COLUMN ONE : Locking Up ‘Sexual Predators’ : A public outcry in Washington state targeted repeat violent sex criminals. A new preventive law would keep them in jail indefinitely.
Ida Ballasiotes’ first thought, upon hearing the criminal history of the man who’d raped and killed her daughter, came in the form of a question.
What was this guy doing out of jail? she wondered.
For the record:
12:00 a.m. May 11, 1990 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday May 11, 1990 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Column 6 Metro Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Sexual predators--A headline in Thursday’s editions erred in saying that a new law in Washington state would mean that so-called sexual predators could be kept in jail indefinitely. They would be confined in locked treatment centers.
After all, the authorities had known Gene Raymond Kane was dangerous. He’d attacked two other women 13 years before, and he’d been sitting in prison ever since. He’d received no treatment during that time, mainly because a mental hospital considered him too dangerous to handle. In 1985, a prison psychologist thought Kane’s chance for successful adjustment to society “quite poor.” Still, officials in mid-1988 had decided to “transition” Kane back into the community through a downtown Seattle work-release center. He’d been there just two months when he killed Diane Ballasiotes on Sept. 26, 1988.
Dwelling on these facts, Ida Ballasiotes found her puzzlement swelling into a rage. Diane’s death was not like an earthquake, she told herself. It wasn’t an act of God. They had this man’s record staring at him. They knew.
“No one can bring our daughter back,” she wrote Washington’s governor, Booth Gardner, a week after Diane’s murder. “The light has gone from our hearts. But, be assured, we will work and mobilize forces to get change and reform . . . .”
The initial response from state authorities was uncomplicated and distinctly colored by their sense for the fundamentals of the law. Gene Kane was out of jail, they explained, because he’d finished serving his full sentence. The state could not confine him any longer. The state could hold a person only for what he’d done, not for what he might do.
“What were the alternatives?” wrote Chase Riveland, secretary of the state department of corrections. “The suspect could not have been retained indefinitely in maximum security. Law and court decisions demanded his release imminently.”
“Sadly, we know statistically that there will be inmates who will re-offend, yet no foolproof system has been developed to accurately predict on an individual basis who those people will be . . . .” added Gov. Gardner.
Ida Ballasiotes’ fury only deepened as she studied these replies. They lose sight of what the hell happened here, she thought. Let’s strip it away to what happened. Someone is responsible.
Ballasiotes sat down at her typewriter. She was not quite finished with her letter writing.
So began a grass-roots citizens campaign in Washington that has forced authorities into treacherous territory. How to preserve the letter and spirit of the Constitution while still keeping dangerous people such as Gene Kane off the streets? It is an abiding dilemma within the judicial system, exacerbated everywhere by the growing public alarm over drugs and crime. A decision to detain someone in order to prevent a future crime may be prudent, may be rooted in realistic assessment, but it’s not consistent with the law’s most basic tenets.
The state of Washington, however, has decided to try some tinkering.
On Feb. 28, Gov. Gardner signed into law an omnibus package aimed at violent sex offenders. Among the new statute’s several provisions is a civil commitment procedure that will allow authorities to confine in locked treatment centers, until they are cured, a group of people defined as “sexual predators.” A sexual predator, as spelled out in the law, is one who has previously committed a violent sex crime and now is found by a judge and jury to suffer a “mental abnormality” or “personality disorder” which makes him “likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence.”
In other words, the law will allow the state, acting on predictions of future dangerousness, to confine indefinitely people who are not mentally ill, as defined by medical specialists, and who do not have a criminal charge pending against them.
Questions have been raised by those who believe the law will prove neither effective nor legal, but their numbers are few, and their voices muted. Many more people have fought to make the new law even tougher. Not the least intriguing element of Washington’s current situation is the manner in which the authors of the sex offender law have emerged as a moderating influence.
“The alternative was to lock up hundreds or thousands of people for life,” said King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng, who headed the task force that drafted the new law. “Our way was much more selective.”
