Fairgrounds activist associated with convicted sex offender

Sunday, February 21, 2010 at 11:46pm

After The City Paper revealed in an online story last week that Thomas Larry Watson, spokesman for a group opposing plans to redevelop the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, is a registered sex offender, several readers posted comments denouncing the article.

“It was 15 years ago, he paid the price, and has worked hard to try to make the community better,” wrote one commenter. “He did something stupid and wrong a long time ago,” another wrote, claiming that the article was intended “to affect current events that have not one thing to do with what he did many years ago.”

To be sure, other postings cited reasons why Watson’s 1995 arrest and conviction in a nationwide crackdown on distributors of child pornography ought to be publicly known. It was noted that his group, the Fairgrounds Heritage Preservation Group, is collecting donations from the public, and that he himself sought out the television and print media coverage in which he has featured prominently since last September.

And, commenters noted, the state fair and other fairgrounds events have typically attracted large numbers of children. A registered sex offender’s involvement in any way with the property is surely a matter of public interest — especially, as one commenter asserted, given that “if you are a sexual predator you will always be one, even if you are not currently breaking the law.”

Last week’s story quoted Watson, 62, as saying his background “has nothing to do with the politics” of the fairgrounds debate.

“Yes, I made a mistake 15 years ago,” Watson told The City Paper. “The idea is that you’re supposed to pay your penalty and go and sin no more. You know, try to get back involved with community and citizenship again. Well, that’s what I’ve been doing.”

But newly available information makes clear there is more to Watson’s background than a mere error of judgment long ago that he has paid for and put behind him.

The City Paper has learned that Watson had a convicted child-rapist living with him in 2003. That man, John William Waller of Nashville, had his probation revoked when he was found to be staying with a fellow offender. Waller spent eight months back in prison.

In 2005, when police came to arrest Watson for failing to register as a sex offender, they again found Waller at Watson’s home. He was typing on Watson’s computer keyboard.

Waller’s probation officer later testified that he had been “given repeated verbal instructions that he is not to have access to computers because he has a history involving child pornography on the computer.” Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Randall Wyatt Jr. revoked the probation and sent him back to prison. Tennessee’s Court of Criminal Appeals upheld that decision in 2008.

Watson, now listed in Tennessee’s Sexual Offender Registry, operates RuneVillage.com, a fansite for players of the online fantasy game RuneScape that appears to have more than 40,000 members. Several of the people who have become fans of RuneVillage on Facebook identify themselves as high school students from the U.S. and other countries.

The City Paper tried to reach Watson again last week for comment on the new information, but he did not respond.

Watson first advanced the argument that it would be illegal for the Fair Board to stop putting on the state fair in an email he sent to board members on Oct. 7 of last year. He cited state laws from the 1920s and earlier to make the case that the board is required to hold a state fair every year at the south Nashville site.

Two citizens who say they will be affected by the fairgrounds’ projected closure sued on Feb. 12 in Davidson County Chancery Court, relying on legal arguments much like Watson’s. Attorney Robert W. Rutherford of Rutherford & DeMarco filed the complaint after the Fairgrounds Heritage Preservation Group retained him.

Reached last week, Rutherford noted that Watson is “not officially a part of the lawsuit” and remarked that his criminal record, of which Rutherford had not been aware, “doesn’t affect the validity of the argument.”

Rutherford said: “I’m hoping this boils down to a purely legal argument, and [Watson’s past] really has no effect on that. He’s not one of my clients. He’s a proponent.”

Fair Board Chairman James Weaver, an attorney at Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis LLP, declined to comment when asked last week about the revelation of Watson’s past.

After The City Paper furnished the new information about Watson's past to fairgrounds group member Lisa Leeds, who was the Libertarian Party's 2008 candidate for the State House seat held by Mary Pruitt (D-Nashville), she replied with a one-sentence message just as this story was going to press.

"Thomas Watson is no longer affiliated with the Fairgrounds Heritage Preservation Group," Leeds said.

