Prolific child molester should have been stopped, officials say

A child molester was allowed to roam free and victimize a series of children even after authorities were aware of allegations against him, according to a deputy prosecutor’s exhaustive memorandum that details 22 years of abuse.

Oak Harbor resident Douglas Duenwald was finally sent to prison last Friday. He pleaded guilty to child molestation in the first degree and unlawful possession of a firearm earlier this year.

UNDER A plea bargain, the prosecutor and defense attorney recommended that Duenwald receive an indeterminate sentence of six years and three months to life in prison, which was the top of the standard sentencing range; Judge Vickie Churchill agreed and imposed the sentence.

The indeterminate sentence means that Duenwald has to serve the minimum of six years and three months and then a sentencing review board will decide if he should be released.

“I think the court system failed these children miserably,” Churchill said, adding that officials “should have stopped it at the very beginning.”

IN COURT, Deputy Prosecutor Michael Safstrom spoke about the lasting pain the abuse caused.

“She’s not getting over it,” he said about one of the victims. “She’s suffering and will continue to suffer.”

In a sentencing memorandum, Safstrom painstakingly detailed Duenwald’s history of sexually abusing and exploiting children, going back to Whidbey in 1995.

That year, police responded to a report that Duenwald was with underage girls at a Whidbey beach and was taking photos of one of them in “questionable positions,” the report states.

THE FIVE girls were headed with Duenwald to his van when the police intervened.

Duenwald told a detective that he had “uncontrollable urges to sexually exploit pre-pubescent females,” the report states.

He admitted that he intended to molest at least one of the children.

In search of his house, investigators found a duffel bag containing rope, women’s undergarments, pornography and a mask with no eye holes. A detective referred to it as a “rape kit.”

Detectives developed Duenwald’s film and found close-up photos of a girl’s genital area and photographs of two other children who he had been “grooming” to be sexually assaulted, Safstrom wrote in the sentencing memorandum.

A FORMER Island County prosecutor charged Duenwald in Island County Superior Court in 1996 with communicating with a minor for immoral purposes. Duenwald received a deferred prosecution, meaning the charge was dismissed after he completed the terms of the deal.

Duenwald was assessed by a clinical psychologist at the time who concluded that Duenwald’s “history is one of the most perverse this Evaluator has encountered in 15 years of working nearly full-time with this population.”

The psychologist wrote that Duenwald’s contact with children should be “severely restricted and closely watched,” but this didn’t happen because of the deferred prosecution.

The charge against him was dismissed even after the FBI opened an investigation into Duenwald sexually abusing children.

Duenwald was ordered to get treatment for sexual deviancy, but continued abusing children after he and his wife moved to an Army medical center complex in Hawaii, Safstrom wrote.

DUENWALD’S TREATMENT provider told the prosecutor’s office about Duenwald’s good behavior, but later admitted that he didn’t provide sex offender treatment and terminated treatment because Duenwald was non-compliant.

Duenwald allegedly admitted to Army officials during intake at the Army medical center in Hawaii that he was sexually attracted to children, the memorandum states.

Nevertheless, he and his wife babysat a series of children for other service members.

During a two-year period, Duenwald “sexually molested as many as six children ranging from two to six years old in an Army Medical Center housing complex,” court documents state.

AMONG DUENWALD’Svictim’s was an 18-month old girl, Safstrom said in court. A subsequent investigation found that Duenwald had more than 500 rolls of film and video, including images of the toddler; the girl’s mother said the Army command ordered her not to discuss the matter, Safstrom wrote.

The memorandum describes in detail how Duenwald raped and molested another girl when she was 5 and 6 years old. Duenwald first photographed her in sexual positions, exposed her to pornography, molested her and eventually started raping her, the memorandum states.

He told her not to tell her parents or he would come to her house and “steal her.”

In 1997, the girl told her mother about the abuse.

The FBI and Army Criminal Investigative Command investigated Duenwald while the Hawaii Department of Human Services looked into his alleged abuse of his children. Duenwald admitted to investigators that he was a pedophile; the FBI found evidence that corroborated the children’s allegation, the memorandum states.

NEVERTHELESS, charges were never filed against Duenwald in federal or military court. Instead, the case was kicked down to the Honolulu Police Department in 1997.

It wasn’t until 2001 that the Honolulu prosecuting attorney charged Duenwald with first-degree sexual assault and attempted first-degree sexual assault.

Duenwald had moved back to Whidbey Island by then; an arrest warrant wasn’t served until 2003.

Under a plea bargain, Duenwald pleaded guilty to attempted assault in the second degree, a non-sex offense.

DETECTIVES STARTED investigating the most recent case last year after a woman reported that her 4-year-old daughter inadvertently disclosed that Duenwald molested her.

Duenwald was a family friend and the husband of the family’s babysitter.

Safstrom explained that Duenwald’s past crimes cannot be considered in determining his sentence, but he said it was “a story that needed to be told.”

Churchill addressed the mother of a victim before leaving court Friday.

“This child is a hero for telling and for surviving,” she said.

More in News

Man, 24, accused of attempted rape after release from jail

A 24-year-old man is accused of choking and trying to rape a… Continue reading

Protest over AG’s firing held in Oak Harbor Thursday

As thousands across the country took to the streets in protest Thursday… Continue reading

Drive-through window? SUV plows through store wall

Two people were transported to the hospital Nov. 2 after a car… Continue reading

Remembrance ceremony Sunday in Coupeville

Continuing the town’s long-standing tradition of commemorating Veterans Day, Coupeville will once… Continue reading

Rumors of gunman in Oak Harbor unfounded

There was no shooting in Oak Harbor earlier this week, despite rumors… Continue reading

Trash bag contents start apartment fire

Unknown garbage caused a small fire at an Oak Harbor apartment Tuesday… Continue reading

Election results mixed in Whidbey races

There was no clear trend in local elections for the first count… Continue reading

Lawsuits alleging Island Transit driver negligent

Two people have filed lawsuits against Island Transit over an incident that… Continue reading

Oak Harbor council eyes 1 percent tax bump

On Wednesday, members of the Oak Harbor City Council will consider a… Continue reading

Most Read