State mental-health authorities are not liable for determining that a convicted rapist — who raped and killed a teenager four days after leaving prison — was suitable for release, the California Supreme Court decided unanimously Monday.
Elaina Novoa sued the Department of Mental Health, charging that her sister's death was caused by the government's failure to fulfill its duties under the Sexually Violent Predators Act. That law permits dangerous sex offenders to be confined in a mental institution after their prison terms end.
In a ruling written by Justice Carol A. Corrigan, the state high court agreed that the mental health department failed to follow the law in evaluating Gilton Pitre, who was in prison for raping a female roommate in 1996.
But the court said the victim's sister could not prove that the government's inadequate evaluation caused the 2007 rape and strangulation of Alyssa Gomez, 15, a runaway who lived on the streets of Hollywood.
As Pitre was nearing his release date, the Department of Corrections asked mental health authorities to evaluate whether Pitre was a violent sexual predator who should be committed to a mental institution rather than be released.
The law requires the Department of Mental Health to assign two professional evaluators to recommend whether a sex offender should be held over for trial for a civil commitment. Only one person evaluated Pitre and found he could be released.
"DMH's failure to appoint a second evaluator cannot properly be considered a proximate cause of Pitre's heinous crime," Corrigan wrote.
Pitre, now serving a life sentence for Gomez's death, has since been charged with killing two other women in 2004.
Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, joined by Justices Goodwin Liu and Leondra Kruger, agreed with the result but wrote separately in favor of a more narrow legal analysis.