Fail Safe

She thought she lived in a secure place. What she didn't know was that her landlord, desperate for tenants, would invite terror inside.

"It's legally irrelevant," interjected Gerard Noce, the attorney representing Plaza Square Partners. "And whether or not he thinks it's irrelevant or not is actually irrelevant itself." He turned to O'Quist: "But you can answer."

"I have no answer," said O'Quist.

A mugshot of Walter David Kemp, the ex-con who 
attacked a Plaza Square neighbor
A mugshot of Walter David Kemp, the ex-con who attacked a Plaza Square neighbor
The Plaza Square Apartments, where security 
measures were compromised by a desperate need for 
Jennifer Silverberg
The Plaza Square Apartments, where security measures were compromised by a desperate need for tenants.

Karen kept hoping Plaza Square would settle out of court so she could avoid dredging everything up again. She says that to this day, her grandfather doesn't know the details. A warm, deeply loving man, he's always been eager to talk about her life. But he still can't bring himself to ask how she was hurt.

"I think he always felt especially protective because I didn't have a dad," she says. "Having this happen -- it really tore him up."

On August 9 of this year, Plaza Square did settle, agreeing to pay Karen $500,000. She rejected any condition of confidentiality, determined that the rental company's actions should be made public.

"She does not contend that ex-convicts should not be afforded housing," her attorneys explained. "She simply believes that an apartment complex that promises or markets itself as safe and secure cannot breach that promise in exchange for sheer profit."

For Noce, the attorney hired by Plaza Square's insurance company, the settlement still rankles.

"Does everybody who doesn't have a job commit violent crime?" he asks. "This is a big city. I don't know of any landlords who do criminal-background checks. I think the general manager felt she could make exceptions. You know, [Karen] lived next to this guy for more than a year and never had a problem."

His tone turns formal:

"Plaza Square was very sorry it happened to her, we wish her the best and hope she's able to do well in the future." An edge -- sarcasm, defeat -- cuts into his voice: "She's doing pretty well right now."

So far, Karen's only plan for the settlement money is to pay off her student loans. That would free her to fulfill the dream she'd nurtured since seventh grade: applying to the FBI Academy.

Except that she no longer wants to become an agent.

"I'm not dumb," she says crisply. "I know I didn't walk away from this unscathed. What if I get into the FBI and something happens?"

She's afraid of how she'd react.

Thus far, she's chosen not to undergo therapy. She's convinced that reliving everything out loud, over and over again, would make it worse, give the terror more power over her.

"I never used to be scared walking through a parking lot or down the street alone," she says. "I lived downtown -- none of my friends would. I was careful, but I wasn't scared.

"Now I am.

"And I always will be."

She moved to another city, a place where nobody knows what happened and nobody looks at her with sympathy.

She isn't dating anyone seriously.

And she hasn't been able to forget.

"It's so much more than a sexual offense," she says. "That first minute was probably the hardest in the eleven hours. I honestly thought he was going to kill me. Everything I'd believed for 23 years -- he not only took my sense of the world but also my sense of trust in people. To have that feeling inside -- " she shudders. "He should never be forgiven for that."

Kemp resides at the Northeast Correctional Center in Bowling Green, eligible for parole in 2015. He says he only pleaded guilty because his lawyer urged him to; besides, he says, his father had died, and he'd been having trouble at work ...

He seems content.

"The joint doesn't bother me too much," he says. "I'm pretty well known after 25 years in here."

He is, however, irritated to hear of the lawsuit settlement.

"She came out pretty good," he snorts. "You tell her she owes me."

"Karen" is a pseudonym. Her account is based on her depositions and interviews and the police report.

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