[Original published date: February 16, 2004
Monitored predator may be set entirely free.
Judge warns he’ll release him outright if no community accepts his presence.
By Suzanne Bohan — Sacramento Bee Correspondent
Published 2:15 a.m. PST Monday, February 16, 2004
Even with state officials house-hunting for him, Cary Verse, a four-time convicted violent sexual offender, can’t find a place to call home. Wherever the 33-year-old ex-convict unpacks his bags, he has become virulently unpopular.
He has been rejected by landlords in Contra Costa and Marin counties. The manager of the residential hotel where Verse now lives in Oakland wants his new tenant out, a sentiment backed by Oakland city officials.
“We already lack the resources to monitor those high-risk sex offenders who are rightly placed in Oakland,” said Police Chief Richard Word. “Oakland doesn’t need any more.”
But if community opposition keeps pushing him on, the judge who ordered Verse’s release warned that he may be forced to release Verse from court-monitored outpatient treatment and simply free him. Otherwise, the state would be violating Verse’s constitutional rights, as he has served his prison time and by law earned his freedom.
“It’s sort of ironic,” said Tony Cimino, a director of operations with Liberty Healthcare Corp., the Pennsylvania contractor managing outpatient care of sexually violent predators in California.
“The community is trying to protect itself by opposing placement, but it could spin the other way and make a more dangerous situation,” he said.
It’s a quandary that promises to grow more complicated as more than 400 sexual offenders await release from the state-run psychiatric hospitals.
Verse is only the second of a relatively new class of inmates, termed “sexually violent predators,” released in California under a strict program called “conditional release.”
Under the program, which costs an estimated $180,000 annually per patient, the ex-inmate is tracked using a Global Positioning System satellite, submits to polygraphs and receives regular psychological assessments. Verse agreed to chemical castration, which entails regular injections to suppress sexual urges.
People are classified as sexually violent predators if they have been convicted of two or more sexually violent offenses, such as rape or child molestation, and have a diagnosed mental disorder that makes them a danger to others.
A state law enacted in 1996 allows prison officials to determine if repeat violent sexual offenders who are nearing prison release pose a continuing danger to the public. If so, then after an additional evaluation, a court ruling and a jury decision, the state orders the sexual offender to remain institutionalized in a psychiatric facility until deemed safe enough to receive continuing care in an outpatient setting.
Verse’s string of offenses began at age 17, when at knife point he molested a teammate on his high school track team. His latest incarceration stemmed from his 1992 sexual assault of a man in a homeless shelter near Richmond.
In May, a Contra Costa County judge found Verse sufficiently rehabilitated to release him into the outpatient treatment program and freed him from Atascadero State Hospital, a high-security psychiatric facility on the central coast that Verse entered in 1998.
But landlords spurned his state-appointed caretakers’ attempts over eight months to find him a home in Contra Costa County, where Verse, a self-described Jehovah’s Witness, wanted to live to be near his church. He arrived in Marin County without notice Feb. 5, and protesters swiftly began picketing the rundown motel in unincorporated Mill Valley where he’d rented a room.
On Feb. 12, state representatives moved him to a residential hotel in Oakland, where he was still residing as of Sunday evening. He has paid four months’ rent, but the manager says he now wants Verse evicted.
The first ex-inmate released under the conditional release program, Brian DeVries, was rejected by more than 100 landlords during his search last summer for a rental home in San Jose. The convicted child molester resorted to living in a trailer on the grounds of Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad. Local residents there remain determined to force him out.
“They’ve almost become a new class of lepers,” said Cimino of Liberty Healthcare, which runs the nation’s largest program for monitoring and treating freed sexually violent predators.
“I don’t blame them,” Ira Barg, a San Francisco criminal defense attorney who’s represented a dozen violent sexual offenders, said of the residents. “Would you want someone like that living next door to you?”
No other citizen is so carefully watched, said Cimino. “These people are more closely supervised than anyone else in the entire country. A murderer can get released tomorrow and murder the next day, and in fact has.”
The monitoring program places strict limits on the ex-inmate’s conduct, and one violation can land the offender back behind institution walls, said San Francisco criminal defense attorney Brendan Conroy.
“I think the community is at a lot more risk from all those other people who are under no supervision,” he said.
“This is someone who’s been through five to six years of treatment,” Conroy said. “What the community is worried about is this guy will snatch a kid off the street. The hospital wouldn’t let a guy like that out.”
He added that most of these offenders “groom” victims by developing a trusting relationship before assaulting them, generally precluding impulsive attacks.
Cimino concurred. “Many of these people do not act impulsively,” he said.
But Cimino is under no illusion that the intensive treatment program offered by Liberty Healthcare cures what ails them. “It’s like being an alcoholic or substance abuser. A sex offender cannot be cured.”
Instead, he said, the focus in on intensely managing the patient.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.