Meet David Owen, a convicted sex offender who freely roams the halls of the Kansas State Capitol.

The Lonely Guy 

Meet David Owen, a convicted sex offender who freely roams the halls of the Kansas State Capitol.

Standing on the lawn of the Kansas State Capitol, David Owen makes an odd declaration: He loves Phill Kline.

His adoration for the state attorney general is tempered, though. "He really puts the fear of God into me," Owen says.

That's because Owen is a registered sex offender. But he's a devotee despite Kline's crusade to hunt down sex offenders, lock 'em up and toss the key into the Kansas River.

"I love what he's doing," he tells the Pitch. "I really do."

In fact, Owen lives in the midst of a sex-offender madness gripping the 2006 legislative session.

During her January State of the State address, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius earned a standing ovation when she asked the Legislature to "double sentences for sex offenders who prey upon children" and to mandate electronic monitoring of repeat offenders. (Owen was there; he stood up and applauded, too.)

Legislators have suggested lifetime electronic monitoring, longer prison sentences, and safety zones around schools and day-care centers.

Some have talked about castration. "It doesn't work, because if they are a sociopath with sadistic tendencies, it doesn't matter whether they've got their cojones or not," Sen. Phil Journey, a Republican from Haysville, tells the Pitch. "They're still sick people that will abuse others. Didn't you see the movie Sin City?"

Journey wrote a bill that would have required sex offenders to put pink license plates on their cars, though he never intended to file it. "I wanted to make my colleagues think about what we were really going to do and to make sure that I had the best opportunity to make sure we came up with good policy and not postcards for campaigns," he says.

In February, Mark Lunsford of Florida encouraged lawmakers in Topeka to pass Jessica's Law. The proposed law (versions of which have passed in three states) tightens the leash on sex offenders with mandatory 25-year prison sentences and lifetime monitoring. It's named for Lunsford's 9-year-old daughter, who was murdered by a sex offender in February 2005. Lunsford was joined at the Capitol by Kline and Rep. Patricia Kilpatrick, a Republican from Overland Park who is the primary sponsor of the House bill on Jessica's Law.

Owen watched Lunsford testify before the House Judiciary Committee. Afterward, he slipped a note to Phill Kline to give to Lunsford.

"I felt bad for him," Owen says. "I was afraid if I talked to him directly, he would become very upset because I'm a sex offender."

Owen has heard all of the proposals coming out of the Legislature this session. He agrees with most of them.

"Ankle bracelets scare the hell out of me because that only works if the guy is honest," Owen says. "If the guy's not honest, he's going to do it anyway, and he's going to have a lot more reason to re-offend, because that ankle bracelet is just going to piss them off."

Owen started looking at pornography on the Internet because, he says, "that's something you do when you don't have a girlfriend." He'd been looking at pornography on and off since he graduated from high school in 1987. "But the bad stuff I didn't get into until '95, '96," Owen says. "If you really want to find something on the Internet, you'll find it."

In August 1998, an exterminator spraying Owen's apartment in Wichita found pornographic pictures of children under Owen's bed and called police. Owen confessed to downloading images at the Wichita State University library and taking them home. Among the photos that authorities found were a couple of photos of 10-year-olds engaged in sexual intercourse. He says he spent 60 days in jail and served the rest of his 31-month sentence at his parents' home in Cimarron, a small farming town in western Kansas. State officials added his name to the sex-offender registry in June 1999.

"When I first got busted for it, I wouldn't tell anybody," Owen says. "But I'm hoping that maybe being open about it can maybe encourage somebody not to get addicted to porn like I did. Thankfully, I never raped anybody.

"It could be worse," Owen adds. "It was explained to me that had I not got my hand slapped over that, I might be looking for it the real way, which is true, because I was looking at more and more explicit stuff as time went on."

To keep temptation at bay, Owen says he avoids the Internet. And he attends Alcoholics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous meetings to deal with his addiction. "There is no AA for people who are addicted to porn, which I am. So I go to the next closest thing, which is AA, because they're fighting addiction, and pornography is an addiction."

