Sex offender task force urges special court, screening unit - KMSP-TV

Sex offender task force urges special court, screening unit

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After more than a year of debate and dialogue, a state task force has made its recommendations on what to do with civilly-committed sex offenders who claim their constitutional rights are being violated.

Minnesota confines more sex offenders per capita than any other state, and though other task forces have come before, what makes this situation different is the federal lawsuit that claims civil commitment amounts to a second sentence, a double jeopardy of sorts, for those who have served their time in prison.

The current task force set out to make the process more rational, more objective and less political -- but if history is any indication, that's a tall order

Michael Benson is one of those who is civilly committed to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, where 700 patients have checked in, but only one has ever checked out. He doesn't believe the Minnesota Legislature will change that.

"The Legislature couldn't even deal with the easy stuff," Benson said. "One of the hard things they're going to have to deal with is: Who is committable? Because right now, you could commit a cheese sandwich in Minnesota."

After 14 months and 22 public meetings, however, the task force hopes the Legislature will tackle the issue before the federal courts step in.

Among the recommendations:

- A screening unit to objectively decide which sex offenders meet the criteria for civil commitment

- A civil commitment court which will decide commitment terms and place the burden of proof on the state

- A 2-year review and a bi-annual review of all 700 sex offenders to see whether they are fit for release

Fox 9 News has learned 36 men are in the final stages of treatment, men like John Rydberg -- a sexual sadist suspected of 100 rapes; Kirk Fugelseth, who molested more than 31 children; and Thomas Duvall, who admits to 200 victims, some of whom he beat with a hammer.

Those are some of the most violent offenders in the program, but others -- like Joshua Cox, who molested two relatives when he was only 15 -- are stuck behind razor wire because there aren't enough residential treatment programs.

"He was out for 6 years, never committed a crime," Cox's mother, Sherry Jordan, told Fox 9 NEws. "They grabbed him, civilly committed him and he hasn't been out since."

He's not alone either. There are 52 people confined in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program who have not been convicted of an adult sex crime. The task force found that should not be happening.

Jordan remains doubtful that politics can be pulled from the debate, but the task force is asking the Legislature to address the issue.

"We can only hope that Legislators will do what they were elected to do and look out for the public interest, not their own," Eric Magnuson, chair of the Civil Commitment Task Force and former Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, told Fox 9 News by phone.

For the last 20 years -- from Dennis Linnehan to Alphonso Rodriguez, the sex offender debate has been fraught with politics, and the program nearly quadrupled in just the past decade.

Next week, a federal judge will hold a hearing on the lawsuit brought by the patients. At this point, it's unclear whether the judge is willing to wait around for the Legislature. Last session, lawmakers had a chance to address the issue, but they did not.

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