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Kenneth G. Roberts sits now in a maximum security cell in the Utah State Prison.

He gets out one hour a day to shower and exercise but does so alone. He isn't allowed near another prisoner.For Roberts is not a well-liked man. He changed forever the early parole programs at the prison, and kept a lot of inmates from being released early. It was almost a Utah version of the infamous Massachusetts Willie Horton case that plagued Michael Dukakis in the recent presidential election.

On Christmas Eve 1982, Roberts, released early from a sentence for kidnapping and rape, went on a crime spree in Weber and Salt Lake counties that left 19-year-old LaDawn Prue shot and paralyzed.

Investigations following that incident led then-Gov. Scott M. Matheson to fire the corrections director and his boss, the Social Services director, create a separate Department of Corrections and generally shake up the state's whole prison and parole system.

Rarely has one criminal's actions had such an impact.

Roberts was first sent to the Utah State Prison in September 1979 on a rape and kidnapping conviction. He had been a model prisoner, corrections officers would say after that holiday spree, polite and well-liked.

When overcrowding at the institution required early release for what corrections officials believed were the least violent offenders, Roberts' name came up.

Investigations later showed that prison officials had no formal hearings on who got out early and who didn't but decided in informal staff meetings which inmates qualified for the early release program.

The lack of control, or even serious study of the inmates' chances of success on the outside, showed the state had real legal problems after Roberts shot and paralyzed Prue.

Roberts was sent to an Ogden halfway house that December, making room in the prison for a new inmate freshly sentenced by the courts.

But prison officials who sent Roberts there said they were unaware that the house routinely closed during the Christmas season, and that inmates were sent home to spend several days with relatives.

Roberts was released into the custody of his wife but left her home Christmas Eve and ran rabid through Salt Lake County, attempting to kidnap Prue and several other women before succeeding in taking one woman hostage. She was found unharmed in the back of a car he stole after police shot it out with him on a deserted county road.

Roberts, unhurt, gave up after the gun battle.

Prue sued the state, which settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

Roberts, now 38, will spend a long time in the state prison, says corrections spokesman Juan Benavidez. How long he stays in maximum security depends on the threat he poses to others or the threat other inmates pose to him.

For his Christmas Eve crime spree, Roberts was found guilty of attempted criminal homicide in the 1st degree, aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, aggravated kidnapping, being an habitual criminal and illegal use of a handgun.

He was sentenced to two 1-to-15-year terms, five 5-to-life terms, one 5-year term for being an habitual criminal and one one-year term for using a firearm in the commission of a crime.

Roberts' next parole hearing isn't until June 1998. The parole board will then decide whether to give him a parole date sometime in the future or just tell him to come back later for another hearing.