CONWAY, SOUTH CAROLINA — Chris Smith is outraged that Kerry Dane Marlowe still lives next door.
Marlowe has been convicted of criminal solicitation of a minor and is a registered sex offender because of an encounter between Marlowe and Smith’s 10-year-old daughter last fall across the chain link fence that separates their yards.
Accounts differ about what happened then and about what transpired between that day and the date of Marlowe’s sentencing hearing in mid-June.
But to the girl’s father, none of that matters.
“When it’s all stripped away,” Smith said, “I still have a convicted, registered sex offender living next door.”
Marlowe couldn’t be contacted for comment Monday afternoon, but his mother, Sally Osborne, said she doesn’t believe her son did anything to Smith’s daughter.
“If he did,” she said in her yard across the street from her son and the Smiths, “he was drunk.”
She said her son was depressed from a motorcycle accident some years ago and had been drinking a lot. She believes that Smith’s current wife, Laura Smith, fabricated the encounter between Marlowe and Smith’s daughter because she wants possession of the land where Marlowe lives.
“It’s just a feeling I’ve got,” she said. “It’s the way she acts.”
According to Chris Smith, his daughter was playing with Marlowe’s cat one day in the shade of an evergreen near the fence that separates the two yards. Smith said his daughter told him that Marlowe, who was standing on his side of the fence, started what would have been a criminal conversation by asking the 10-year-old her bra size. He then said he wanted to rub lotion on her, exposed himself to her and leaned over the fence to kiss her, Smith said.
The Sun News does not use the name of victims in sex-related charges. Smith gave approval to use his name.
According to Candice Lively, senior assistant 5th District solicitor who prosecuted the case, Marlowe did not try to grope the girl, but admitted he was drink and that he asked her if she would sleep with him.
According to Osborne, her son was drunk and didn’t remember anything.
After calming his daughter down and hearing what she said about the encounter, Smith said he called the Horry County Police, who arrested Marlowe within days on a charge of committing a lewd act on a minor.
At his probation hearing, Marlowe was ordered to wear an ankle bracelet so police could track his movement, and not to go within a mile of the neighborhood, Smith said.
Lively said that between that time and the mid-June sentencing hearing, she mailed two case information packets to Smith and made two telephone calls, but got no response. Smith said he never heard from the prosecutor.
Lively admits the two packets were sent to the wrong address — his mother’s house, in fact — and were never returned. She’s sure, though, that the two phone calls went to Smith’s phone, as she made a log entry for the one in January and he returned the one the day of the hearing.
She said that because of Horry County’s transient population, many times sexual predation is reported on children of people who have moved by the time the case gets to court.
“The family could have moved for all I knew,” Lively said of not reaching the victim’s family.
Smith said he doesn’t know what happened, but he never got the message Lively said she left on his phone in January. When he heard the June message on the afternoon of the sentencing hearing, he said he immediately tried to return the call, but was unsuccessful.
That was on a Friday, and the two finally sat down for a conversation the following Tuesday.
After that meeting, Lively said she believed Smith had a constitutional right to be heard, and asked for the case to be reopened. Marlowe pleaded guilty to criminal solicitation of a minor and was sentenced to four years’ probation and to stay at least 30 feet from Smith’s daughter. He moved back into his house next door to Smith’s the day after the sentencing hearing.
The judge couldn’t be convinced to change his original sentence, but Lively said she’s pretty sure that Marlowe is fearful of violating his probation. If he does, he goes immediately to prison, and she believes that Smith wouldn’t hesitate to notify authorities if an infraction occurred.
“Her daddy makes me have no concerns about her safety,” Lively said of Smith’s daughter.
Lively said the court couldn’t force Marlowe to sell his house, nor could it ban him from Horry County. But Chris Smith wonders why Marlowe wasn’t allowed within a mile of his daughter in his pre-sentencing probation and now can live next door.
Lively said that what Marlowe did was creepy, but she doesn’t believe he is a sex offender. He has none of the characteristics that fit the profile of a sex offender, she said.
Chris and Laura Smith said it would be rare for one or the other of them not to be home when his daughter is there, but should it happen, her 17-year-old brother is there and knows she is not to go outside.
When she does, the Smiths said one of them is with her.
Osborne said the Smiths’ children are outside now more than they have been in the past.
The Smiths laughed when they were told Osborne said the whole mess was cooked up by Laura Smith.
Chris Smith said he had to sleep with a gun outside his daughter’s bedroom for several days after the incident because she was so fearful, but added that she’s doing well now.
He’s trying to contact an Horry County legislator to get state law changed so that a convicted, registered sex offender cannot live within a mile of his victim, but as yet has not been able to get a meeting.
He’d sell his home and move, he said, but he doesn’t think anyone would buy it after discovering what’s next door.
Smith has lived in his house 10 years and said Marlowe has been his next door neighbor for six of them. The two were friendly, in a neighbor kind of way.
“We were on good terms,” he said. “We would help each other out.”
He said he did not notice that Marlowe seemed depressed and never smelled alcohol on his breath.
Osborne agreed that her son and Smith had been cordial with each other. She said her son watched Smith’s daughter grow up and she has no fear that there would ever be a reoccurrence of the circumstances that led to her son’s conviction, if they actually happened at all.
“Everything was going just fine,” she said. “I was just shocked. He would never bother them.”