Judge orders rapist set free

D.A., doctors oppose releasing sex predator
San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 12, 2003
http://sfgate.com/
Phillip Matier, Andrew Ross, Chronicle Staff Writers

Despite objections from the Contra Costa County district attorney, the state Department of Mental Health and even his own doctors, a 32-year-old rapist under treatment at Atascadero State Hospital has been ordered released.

Cary Verse — a twice-convicted violent sexual offender — is set to be sprung as early as Friday by order of Judge John Minney of Contra Costa Superior Court, perhaps to Martinez. That’s where Verse has said he would like to live.

“It’s our position that he is not ready for release — it’s a public safety issue,” Department of Mental Health spokeswoman Nora Romero said Tuesday.

If he walks, Verse would be the first person released into community treatment under California’s 7-year-old sexually violent predator law.

The law allows serial sexual predators to remain locked up as long as two psychologists agree they are a risk to society.

And in Verse’s case, his doctors at Atascadero — where he has been hospitalized since his parole 4 1/2 years ago — argued in court last month that he hadn’t completed all the steps required for release.

HISTORY OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE

Records show that Verse — who has had a chemical castration implant surgically placed under his skin — has a history of sexual violence that dates to age 17, when he assaulted a 14-year-old male teammate on his high school track team.

After the attack, Verse was confined to a juvenile detention camp in Alameda County, where he attacked again — this time sexually assaulting a 17- year-old fellow charge.

It was the conviction for this attack that landed him a prison sentence of three years and eight months in 1990.

According to court records, just a month after he was paroled in February 1992, Verse sexually assaulted another man at a Richmond-area homeless shelter where both were staying.

This time, Verse was sentenced to 12 years in prison. He was paroled in August 1998 and sent to Atascadero, where he has remained ever since.

Recently, Verse petitioned the court for release to a supervised treatment program in Contra Costa County. On Jan. 24 — over the objections of both District Attorney Robert Kochly and the state health mental health representatives — Judge Minney granted the request.

The judge cited Verse’s chemical castration and said he believed the hospital inmate was ready to complete his treatment as an outpatient.

But his doctors at Atascadero saw it differently and argued that Verse needed more therapy behind bars to come to terms with the conflict between his homosexual behavior and his Jehovah’s Witness faith that condemned it.

RELIGIOUS BELIEF DILEMMA

“His religious beliefs are a major part of his support system, and there’s a concern that those beliefs don’t allow him to act on his sexual orientation, ” said Deputy District Attorney Brian Haynes.

In the end, one of the factors that persuaded the judge to release Verse appears to have been the testimony of Pismo Beach psychologist Dale Arnold — who has testified for the prosecution in scores of violent sex offender cases.

Just two years ago, Arnold testified against releasing Verse during a routine hearing.

This time, however, Arnold testified for the defense, contending that Verse had largely met the criteria he had earlier set forth as conditions for Verse’s release — including chemical castration.

As for where he’ll wind up, Verse has indicated he would like to be sent close to his church in Martinez.

But so far, officials say they’re not having an easy time finding any housing — let alone anyone ready to supervise his community treatment. If treatment and housing aren’t lined up, Minney could delay Verse’s release until they are.

The public defender in Contra Costa County who handled Verse’s case wasn’t available for comment Tuesday, but an office supervisor, Assistant Public Defender Jack Funk, said he suspects the state simply didn’t have a good case for keeping Verse locked up.

“The real question is, why should he be kept in custody?” Funk said. “This state and many others have turned the Constitution on its head (by adopting sexual predator laws) and made it impossible to be released after completion of sentencing.”

And indeed, of the roughly 400 convicted violent sexual offenders hospitalized since California’s 1995 predator law took effect, fewer than two dozen have won their freedom — almost exclusively the result of a judge or jury overturning their original convictions or hospital commitments.

HISTORY IN MAKING?

Verse, however, would be the first to convince a judge that he’s gone through treatment under the law and is ready to return to society.

There is no way to say how Verse will handle himself once he is outside, but Kochly said, “All you have to do is look at these people’s history to understand the caution everyone is acting with in terms of saying they’re ready for release. They can wreak some real damage in the community, and so naturally we’re reluctant.”

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