For over two decades, Laura Smith has been fighting for justice against the man who sexually assaulted her 5-year-old son.
While she was on a late-night grocery run in May 1993, Mattieo Condoluci, a former nightclub bouncer who she had just moved in with, sexually assaulted her son. When she returned to their home in Ormond Beach, Florida, she found her son in the bathroom violently crying, Smith told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
“I knew something was instantly wrong,” Smith said, recounting how Condoluci tried to claim her son had just “wet the bed.” “My son had never wet the bed in his life. I ended up packing my stuff the next day and when we were leaving my son quietly said, ‘Mommy, I got something I got to tell you.’ I instantly knew.”
To Smith’s dismay, Condoluci was sentenced to four years of probation and drug counseling after he pleaded no contest in 1994 to attempted lewd and lascivious assault upon a child.
“It was a 5-year-old man’s word against a 37-year-old man’s word, and he was manipulative, he was good at lying,” Smith said, adding the plea deal got “Condoluci on the sex offender list.”
But that didn’t stop Condoluci’s sinister behavior. In 2007, he was convicted in Sarpy County of raping a 13-year-old girl. although he was sentenced to five years in prison, the then 52-year-old was released in half the time for good behavior.
By June 2016, Smith was seeing her son “really struggling and starting to do drugs to cope.” So she turned to Facebook to warn others about Condoluci. In over a dozen posts on a Facebook page naming her son’s abuser, Smith wrote that “he must be stopped” and outlined manipulative tricks Condoulci used on single mothers “to get his hands on [their] children.”
Four years later, 64-year-old Condoluci was shot dead in his Omaha, Nebraska home by a middle school employee who may have been a member of Smith’s Facebook group.
James Fairbanks, 43, was arrested on Tuesday for criminal homicide in connection with Condoluci’s death, the Omaha Police Department told The Daily Beast. While charges are still pending, the police confirmed they are investigating a letter Fairbanks allegedly sent to news media outlets—and a Facebook group—confessing that he killed Condoluci to stop him from offending again after noticing the registered sex offender had a playground set in his backyard. He was being held at Douglas County Jail on Wednesday.
“It’s a really dangerous thing when people start taking law enforcement into their own hands. That’s why we have a justice system,” Chief Deputy Douglas County Attorney Brenda Beadle told the Omaha World-Herald, citing the danger of “vigilante justice.”
Smith, however, has rallied for the 43-year-old since the news of his arrest, changing the name of her Facebook group to “Free James Fairbanks” and jumpstarting an online petition calling for a presidential pardon. As of Wednesday afternoon, the petition had 2,800 signatures.
“I am supporting him because after reading about him, I saw that he really isn’t a bad man,” Smith said. “I don’t think he is a killer, and I don’t think he is a threat to society. He doesn’t belong in jail, I think he belongs in a hospital.”
“He is kind of like our frontline workers with this pandemic. James seemed to be overwhelmed and broken down after seeing so many children go through similar experiences at his job,” she added. “He is our frontline worker right now when it came to the sexual abuse of children.”
Police say at around 11:15 a.m. on May 16, officers responded to Condoluci’s home after reports of a shooting. Upon arrival, they found the 64-year-old dead.
Two days later, several news outlets received an email from a “Stop Predators” address with the subject line “Mattieo Condoluci Homicide.” In the letter, the anonymous author claimed to have shot Condoluci on Thursday evening—days before police discovered his body.
The author, who also posted the letter to an “Omaha Scanner” Facebook group under Fairbank’s name, said he came across Condoluci’s name when he was apartment hunting in the 64-year-old’s neighborhood and saw he was listed on Nebraska’s sex offender registry.
Detailing his work with victimized children, the author said he saw Condoluci standing in his driveway “pretending to wash his truck (no soap or water, just a rag) while staring at a group of children playing in the street. I watched him for a few minutes and just felt sick to my stomach. He just kept staring at them. The kids thankfully left and he went inside.”
“I’ve worked with kids for years who have been victimized and I couldn’t in good conscience allow him to do it to anyone else while I had the means to stop him,” the author states. “I’m willing to turn myself in even though I’m confident I wouldn’t be caught because its [sic] my opionion [sic] that we need to fix this in our socitey [sic]. We can not let this continue to happen to out [sic] children.”
Omaha Public Schools confirmed to The Daily Beast that Fairbanks worked at Morton Middle School from 2016 to 2018, before working at the school’s alternative Secondary Success Program, but he was now suspended. Before working for OPS, Fairbanks worked with troubled youths for a private company, his ex-wife told the Omaha World-Herald, which first reported on Condoluci’s death.
The email also mentions Smith’s Facebook group by name, stating that “one kid’s mother had created a predator Facebook page about him trying to warn people about him. Her son had been assaulted by him when he was 5 and the damage he did led the poor guy to die of a drug overdose years later and his mom directly blamed that incident on him.”
Kelly Tamayo, Fairbanks’ ex-wife, also said that he’d admitted to her “what he had done and that he was turning himself in to police.” Stating that Fairbanks, who had no history of violent crimes, “was apologetic,” she believed her ex-husband was “overwhelmed by the thought that this man was going to offend again” and he had to take matters into her own hands.
“We are all in shock to say the least,” Tamayo said. “Jim is a protector. He has worked with vulnerable kids his entire career. He took it very personally to protect his kids and other kids from [sex] offenders like that man was.”
Tamayo, however, applied for protection orders against Fairbanks in 2016 and 2018 while they were going through a divorce—a time she said was “extremely stressful for him” because he was fearful of losing their two children.
Smith said when she first heard that Fairbanks knew about her Facebook group, she was “in shock because she didn’t know who he was.” She said she believes Condoluci’s death was “a perfect storm of things” in Fairbanks' life, and she was relieved that the man who abused her son—who died of an overdose in 2017—had received what she thought was justice.
“James Fairbanks is as much a a victim as my son was from sexual abuse,” she said. “I think all the children that he had to pick up all the pieces were too much. He doesn’t deserve to be in jail.”
And Condoluci’s daughter, Amanda Henry, agreed with Smith’s petition to let her father’s killer go free. In a comment on the “Free James Fairbanks” page, Henry wrote that while losing her father hurts, he was a monster who was “so very wrong.”
“Murdering my dad was a horrible thing,” Henry later told the World-Herald, adding that Fairbanks should be given probation. “But children are much safer now, any other child he could have hurt is much safer.”