After he was arrested, Owen says, he ended up in a cell where he was the only white guy.

"This big black guy comes over to me, and I'm thinking I'm going to be his girlfriend," Owen says. "I was paranoid and scared, and so I probably treated him pretty bad. He said, 'Hey, dude, what's wrong?' I said, 'I'm in jail, and I don't know what to do about it.' Guess what that guy has me do?"

The prisoner told him to call home.

"That was the best phone call I've made in my life," Owen says. "If it wasn't for that black inmate, I'd been in a lot worse shape."

He credits his father, Darrell Owen, with helping him break his addiction. "He kicked me in my ass — well, not really," Owen says. "It was tough love, but it was needed."

The call inspired him to start a program to reunite homeless people with their families. So, in 2002, he put his name on another registry — not the list of sex offenders but the list of lobbyists on file at the Kansas Secretary of State's office.

Now he spends his days trying to chat up legislators and wandering around while grade school students tour the Capitol.

It's a Wednesday morning in early February, and Owen is hanging out in the Capitol rotunda. In his messenger bag, he keeps studies on homelessness and a well-worn Bible. Inside the maroon holy book is a clipping from his hometown newspaper, the Cimarron Jacksonian, about his lobbying efforts.

Owen has half an hour to kill before he will read a statement to the Senate Tax Committee, urging its members to push the Salvation Army to reunite homeless people with their families. He pulls a photo album out of his bag and flips through pages showing homeless people he has photographed throughout the years.

"What really bugs me about this picture," he says, pointing to a man in a homeless camp surrounded by discarded furniture, "he's got better furniture than I've got. No, no, I'm joking. He's got his own place now."

He points to a graffiti-covered stairwell in one picture. "I'll be so glad when they blow that damn thing up," he says of plans to rebuild the Topeka Boulevard Bridge. "This is a hotel for the homeless. I've had some pretty good meals under this thing. The homeless feed me well sometimes."

Behind him is a group of lobbyists. They whisper, point and giggle. It's clear that Owen is an outcast. He always has been. In high school, the kids picked on him. "Those Ex-Lax cookies tasted real good, though," Owen deadpans. "Terrible going out."

He's 37 now, and his hair is graying. Owen looks presentable in a suit and slightly off-center tie, but his Coke-bottle glasses sit askew on his oversized nose. Skin flakes off his clean-shaven face. Owen walks with a shuffle. He has cerebral palsy, which he says affects his hands and prevents him from driving.

A maroon name tag pinned to his suit coat reads "David Patrick Owen, Homeless Come Home Family Re-Unification."

Owen is obsessed with reuniting homeless people with their families. His method is simple: Ask every homeless person, "Where's your family?" and hand the person his cell phone to call home.

"Nobody ever asks that stupid question, and it drives me crazy because they all say, 'David, that's a brilliant idea. You must be a genius,'" Owen says. "Anybody who knows me knows that I'm an idiot. I am. I am an idiot."

He claims to have been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. "I live and I breathe homeless," he says. "I've got to drug myself at night because I know there's guys who are going to be sleeping on rocks, and I've got this nice, warm bed to sleep on. It's hard to turn myself off at night. And when I don't sleep at night, that's when I get sick. So the pharmacist said that I could take some antihistamine, you know, cold medicine, and those are a lot better than sleeping pills."

Owen receives a monthly Social Security check and lives in an apartment building a couple of blocks from the Capitol. He's a lobbyist with no budget, no influence and few — if any — supporters. This session, he's not working on any bills. Actually, he hasn't worked on much legislation since the Senate passed his nonbinding resolution 1808 during the 2004 session, asking the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services to consider the effectiveness of reuniting homeless people with their families.

The resolution hangs on a wall in Owen's apartment as a reminder of a single victory. Owen realizes that the nonbinding resolution carries little weight.

"It's basically toilet paper, because nobody ever read it," Owen says. "I mean, it took me two years to even get the damn thing passed, and when it did, I had to wait around for another year for the [Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services] to look at it to do a study on it and that was last year, and they maybe spent 15 hours studying it, making some polite comments about it, but nothing has changed. I feel like basically I wasted three years of my life in that damn statehouse."

