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Tuesday, Sep. 2, 2014

Flawed instructions may lead to new hearings

Thursday, May 16, 2002

BENTON - It is too early to be certain, but odds are the three sexual offenders from this area who were committed under Missouri's sexually violent predator law will receive new hearings.

The Missouri high court ruled 6-1 Tuesday that instructions given to jurors during sexual predator hearings for two other sex offenders were flawed.

The decision, which appears to be the first affected by a January U.S. Supreme Court decision on a Kansas case, will probably mean new hearings for others committed following sexually violent predator hearings.

Convicted sex offenders in Missouri may be detained beyond their prison terms if a jury determines in a separate trial that a mental abnormality makes them ''more likely than not'' to commit sexually violent acts once they are released.

According to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, extended detentions are only allowed with proof of a mental illness causing ''serious difficulty in controlling behavior" - a phrase left out of jury instructions during the sex predator hearings for Eddie Thomas and Desi Edwards in 2000.

Scott Holste, spokesman for the Missouri Attorney General's office, explained that when a sexual offender is about to be released from prison, if the Department of Corrections determines that he or she might meet the sexually violent predator criteria, they are referred to a team of five prosecutors and a medical team that consider the case and make a recommendation.

If they determine the individual to be a risk, a petition is filed in the probate court in which they were convicted and an investigation looking for probable cause takes place.

If probable cause is found, the convict is taken to the state secure mental health facility in Farmington to be evaluated. Ultimately they have a jury hearing.

"They're not incarcerated, they are committed," Holste clarified, "until such time as it is determined they are no longer a danger to themselves or others."

Each year, they are entitled to a review before the probate court judge. "They can apply for an evaluation to determine if they've been successfully treated and would no longer be danger to themselves or others," said Holste.

Since Jan. 1, 1999, when the law went into effect, 26 sex offenders around the state have been committed after their regular prison terms ended, according to Holste.

Of those 26, three or four agreed to be committed without facing a jury, according to Holste. "At least 20 of them will need to be retried," he said.

Statewide, only "a handful of others" were tried by juries but not found dangerous and were released, according to Holste.

No sexual predators have been released from Farmington yet following an annual review, Holste said. Several have stipulated they wished to remain committed.

Scott County court officials recall four sexual predator cases since 1999. Two are pending, one was committed, and one died before the prison sentence ended.

Mississippi County's first sexual predator case was pending this summer but was dropped upon the inmate's death.

Stoddard County had its first and only case come up last year. The offender was committed.

New Madrid has not yet had a petition filed.

Holste said the Missouri high court ruling does not necessarily mean any of those presently detained at Farmington are eligible for release. "Yesterday's ruling did uphold the constitutionality of Missouri's SVP law," said Holste.

Despite the name, the offense the sexual offender was originally convicted of "doesn't necessarily have to involve an act of violence," according to Holste. "There's a whole range of sexual crimes, some involving minors, others not involving minors."

Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin have similar state statutes.

Some information for this story was supplied by the Associated Press.