Orange County officials ask how a child sex predator shed the offender registration requirement

Cary Jay Smith was released Tuesday from Coalinga State Hospital, pictured.
(John Gibbins / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Despite an unrelated sex crime conviction well before being confined for more than 20 years in a state mental hospital for his chilling words about raping and murdering children, Cary Jay Smith rejoined society Tuesday without having to register as a sex offender — and officials are tight-lipped as to why this registration requirement was dropped.

“That is beyond outrageous,” said Orange County Supervisors Chair Michelle Steel, who diverted from a standing press conference Thursday about the coronavirus to criticize Smith’s release and its apparent terms.

Upping a call she made this week with Orange County District Atty. Todd Spitzer to put Smith back on the sex offender registry, Steel said Smith needs to be reinstitutionalized, and the state should evaluate the procedures that allowed him to leave lockup.

“That someone this dangerous would be released into our neighborhoods with little to no explanation and not be required to register as a sex offender is both dangerous and nonsensical,” she said.

Despite a separate conviction for sexual offenses against children, the one-time Costa Mesa man does not have to register as a sex offender. He was released from Coalinga State Hospital on Tuesday, and it’s unclear where he is now.

What little is publicly known about Smith’s release and registration status is through the letter Steel and Spitzer wrote this week to Gov. Gavin Newsom expressing their alarm.

Their account says the California Department of State Hospitals “is under the impression that the California Department of Justice unilaterally removed Mr. Smith from that requirement in 2005. Assuming that Mr. Smith was mistakenly removed from the registration requirement, [we are] requesting that he be reinstated immediately.”

The California Department of Justice did not directly address the Daily Pilot’s questions this week about Smith’s registration status, nor has the governor’s office responded to requests for comment from the Pilot. The district attorney hasn’t heard back from the governor either, spokeswoman Kimberly Edds said Thursday.

Cary Jay Smith
Cary Jay Smith was recently released from a state psychiatric hospital, 21 years after being committed for his desire to sexually assault a 7-year-old boy in his Costa Mesa neighborhood.
(Courtesy of the Orange County district attorney’s office.)

Smith, 59, a former resident of Costa Mesa, was released Tuesday from Coalinga State Hospital, one of five facilities around the state for housing and rehabilitating the severely mentally ill, mostly those in the justice system — convicted felons found not guilty by reason of insanity, seriously mentally ill parolees and inmates who would otherwise be in prison, and “sexually violent predators.” At Coalinga, located about an hour southwest of Fresno, about three-quarters of the patient population is sexually violent predators.

Smith pleaded guilty in 1985 to misdemeanor “child annoyance.” According to Orange County Register reporting, he paid a young boy money to run naked through a sprinkler.

Child annoyance, under the child molestation code, qualifies an offender to register as a sex offender, and Steel and Spitzer’s letter notes that he had complied with registration requirements for that crime in the past.

But that offense wasn’t what hospitalized Smith. Rather, he was involuntarily committed from 1999 to this week for writing about his violent sexual fantasies toward a 7-year-old boy in his parents’ Costa Mesa neighborhood. He was not charged for that letter, but it was enough to put him in state hospitals — Coalinga, and before that, Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino — for 21 years, even though he argued for his freedom at semiannual civil trials over the years, as allowed by law.

But he testified frankly at these trials about his deviant urges toward children — including how he wanted to be known as “Mr. RTK,” for “rape, torture, kill,” and admissions that he could reoffend if released, according to the Steel-Spitzer letter.

“If a child predator for years is saying at every hearing he’s likely to reoffend, that should raise red flags, not the green light to allow him back into the community,” Steel said Thursday.

Smith briefly returned to his hometown Wednesday night, with police aware of his movements. He was gone by early Thursday morning and had never entered a residential area, the Costa Mesa Police Department said in social media posts.

He is not currently wanted for any crimes.

In a letter Thursday of her own to Newsom, Lynn Rinner turned over an online petition with 4,500 signatures requesting Smith be required to register as a sex offender. Rinner is the mother of the Costa Mesa boy referenced in Smith’s 1999 writings.

“My son was incredibly fortunate to not have been harmed but other children will not be as lucky. There is no question that Smith will offend again,” she wrote. “I am appalled at his release and even more so knowing that the safety net that should be in place has been removed. The public is asking — begging — DEMANDING! — that you reinstate his Megan’s Law registration requirement.”

Rinner said in an interview that her biggest concern is that Smith doesn’t need to register.

“I think at this point with him out and no one knowing where he is, at the very least they need to be a little bit scared,” she said. “And if they’re scared they’ll be more aware of what’s going on. Because he’s somewhere right now.”

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