It was the particulars that made Diane Ballasiotes’ death especially disturbing. She’d left her job at a downtown Seattle advertising agency one evening at 5:30 and just disappeared. The missing-person posters her friends nailed everywhere described her as 5 feet-5 inches, 110 pounds, 29 years old, with curly shoulder-length auburn hair. Last seen, the poster said, leaving the 1st and Yesler area of Pioneer Square, heading toward the 3rd and Yesler U-Park garage, dressed in a navy skirt and tennis sweater. A Park Department employee had found the body a week later, while looking for garbage being dumped in another part of town, along Cheasty Boulevard South.
Diane Ballasiotes’ murder alone would not, however, have brought the present upheaval. Even when a group called Friends of Diane began staging rallies and circulating petitions, the state government’s response was muted. Then came two more violent sexual assaults, involving circumstances with a familiar ring.
First, in December of 1988, a man broke into the apartment of a 23-year-old Pierce County woman, removed a light bulb and lay in wait in her darkened bedroom. When she returned, he tied her to the bed, raped her and slashed her with a knife. The assailant was Gary Minnix, who’d been charged with four vicious knife-related rapes in 1986 and linked by Seattle police to 22 other such cases. He’d never been convicted though--he’d been found incompetent to stand trial because he was mentally retarded, with an IQ possibly as low as 48. He’d eventually ended up at Western State Hospital, but authorities there had no legal basis to keep him under tight security. He was a “gravely disabled” person, after all, not a convicted criminal. He was on his sixth weekend furlough when he assaulted the Pierce County woman.
Then, five months later, in May of 1989, a 7-year-old boy riding his bike near his Tacoma home was dragged into the nearby woods, raped, choked nearly to death and sexually mutilated. Before leaving him semi-conscious in the dirt, Earl K. Shriner cut off the boy’s penis. Shriner’s history, and his heinous crime, proved the most disturbing of all to people in Washington.
Shriner had a 24-year record of assaults on young people, dating back to an involvement in the killing of a 15-year-old schoolmate when he was 16. Diagnosed at the age of 3 as being mentally retarded, he’d spent his youth in juvenile centers, schools for the disabled and--when he became too violent--a mental institution.
Upon his release in his mid-20s, he’d kidnapped and assaulted two teen-age girls and subsequently had been sentenced to prison for 10 years. Aware of his history, authorities never considered him for parole--he served his full sentence. Faced finally with the prospect of releasing Shriner in May of 1987, corrections officials still balked--they tried to get him committed involuntarily to Western State Hospital. But doctors ruled he didn’t meet the legal criteria, because he wasn’t mentally ill or, just then, acting in a violently dangerous manner.
That didn’t mean he wasn’t a likely danger in the future. A psychiatric evaluation at that time said Shriner “has unusual sexually sadistic fantasies and plans to carry them out.” This was an accurate enough appraisal, since Shriner had once told a cellmate he wanted a van with cages so he could pick up children and imprison, sexually abuse and kill them. By law, though, Shriner couldn’t be confined for an ominous statement or a sinister psychological profile.
At the time, the state could only commit people if they suffered from a distinct, recognized mental disorder making them immediately and substantially dangerous to themselves or others. The state couldn’t commit a dangerous person who wasn’t mentally ill. The state also couldn’t commit a dangerous person if his mental illness wasn’t the cause of his dangerousness.
“He had served every day of his sentence,” a corrections official explained later. “He served all the time he was supposed to serve.”
There are those who now ask bitterly why it took a boy’s rape and mutilation before a male-dominated system responded. “It’s because the Legislature is male and could relate to it,” concluded Helen Harlow, mother of the mutilated Tacoma boy. But it might also have had something to do with the particularly ferocious public outrage aroused by Shriner’s assault.