Over the past three years, stories of Owen's antics within the Capitol have grown legendary.

Some legislative secretaries reportedly printed out his mug shot from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation Web site and posted it on bulletin boards in their offices.

Owen has disrupted committee meetings by talking to himself and thinking out loud. Last July, when Rep. Judy Showalter, a Democrat from Winfield, was battling abdominal cancer and had returned to the Legislature for a last hurrah, Owen stood in the gallery and shouted at her, "Speak up!" Showalter died weeks later.

Owen also has had run-ins with one lawmaker in particular, conservative Rep. Eric Carter.

"He is super conservative, and I love him to death, but he hates me because I am a sex offender," Owen tells the Pitch. "And that's his thing in the Legislature. His claim to fame is, he wants to get all this legislation passed to crack down on all the sex offenders.... I'm kind of his poster boy."

Carter, a candidate for state insurance commissioner, did not respond to the Pitch's requests for an interview.

Incident reports filed with the Kansas Highway Patrol show that Owen has clashed several times with Capitol security. Staff members of former Gov. Bill Graves complained that Owen was a nuisance. Owen later boasted to security officers, according to a Capitol report, that he "could come and go with out [sic] security knowing about it."

On May 20, 2003, the Capitol librarian hit an alarm button after Owen became loud and aggressive and shoved his chair. At the sound of the alarm, Owen fled the library without his belongings — a bag, a coffee mug, a computer disk, and a jacket. Officers found Owen on the west side of the statehouse grounds and ordered him not to return to the building for the rest of the day.

On January 15, 2004, Owen threw what a Capitol security incident report called a "temper tantrum" in Sen. Anthony Hensley's office after being told that he had to make an appointment if he wanted to enter the minority leader's office.

"I've been kicked out," Owen admits. "I don't let that stop me. It's a public domain."

Owen also frequents meetings of the Topeka City Council and the Kansas Board of Education. When the Board of Education voted on public-school science standards in early November last year, Owen stumbled into the meeting late. Wearing dirty clothes and reeking of body odor, he plopped down in a pack of reporters (including those from the Pitch) and asked to look at a packet outlining the curriculum changes.

"I don't see God in this," Owen said as he thumbed through the packet.

Throughout the meeting, Owen mumbled "amen" to himself whenever he heard something pleasing. Tiring of his muttering, reporters tried to quiet him.

"No way am I going to shh, shh about God," Owen lashed out.

A little while later, Owen, frustrated, blurted out to the board, "So don't teach evolution."

KMBC Channel 9 reporter Micheal Mahoney had clearly had enough. "This is the last time I'm warning you," he told Owen. "Shut up."

Owen blames himself for his poor relationships with lawmakers. Being on the sex-offender registry has hurt him, he says. "The other reason is, I'm probably a bit too pushy," he says. "I'm not a very good lobbyist."

Owen admittedly lacks the patience, social skills and money to be an effective lobbyist.

Now, in early February, the Senate Tax Committee is starting a meeting. When Owen reads the agenda, he gets a shock. The statement he has submitted has been marked "written only," meaning he won't be allowed to speak. A woman explains to him that his item isn't "bill specific." Owen protests, but he's fighting a losing battle.

"It's written only," she tells him.

Owen lets out a childlike sigh. Ignored again.

Near the Topeka Boulevard Bridge, Owen sees an African-American man in a puffy coat walking along a path.

"Hey, come down here, man," Owen yells, running toward the man. "Can we talk to you? Can we talk to you? Are you homeless?"

"No," the man yells back.

"I'd rather be wrong than not ask," Owen says. "I've been wrong so many times."

Owen climbs up the hill and peers down at the graffiti-covered stairwell from the photo album.

A freezing wind whips through layers of clothing.

"Not a good day to be homeless," Owen says.

He wants badly to find a homeless person. He wants to prove that he can send someone home. It's the wrong season, he grumbles. They're taking shelter indoors at the library or the mall, he says. He'd have found a homeless person by now if it were summer.