8 Comments on this post:

By: idgaf on 2/22/10 at 5:16

If you set aside the progressives mantra of the end justifys the means you have a personal attack that has nothing to to with the issue that faces the city as a whole.

What he or anyone else has done in the past has nothing to do with our future.

By: 117_acres on 2/22/10 at 7:58

Thank you to E. Thomas Wood and the City Paper for researching and notifying the public about the spokesperson for this group. While other media outlets just wanted to create turmoil by running story after story about this group without properly researching to see who their members were, you all went beyond the call of duty. The truth is the truth and it speaks for itself. Thank you again!

By: nvestnbna on 2/22/10 at 7:59

Yes, call it quits City Paper. Connect the dots. This has nothing to do with the merits of preserving the Fairgrounds property. It's a diversion from the beginning and now a follow-up to TRY and justify the diversion.

Come on, there are folks that support the City Paper as an alternative to the Tennessean, but good night, it's crap like this that makes it hard. Who's running things these days?

By: JKennedyMD on 2/22/10 at 8:49

If someone on the sex offender list said that the sky is blue in the middle of a beautiful fall day, does the fact that he's on the sex offender list invalidate his position?

Guess who should be on the sex offender list but isn't - Bill Clinton for one and many in the Tennessee legislature (just as their interns) - yet we listen to them.

As to Mr. Watson's association with child rapists, the courts had deemed that Mr. Waller did not need to be in jail at the time, thus he had to live somewhere.

Those who have been stigmatized by the label "sex offender" or "sex addict" often live with one another much like alcoholics and drug addicts live with one another, given that they understand each other. Church people don't want to be around them - except that their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, did.

NCP - lay off. The paper is losing points for being manipulative.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 2/22/10 at 9:11

117, i heard there's going to be racing this summer at the track. is that correct?

By: christyfrink on 2/22/10 at 9:12

JKennedy, Bill Clinton didn't have sex with a minor. The interns at the state legislature aren't minors. The sex is/was consensual between adults. Therefore, none of these people you've mentioned are sex offenders according to the law.

E. Thomas Wood, this defense is incredibly well-researched and written, and I really appreciate the City Paper bringing this whole thing to the attention of the public. The fact of the matter is, sex offenders have a ridiculously high rate of recidivism and a known distributor of child pornography has no place in a group that deals with the State Fair or Fairgrounds. If Mr. Watson has changed his ways, more power to him, but this is part of the price he has to pay as a child sex offender. The background information about the other offender with whom he was living just confirms that.

Mr. Watson served his sentence and should be able to go about the rest of his life peacefully, but "going about his life" doesn't need to include activities that put him anywhere near children. He distributed materials that turned kids into sex objects, and I don't really understand folks' apparent enthusiasm for putting him in a position where he can do it again.

By: Truthingovernment on 2/22/10 at 12:31

So the gloves are off. I hope this means that when released the NCP will print in full details what has been discovered from surveillance of Karl Dean who is a married man.Technology and the geeks who understand it is amazing today. What about the other members of metro government involved in this entire charade to the public, they are being loyal to Dean and following his orders for a reason.
When the same information is released about several fair board members along with the financial dealings of those members it will wake a lot of people up. Lots of intermingling and back scratching going on.It's amazing how the elite think they are untouchable and above the law and morals.It's about to get honest in nashville.The TRUTH behind the curtain is so telling as to what motivation is behind these erratic actions that make no sense to the common man.
I bet the video and every other discovery made goes to other media first,national media at that since the NCP has proven they aren't about what's right.
Dean must not have been a Nashville resident to remember Bill Boner and what happened to him. Perhaps Dean likes the idea of selling wood pallets.
All of these people were to be putting the best interests of all of nashville at the forefront, and will be proven to have done anything but.
Glass houses people,glass houses.

By: idgaf on 2/22/10 at 10:54

Whoes his girlfried Cain?