Last July, Friends of Diane and a new group called the Tennis Shoe Brigade marched on the state capitol in Olympia, where they dumped thousands of tennis shoes--a symbol of children’s vulnerability, they explained--in Gov. Gardner’s outer office. “These are the shoes of a beautiful 18-year-old girl who was murdered last summer,” read the unsigned note attached to a pair of white exercise shoes. Holding aloft her son’s red high-top sneakers, Helen Harlow said: “He could be anybody’s child. He could be anybody’s grandchild.”
Across the state, disparate voices joined the protest. People who’d never before written public officials now lifted pens. Employees in restaurants organized fund drives for the maimed Tacoma boy. Thousands called elected officials to demand change. Plans were formed to convert the site of Shriner’s attack into a park named after his victim (who was undergoing apparently successful reconstructive surgery). “The degree of outrage and mobilization . . . is unprecedented in recent history,” prosecutor Maleng observed of this uprising.
The citizen’s demands were uncomplicated: Don’t let these kind of assaults happen. Figure out a way to keep people of this sort confined. Don’t let them out. Give them life sentences, or put them away somewhere forever. And don’t drag your heels doing this.
Over and over, the Tennis Shoe Brigade and Friends of Diane demanded that Gardner convene a special session of the Legislature to pass emergency legislation. The governor, a moderate Democrat, did not want to do it. “There’s a lot of passion out there,” his spokesman, Dick Milne, observed at one point, “but it would be wrong to react at a gut level to this. We can’t overnight start devising laws that are going to stand up in court.”
Instead, Gardner last summer appointed a “task force on community protection,” hoping it would channel the citizen’s outrage into a more measured, reasoned process.
Some still were dubious. “I didn’t even want the task force convened,” said one of its members, state legislator Marlin Appelwick, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “The public mood, in Pierce County particularly, was near vigilantism. I feared we’d be forced to do very radical extreme things.”
It is now generally acknowledged that picking King County prosecutor Norm Maleng to head the task force represented a masterful political stroke by Gardner, one that eased concerns such as Appelwick’s and neutralized possible critics on both sides. Maleng had been Gardner’s Republican opponent in the last gubernatorial race.
“Maleng is very widely respected, a brilliant pick,” said Bob Boruchowitz, director of the Seattle-King County Public Defenders Assn. “You know it’s not going to be a whitewash when you pick your opponent, and with Maleng you also know it’s not going to be a screaming crazy guy. He is reasonable.”
After a series of emotionally moving public hearings, where 151 victims rose to tell their often harrowing stories--the picnic table gang rape of a 3-year-old girl by her father and his friends being one that stuck in some minds--the job of drafting much of the sex predator bill fell to task force member David Boerner, a University of Puget Sound law professor. Boerner, too, was considered a reasonable man even by opponents. He was a liberal-minded former prosecutor who, seeing there were going to be changes, told colleagues he thought it best to get involved in the process in order to limit its effect.
One by one, elements of the bill fell into place, fashioned by a group that included Ida Ballasiotes, Helen Harlow and two other representatives from victims’ families among the customary professors, prosecutors, doctors and social workers.
The bill greatly increased prison sentences for sex crimes. The bill allowed police to warn the public when sexual offenders were being released from confinement. The bill created a central registry of released offenders, including photographs and fingerprints. The bill provided expanded services and treatment both for victims and youthful offenders.
Task force members were particularly proud of this last provision and the considerable state funding it mandated. To have an impact, they explained after their months of research, you must get to sexually active juveniles as early as possible.
None of these provisions, however, addressed the central question the task force had been formed to answer: What to do about the Earl Shriners and Gary Minnixes and Gene Kanes, once they are adults? Yes, some are retarded, and yes, most as children suffered horrible beatings and sexual abuse by alcoholic parents--but now what?
It was, Maleng, Boerner and their colleagues knew, not at all a simple question.
“Incarceration of people not mentally ill because of what they might do is ‘preventive’ penal detention which is an unconstitutional infringement of the right to due process and equal protection,” the task force itself pointed out in an early briefing paper. “The state must prove that a person has committed crimes before depriving the person of their liberty.”