Owen demands that a Pitch reporter drive past the Topeka Rescue Mission, from which he's been banned.

"He's not allowed on our property because of the way he treats the folks here," mission director Barry Feaker tells the Pitch.

The ban goes back to an incident in spring 2004. Feaker says a woman staying at the mission was sitting on a blanket on the levee of the Kansas River. It was her day off from work, but Owen thought she was a homeless person sleeping on a blanket. Feaker says Owen told the woman that sitting on the levee was illegal, then told her to go home. According to Feaker's file, Owen responded to the woman's explanation by pulling the blanket out from under her, walking to the mission's dumpster and throwing it away.

Feaker started keeping a file on Owen shortly after Owen moved to Topeka in 2002. The folder is stuffed with letters Owen has written to Feaker and bulletins Owen has posted around the city. In one, Owen tells homeless people to swallow their pride, suffer a little humiliation and call a family member. In another, Owen writes, "Your family is not homeless. YOU ARE. Your family is doing something right that you're not doing."

There are also letters from legislative secretaries and homeless people asking Feaker to stop Owen from bothering them.

"We've spent quite a bit of time over the last few years trying to talk people out of hurting him," Feaker says. "Some of these folks on the street are some tough folks."

Feaker became a frequent target of Owen's criticisms. Owen would show up almost anywhere Feaker was speaking and dispute whatever Feaker said.

"David's pretty aggressive in the community to try to slam anybody who works with the homeless to say they're all doing it wrong," Feaker says. "Whether he gets on television with our local government channel or City Council meetings or whether he goes and meets somebody on the street, he tries to say that we're in error in how we're approaching and working with the homeless and that we're in it for the money and that his ideas are superior to anybody else's."

Owen concedes that his tactics aren't the best.

"I'm just so frustrated when I see people underneath the bridge, and I know that if somebody just intervened in their lives a bit and told them what they didn't want to hear, then they could be home so much quicker.... I want their lives to be better, not worse. It's all out of Christian love that I do it."

Owen tears up homeless camps when he finds them. He counts six, maybe seven successes with his "where's your family" approach. Owen's greatest glory — the story he tells over and over — was finding a homeless man named Clinton under a Topeka bridge. He claims that he got in the guy's face and told him, "Brother, you're gonna give me a family name, dead or alive.... You're going to give me a name, and if you don't, you're going to be talking to a cop."

The guy gave him the name of an aunt. The next day, Owen went to the library and looked up the aunt's phone number. Owen called her, and eventually, he says, the man was reunited with his family.

"Have you ever seen a family reunion on TV?" Owen asks. "My God, it was just like that. Screaming, yelling, snot, tears. That was just from me. And I didn't even know the guy."

Owen wants to go to a homeless camp under the bridge. He climbs down a rock-covered embankment.

"A dozen guys have split their heads open coming down here too fast," Owen says. When he reaches the bottom, Owen recalls that a homeless man once beat him up. Owen called 911, and the police, he says, dispatched a helicopter.

"Man, I'd be dead if it wasn't for that helicopter," he says.

He estimates that he's been beaten up three or four times. His glasses have been broken and his face bloodied.

Owen says his father has bought him a burial plot in Cimarron in case a homeless man kills him.

A train roars overhead as Owen walks across an empty field toward the river. He pushes through the small, leafless trees and stumbles across an abandoned, floral-print mattress.

"This place will be hopping in the summertime, and it's the mission's fault," Owen says. "The mission actually encourages people to camp out. That way, they can tell their donors, 'Oh, look at all of these poor homeless people. We need to help them.' And the money rolls in."

When he finds a fishing pole, he bends it over his knee to break it. He carries the split rod and a blue milk crate up the hill to a dumpster.

"The field trip is done," he says.

In the parking lot outside the Hanover Pancake House on Kansas Avenue, David Owen explains why homosexuality is wrong.

"You see, people like me, sometimes they get so lonely and desperate, they'll find a relationship, even if it's an inappropriate relationship, like with another guy. That's not right. All right?

