BARTOW, Fla. - Admitting to a pattern of abuse that stretched over 14 years, a retired Boston Red Sox clubhouse manager was convicted yesterday of sexual misconduct with children - including a 4-year-old boy who is a distant cousin of former star pitcher Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd - while working for the team at its spring training headquarters here.
At a dramatic hearing in Polk County District Court, Donald J. Fitzpatrick, 72, told a judge that he was pleading guilty to four counts of attempted sexual battery from 1975 to 1989 "because I'm guilty."
Florida authorities had linked Fitzpatrick to at least 13 victims, but the statute of limitations had run out on all but four of those cases.
The judge then followed the terms of a plea agreement, giving Fitzpatrick a 10-year suspended sentence and ordering him to pay $10,000 restitution to the four victims.
But one of the victims and his mother angrily objected to the plea agreement reached by prosecutors and Fitzpatrick's defense lawyer. Oreatha Ogletree and her son, Leeronnie, demanded that Fitzpatrick be "put away for life" for the abuse.
And documents released yesterday in connection with a settlement the team reached with another of Fitzpatrick's reported victims indicate that at least one team supervisor had been warned about Fitzpatrick's behavior as early as 1971 - but fired the victim instead.
A longtime Boston Red Sox employee, Fitzpatrick surrendered to authorities on Wednesday after a two-month investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The inquiry was sparked by a $3.15 million civil suit filed against Fitzpatrick and the team last fall by seven reported victims - all former "clubhouse kids" whom Fitzpatrick hired as his helpers for spring training during the 1970s and 1980s.
The victims, now adults, allege Fitzpatrick watched them shower and lured them to secluded areas of Chain O' Lakes Park, the team's spring training complex. After bribing them with gifts of team paraphernalia and leftover Red Sox gear, the victims maintain, he fondled them, performed oral sex on them,and later persuaded them to keep quiet.
The evidence presented against Fitzpatrick in court yesterday included an affidavit detailing a phone call with one victim that was monitored by police.
"I couldn't help it," Fitzpatrick told the man, according to the affidavit. "You satisfied me," but "I hated myself for it," he is quoted as saying.
In an interview with investigators last September at his Randolph, Mass., home, Fitzpatrick confessed that he was "sick" when he abused the boys and knew "it was wrong, hated himself, and was ashamed," according to the affidavit.
Judge Judith Flanders asked why Fitzpatrick was taking the plea deal. "Because I'm guilty," he answered.
Polk County prosecutor Wayne M. Durden said Fitzpatrick's poor health and an expected extradition fight were the key reasons the state didn't seek prison time. Fitzpatrick was hospitalized last week for thyroid surgery and needs dialysis treatments three times a week.
In addition to the suspended sentence and the order of restitution, Flanders placed Fitzpatrick on 15 years' probation. As a result of his conviction, Fitzpatrick is now considered a "sexual offender," and must give the state a DNA sample; Massachusetts probation officials also ordered him to move out of his condominium in Randolph because children live in the complex.
Each of the four counts Fitzpatrick faced carried a maximum of 30 years in prison.
But Oreatha Ogletree demanded that Fitzpatrick serve hard time for what he's done. Prosecutors say Leeronnie Ogletree was molested by Fitzpatrick from age 10 to age 17 at several locations in Florida; as an adult, he has struggled with chronic substance abuse and psychiatric problems.
"This man should be put away," Oreatha Ogletree said. "He has destroyed the lives of too many black children. I want this man put away for life. I don't want him to hurt any other black boy." Fitzpatrick is white and the four victims are black; Ogletree and the seven men who are suing him are also black.
"We don't let folks walk out of this courtroom when they do these types of things to children," said Darryl Parker, Leeronnie Ogletree's lawyer. "Justice in the state of Florida should not be decided on the health condition of the defendant."
Joseph W. Monahan III, one of Fitzpatrick's lawyers, said that the plea deal "is fair and reasonable" and Fitzpatrick will be under court control for the rest of his life. Monahan added that the victims may get more satisfaction in civil court.
But the Red Sox's defense against that lawsuit could be affected by documents released after yesterday's hearing. According to the documents, one alleged victim, then 17, told an equipment manager in 1971 that Fitzpatrick had sexually abused him at Fenway Park but the team did nothing about it.
Though team officials have steadfastly denied any knowledge of Fitzpatrick's behavior, sources with knowledge of the matter have said the Red Sox paid a $100,000 settlement to the victim, who was from the Boston area and who sued the team in 1991. Few details have emerged about the case until yesterday.
Team officials could not be reached for comment yesterday, but in a statement on Wednesday they said the franchise condemns the abuse.
In 1991, Michael P. Friedman, the lawyer for the unidentified victim - a former bat boy from Revere - wrote a draft complaint asserting that his client told the equipment manager, Vince Orlando, in 1971 that Fitzpatrick "had been sexually molesting him for the past three baseball seasons."
Orlando, who is now deceased, admonished the teenager for trying to cause trouble for Fitzpatrick, and the youth was fired a week later without explanation, according to the draft complaint.
The reported victim, who has lived in San Diego since 1972, suffered years of "psychological and emotional problems" before he was able to sue Fitzpatrick and the Red Sox, according to the draft complaint. The men in Florida have told similar stories.
After yesterday's hearing, Eric Frazier Jr., who said Fitzpatrick abused him between the ages of 9 and 10, backed the plea agreement. "I want to get this behind me," he said.
In a brief courtroom exchange, Frazier forgave Fitzpatrick; Fitzpatrick, wan and unsteady, shook Frazier's hand and thanked him, and walked out a rear door.
But Jon Cole said he wanted answers. Cole said his young sons were molested in 1985 while Fitzpatrick looked after them while Cole visited his cousin, Oil Can Boyd. "The only question I'll probably never get an answer to is, why?" Cole said.