The procedures for involuntary commitment were restrictive for good reason, the task force added: “Our current state law was developed during a reform period when arbitrary and indefinite commitments of individuals were a major concern. The law was designed to limit the considerable discretion the medical professional had over continued commitment of patients, as well as limiting the power of family members in committing individuals.”
Of course, there were plenty of people, some on the task force, who didn’t much care about the commitment laws anyway. They felt the response to sexual predators should be kept within the criminal justice system. Washington and most states, after all, for decades had tried treating sex offenders in hospitals under various sex psychopathy laws, only to back away from that approach in recent years, mainly because it hadn’t worked. Those sent to hospitals proved just as likely to commit additional crimes as those sent to prison.
So forget treatment, argued many in Washington, including the state attorney general. Instead, greatly increase sentences. And give life sentences for second offenses--104 months instead of 52 months doesn’t make a person safer when he gets out.
This prison-over-treatment attitude, as it happens, reflects the current trend in most states. Even Illinois and Massachusetts, the two states with civil-commitment laws somewhat similar to Washington’s new statute, are considering their repeal.
Maleng and his colleagues, however, decided to buck this return to a reliance on the criminal system. Required, but not overly eager, to act, they wanted a narrower and less bluntly edged alternative.
The task force members knew the state was free to define broadly what constituted “mental illness” and “treatment.” So why not, they reasoned, create a new diagnostic category, making eligible for commitment those “likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence.”
In the end, the task force chose to define “acts of sexual violence” broadly: They included the major sex offenses--rape, indecent liberties, child molestation--and also lesser offenses such as second-degree assault and residential burglary, provided that those crimes were “determined to have been sexually motivated.”
Those deemed likely to commit such crimes could be confined in a treatment center--within a prison grounds--if they were nearing the end of a criminal sentence or juvenile detention, if they’d been found not guilty of a sex offense by reason of insanity or if they’d been determined incompetent to stand trial on a sex offense charge.
Confinement could be ordered only by a judge at the request of a county prosecutor. There would be a jury trial, where the defendant could have a lawyer and expert witnesses, and the state would have to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. If committed, the “predator” would be provided treatment and an annual review by state authorities, who could release him if they deemed him cured. And he could petition for release on his own, and get it, if he proved by a preponderance of the evidence that he was cured.
It cannot be said that Maleng, Boerner and others on the task force were unaware of the objections this plan would arouse. After all, they themselves had spelled out some of them in their earlier briefing papers. Two particular problems suggested themselves immediately. The proposed bill called upon medical personnel to treat people whom history and the doctors themselves generally say are untreatable. And it asked psychiatrists to predict future dangerousness, even though research overwhelmingly showed that these experts were wrong in at least two out of three cases.
Some doctors and lawyers soon enough raised just these points, and others. Talk as much as you will about treatment and commitment, they argued, what this comes down to is preventive detention. The people you’ve targeted are not mentally ill, and can’t be treated. They’re criminals, pure and simple. Some are developmentally disabled. You’ve carved out of thin air a false medical diagnosis, as an excuse to hold people indefinitely. It sounds a lot like the old, discredited sex psychopathy laws. And how would the detention ever end?
“How many psychiatrists do you know who will go to court and say this guy is OK?” asked Dr. James Reardon, a psychiatrist representing the Washington State Psychiatric Assn. who works with prisoners and the involuntarily committed. “Can you imagine the liability? You are trying to make medical people into agents of social control, into policemen . . . . We urge you to accept the limitations of science and medical practice. Lock up the rapists, murderers and the armed robbers for a long time if you will. But do not commit them for treatment.”
“There is a duality here,” added John LaFond, Boerner’s colleague at the University of Puget Sound law school and a specialist in mental health law. “First the system treats certain offenders as criminal wrongdoers, in control of their actions. Then when their sentence is up, it says he’s in need of treatment, is not responsible for his actions. I call this ‘labeling of convenience.’ ”
If there was substance to the various objections, however, there was also a certain tentativeness. In the end, only a handful of those opposed to the sex predator bill spoke publicly, and most kept their voices unusually low.
