. While this court sympathizes with the [p.233] public concern and the motivation of petitioners to protect the citizens of Erie County from possible harm, nevertheless this court must follow the law, even where controversial issues are raised.” Doyle also dismissed Kleasen’s $500,000 countersuit.
Jay explained to reporters that Doyle’s decision meant Kleasen was “entitled to be here as long as he wishes. He’s basically free to do anything he wants.” He also said he was recommending that his client refile his civil rights suit in federal court.
With Doyle’s decision things began to settle down. Law enforcement made a show of intense surveillance of Kleasen for a while but soon wearied of it. For his part, Kleasen never acted like the demon he was supposed to be. “I’m perfectly happy with the decision the judge made because it’s the law,” said retired police sergeant Rapp whose home had been guarded for a time. “He has a right to live the way he should live. Let him live in peace, but let everybody else live in peace as well.”