"Girls scare me to death," Owen confides. "Have you ever watched that show Beauty and the Geek? I love that show. If there's hope for them, there's hope for anybody. But some people, because of their fear, are more comfortable having an inappropriate relationship with somebody they feel comfortable with."

The restaurant is bustling just after noon.

"This is a nifty place to eat, I'll tell you," Owen says. "Democrats love to hang out here, too. Since I'm a Republican, this is where I love to eat, because I love to pester Democrats, since they pester me."

Owen says he's a Republican because he's a Christian. Over a lunch of coffee and pumpkin pancakes with cinnamon and whipped cream, Owen explains his conservative agenda. His latest interest is the anti-abortion movement. Owen vividly remembers taking a road trip to St. Louis with Operation Rescue to protest an abortion clinic. "Don't kill your baby! Don't kill your baby!" he says a woman from Operation Rescue yelled at a woman entering the clinic. In the middle of the restaurant, Owen mimics her cries.

A few diners look at him, bewildered. Owen doesn't notice. His story ends in victory: The would-be patient decided to keep her baby.

"Man, that was such an emotional time for all of us," Owen says. His companions took her inside an Operation Rescue "Truth Truck" (a truck emblazoned with billboard-sized images of aborted fetuses). "And in the back there, they have a sonogram. And so the girls in the group gave the girl a sonogram. They found out she was going to have twins.... And those twins are good-looking boys, I'll tell you. That was a blessing. It really was."

Owen is everywhere in Topeka. Being unemployed, he can — and does — attend whatever rally or meeting he wants.

Owen claims that he spies on pro-choice rallies for Operation Rescue and Kansans for Life. He says he did so most recently in January, during the Kansas Choice Alliance's lobbying day.

"I spied for the other side," Owen says. "And Troy [Newman] was pretty proud of me, too, because they were looking at a bill that they didn't know about."

Newman, the president of Operation Rescue, doesn't claim Owen as a secret operative.

"I don't know if he spies for us," Newman tells the Pitch. "David is a great guy, and I wish him well."

Owen's constant presence is unappreciated even among those whose causes he claims as his own.

Children scamper around the second floor atrium of the Capitol. They leave their winter coats in a pile as an adult tries to keep them in line.

Owen stands next to the Kansas flag as a Pitch photographer snaps photos of him. Owen pays no attention to the children around him. He talks about how his hometown representative, Melvin Neufeld, inspired him to move to Topeka and lobby, and how he wrote Hillary Clinton in the early '90s, telling her that federally funded health care was a bad idea and how he received only a form letter back from the then-first lady.

As Owen talks, a uniformed Kansas Highway Patrolman and a statehouse security guard approach to watch the photo shoot — and Owen.

Owen notices the extra attention.

"What's David up to now?" Owen asks no one in particular.

Owen doesn't believe he's a safety risk in a building where children frequently run around.

"I'm safe," he'll say later. "Security looks over me quite well."

"That's not who we have to worry about," Kilpatrick says. "It's the ones who we don't know that are failing to register. It's the ones that have molested 50, 60, 70 times and have never been caught and are continuing to molest children. That's the ones we have to worry about."

Lt. John Eichkorn of the Kansas Highway Patrol would not say how actively Capitol security monitors Owen.

"We're aware of the situation," Eichkorn tells the Pitch. "Of course, there are those that are concerned in the building and have shared those concerns."

Legislators may be acting on those fears — and Owen is finally getting their attention, just not in the way he craves.

On February 23, the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs put a bull's-eye on Owen, introducing a bill that would prohibit registered sex offenders from lobbying the Legislature.

"I'm sure they're thinking about me," Owen says.

If legislators believe this bill will get rid of him, they're wrong.

"Even if I'm not a lobbyist, they're still not going to keep me away from the place," Owen says. "I mean, it's a public building."

As an adult leads the children down a hallway, the guards leave. And Owen sets off on his mission.

"I want to get some work done," he says. "I want to get somebody home."

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