The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, in fact, chose not to testify at all during the legislative hearings, concluding it would be counterproductive, with emotions running so high. The lone civil liberties advocate on the task force, Robert Stalker from Evergreen Legal Services, also remained quiet. “My political assessment was there was no point in opposing this,” he explained later.
One state psychologist, an expert in the sex offender field, said she kept her doubts private because her boss supported the proposed bill. A lawyer, asking anonymity, said that he’d hesitated even to talk with a reporter, since the last time he’d spoken out, he’d received a letter threatening to burn down his home.
“It’s a very difficult position we’re in now,” the public defender, Boruchowitz, said. “I mean, no one can be against protecting the community, or be for sex predators. Moderate people have been caught up in this mood. I hesitate to speak out.”
Maleng, Boerner and their colleagues, at any rate, by now had carefully refined answers for those who did object.
There’s a distinction between the obligation to treat and the likelihood of a cure, they pointed out. Besides, even if we can’t treat now, shouldn’t we keep trying? We do that all the time with AIDS and cancer. And we’re not asking the doctors to predict borderline cases, we’re asking them to tell us who are the most dangerous of the dangerous. Yes, it’s going to be difficult for these people to get out, we can’t deny that. Some will be in for a long time--perhaps 30 years. Either a person changes or we find a cure. Maybe a treatment will be developed much later. What else is a rational society to do--let them go or lock them in prison forever?
“I feel very sensitive to civil liberties,” Maleng said. “That’s why we put in a full due process procedure. Of the alternatives, life sentences for thousands is worse, and letting them go, not possible. I am not concerned that there will be abuse--this system makes it hard on all actors.”
Whatever the merits of these various opinions, the truth is, they did not account for much of the public debate over the proposed legislation. The bill’s authors just never were particularly occupied with objections from psychiatrists and civil libertarians. They had a much more formidable lobby bearing down on them.
“The fires we were trying to put out have been more from people who wanted even stronger measures,” said Paula Jallison, Maleng’s administrative assistant. “Lots of people were trying to make it tougher. Politicians were jumping on it. It was political suicide not to support this.”
In many quarters, preventive detention simply was not an offensive notion.
“What’s wrong with a holding pen?” asked Ida Ballasiotes. “They’re not going to be mistreated. It’s not a dungeon. They get food. The point is to keep them away from society. For how long? Maybe forever . . . . Society likes these nice, tidy definitions--mentally ill, criminal, sane. Well, some of these people don’t fit these categories. They just attack, repeatedly, over and over.”
Life sentences without the possibility of parole for a second offense was, in the end, among the milder proposals. A bill providing greatly reduced prison sentences to sex offenders who agreed to castration was approved by the state Senate in mid-February, winning support from a surprising number of mainstream political leaders. Legislators said they voted for the measure as a response to constituents’ demands.
“It’s time we address the public’s concern for safety and not concern for criminal rights,” said state Sen. Bob McCaslin (R-Olympia). “This bill would be something positive . . . .”
“Voluntary mutilation is too good for sex offenders,” said state Sen. Brad Owen (D-Olympia). “It should be mandatory for these creeps. The Constitution was never meant to coddle these people, but that’s what we use it for.”
So at the start of February, when the sex-offender legislation won unanimous approval in both houses of the state Legislature, Maleng and Boerner were thankful--not because their bill hadn’t been diluted, but because it hadn’t been toughened.
The morning that representatives in the House were voting, Ida Ballasiotes sat in the upper gallery, eyeing the tally board.
“We were watching to see if anyone opposed the bill,” she explained later. “We were prepared to publicize names of those who voted against it.”
Glad It’s Over
Looking back several weeks later, state representative Marlin Appelwick, expressing a not uncommon sentiment, said: “I’m damn glad it’s over. I can’t take many like this.” Adoption of the sex-offender legislation, however, has proven not so much the end of the story but the beginning. The question most frequently asked now: Will the law, aimed at the Earl Shriners of the world, cast a far wider net than intended?
