Hester Prynne had a red "A" embroidered on her dress identifying her as an adulteress in the classic novel, "The Scarlet Letter."
Orlo LaVell Shiner has a sign on his front door identifying him as a "sex offender of children."The sign, warning children off the property, was installed by corrections officials two weeks ago as part of Shiner's three-year probation. He pleaded guilty earlier this month to attempting to fondle a young girl in Layton.
This is the first time such a punishment has been imposed in a Wasatch Front court, said deputy Davis County attorney Steve Major. He prosecuted the case before 2nd District Judge Jon Memmott.
"It's kind of an unusual thing," Major said. "We're still trying to deal with the ramifications."
Many of Shiner's neighbors don't know what to think of the situation. When you move into a neighborhood you don't expect to see a man on your street publicly and continually identified as a sex offender.
On the one hand, neighbors say, it's good for people to know the facts about Shiner so they can warn their children. On the other, it doesn't do much for the area's cachet.
"I think it will lower property (values)," said one resident. "I think we're being punished."
Caught between two conflicting attitudes, many neighbors simply tiptoe around the issue.
"He's been here a lot of years, the sign's there - I don't really think much of it," said one. "I would rather not talk about it."
Some, however, have definite opinions on the issue.
"I think they should quit making him the victim," said neighbor Jody Wojtasek. "He's the perpetrator, not the victim."
Wojtasek has two young girls whom she has taken aside and warned to stay away from the Shiner property.
"I educated them on the situation," she said. "My kids aren't going to be prisoners in their own home. I want him to be the prisoner."
While the sign might very well have a negative impact on the neighborhood, Wojtasek said she plans on living there a long time and simply outlasting any bad effects.
But that doesn't apply to everyone. One neighbor has her house on the market and is upset about the sign, fearing potential buyers will be scared off. She has asked residents not to say anything about the sign to people who inquire about the neighborhood.
Here is the irony of the situation: If you didn't know the sign existed, and weren't actively looking for it, you would never know it is there. It is posted on Shiner's front door behind a heavy screen-and-glass outer door, and Shiner keeps the inner door open and angled away from view.
It is difficult to see the sign at all without going right up on the porch and looking for it, and it's impossible to make out the wording through the outer door.
"I wish the sign could be more - you know, I think there should be a sign big enough to be seen from the street," Wojtasek said.
Major said the sign's low visibility might prompt him to petition the court for clarification on its display.
"It's kind of like putting the sign up and covering it up with a tree," he said. That frustrates its primary purpose "as a warning to the neighborhood and to society."
As for Shiner himself, he's bitter. He said the attempted fondling was simply a trumped-up version of an incident in which he put his arm around a crying neighbor girl to comfort her. He said he pleaded guilty simply to put the sordid affair behind him.
"Look at me," he said as he walked to his front door carrying a just-purchased quart of milk. "I'm 73 years old. I don't even think about that sort of thing anymore. I could no more be a sexual molester than the man in the moon."
But Major said he was very comfortable asserting Shiner's guilt.
"We had a very strong witness," he said.
Shiner showed a visitor pictures of his six grown children (he's twice divorced), who he says are the real victims of the case's publicity. He also showed pictures of his Idaho ranch, where he might move to escape ostracism.
"I used to go to church, but not anymore," Shiner said. "If I have to go three years (with the sign) I'm getting out of the state - out of the country."
The sign requirement only applies to Shiner's residences in Utah, the extent of Utah courts' jurisdiction.
Hester Prynne also left her native Salem for a time but returned home eventually. She wore the scarlet letter until the day she died and directed that the only inscription on her tombstone should be the letter "A."