Maleng calls the law a “rifle shot” and estimates that perhaps 30 or 40 people might be targeted a year, out of the 750 sex offenders that Washington releases annually. Others, though, point out that 39 different autonomous county prosecutors will decide whom to go after, and will have a tough time choosing, since no less than 60% of those 750 released sex offenders can be expected to reoffend.
“Political pressures will force a wide net,” predicts LaFond. “You are criticized, not for sending a nondangerous person to treatment centers; you are criticized for releasing someone who is dangerous. Prosecutors tell me they’ll have to file. If they have that power and don’t file, there will be hell to pay.”
Recent events in Washington, as it happens, have done little to allay LaFond’s fears. The bill doesn’t go into effect until July 1, but public officials already are displaying an unmistakable enthusiasm for its spirit.
Last July, Police Chief John Turner in suburban Mountlake Terrace called a press conference to warn citizens that a dangerous 18-year-old man, recently released from juvenile custody and not suitable for involuntary commitment, was now living in their community. Here was a considerably more marginal figure than Earl Shriner.
The 18-year-old’s record included two convictions on indecent liberties charges almost five years before, when he was 14. But he also was the author of a detailed written plan to abduct and molest children, discovered by staffers at his juvenile detention center.
“I thought: ‘Am I going to be the chief of a community that gets information like this and doesn’t do anything with it?’ ” Chief Turner later told reporters. “How big of a billboard did I need? What am I to do? Am I to take that information and file it away?”
Turner’s public announcement triggered an avalanche of phone calls to the police station--for two hours, the calls came every 15 to 20 seconds. City residents began keeping their children indoors. The school district bought new fencing. Within three weeks, county mental health officials had ordered the 18-year-old to Western State Hospital, deciding he was indeed fit for involuntary commitment.
Since then, confidentiality laws make it hard to trace what has happened to him, but a prosecutor familiar with the case indicated that he eventually was diagnosed a pedophile, which enabled authorities to commit him, involuntarily and indefinitely, even though the new law hadn’t gone into effect.
Then, early last February, Tacoma Police Chief Ray Fjetland and Pierce County prosecutor John Ladenburg at a press conference not only announced the release of a “predatory” man who’d just completed serving his maximum sentence, but also provided his name and whereabouts. He was, they said, an “extremely dangerous, extremely violent” convicted child molester.
Unfortunately, they were describing the wrong man. The person being released, they soon had to acknowledge, was not the 53-year-old man they’d identified, but his 21-year-old developmentally disabled son, who had juvenile convictions for arson, indecent liberties and malicious mischief. The police chief and prosecutor stood by their initial warning, though. State officials, they explained, had serious concerns about the younger man because of “other behavior” that was not described in court files and could not be released because of the juvenile confidentiality laws.
Other miscues followed. One day, Tacoma police informed the Oakland Park area that a 22-year-old child rapist had been released from prison and was going to live in the neighborhood with his father, but the next day the father said he had no notion of his son’s whereabouts.
That same week, a Pierce County sheriff, apparently acting on his own, posted flyers all over the Eatonville area that listed not only the name of a newly-released sexual offender, but also the name, address and phone number of the elderly woman who was once his foster mother. For days, the 72-year-old woman’s phone rang constantly, the calls full of threats and questions. The woman didn’t know how to respond, since she hadn’t seen the man for seven years and had no idea where he was.
By early May, state officials had tentatively targeted six particular sex offenders, five of them already released, for possible civil commitment when the sex predator bill takes effect in July. The screening for candidates had been going on since January, explained corrections official Don Moore, although state officials were still struggling to fashion an objective, standardized procedure to assess risk. “We need something better than a crude eyeballing of an individual,” Moore said.
Watching all this, people understandably had differing reactions.
The psychiatrist James Reardon wished citizens would focus their outraged concern on what he felt were far bigger threats to society than sexual predators, such as drugs and alcohol abuse and guns. Physical and sexual abuse were far more likely to come from family members than from strange predators, after all. “Nine people were shot to death on Seattle streets last week while this law was being debated, but no one talks of gun control,” he said. “Sex predators have become the focus, the bogyman.”
The civil liberties lawyers, sounding shaken and isolated, thought the recent events proved that striking down protections for the Earl Shriners also lost them for other people. “People forget what this country was founded on,” Boruchowitz said. “It was for the protection of minorities, the accused, the powerless. It was to protect against government abuse. We have died for protections people are willing to give up.”
Others suggested that the new law simply won’t work. “The public was sold a bill of goods,” said LaFond. “I predict mistaken confinement of innocent people and extensive victimization still will continue within the community. So we will have the worst of both worlds. The fact is, there are limits to how much we can protect and make the world safe, even if politicians can’t say that. This situation starts you thinking why systems have limits--there usually are reasons. I suspect they’ll just commit a few at the start, then there will be more Shriners. So they will commit larger numbers. There still will be Shriners. Then what?”
Even some connected to the task force felt, if not uncertain, at least cautious. “There’s no question this can be abused,” said Dave Boerner. “We simply will have to see. But I have faith in juries.” Paul Trause, deputy secretary of the state Department of Social and Health Services, who served as the task force’s chief of staff, said: “We are at the edge. We recognize that. There were trade-offs.”
On the other hand, Ida Ballasiotes, surveying all that has unfolded, could not help but feel a sense of accomplishment.
Her daughter’s murderer, Gene Kane, has been put behind bars for good, sentenced to life without possibility of parole. Just hours before the Legislature passed the sex offender act, Earl Shriner had been convicted of first-degree rape, assault and attempted murder. On that same day, in another courtroom, Gary Minnix had been sentenced to 50 years in prison for his rape of the Pierce County woman--a new judge had decided the retarded Minnix was competent to stand trial after all. And Friends of Diane and the Tennis Shoe Brigade now were carefully monitoring a variety of other courtrooms, carrying with them lists of sexual offenders due to be released soon from prison.
At her Mercer Island home one early February morning, Ida Ballasiotes reflected on these matters. Then she produced two letters--one written by Gov. Gardner soon after her daughter’s death, the other written by Diane on Mothers Day in 1988, four months before she was murdered. Ballasiotes held the two sheets before her, in separate hands, reading first from one, then the other. “The board was required to return Mr. Kane to society” . . . “I love you, and I am one lucky gal.” Dropping the letters on her kitchen table, she shook her head with disdain.
“We have focused attention,” Ballasiotes said. “We’ll never get a perfect system, there still will be Shriners and Kanes, but we’re saying, at least do a better job than you have been doing. We’re saying, use your head, be accountable.”
No, she replied to a question, they were not yet fully satisfied. They were not finished.
“This is just a good first step,” Ballasiotes said. “This was a compromise. There’s a lot to do yet.”
THE PREDATORS LAW
Under a Washington state law that goes into effect July 1, people could be confined indefinitely, even past their statutory prison terms, if they are found to be “sexual predators.”
The law defines a predator as “any person who has been convicted of, or charged with a crime of sexual violence and who suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder which makes the person likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence.”
Under the law, acts of sexual violence include first- and second-degree rape, indecent liberties and child molestation. Lesser offenses such as second-degree assault and even residential burglary could also be considered to meet the definition if they are “determined to have been sexually motivated.”
A county prosecutor could seek to confine a person under the law who:
Has been convicted of a sexually violent crime and is nearing the end of a criminal sentence.
Has committed a sexually violent offense as a juvenile and is about to be released.
Has been charged with a violent sex offense but has been determined to be incompetent to stand trial.
Has been found not guilty of a sex offense by reason of insanity.
A judge would order a 45-day confinement upon receiving the prosecutor’s request. A trial would be held to determine whether the person is at risk to commit a sexual crime and should be confined. Confinement would end only upon proof that the “predator” was cured.