Prosecutor offers insight on sex offenders

The inner workings of a little-known criminal justice program got a first-hand deposition Wednesday during a Kiwanis Club of La Cañada meeting.

Los Angeles Deputy Dist. Atty. Gregg Martin, a La Cañada resident, gave a presentation to the club about his work as a prosecutor with the Sexually Violent Predators Unit, which evaluates convicted violent sex offenders.

“I've always had a prosecutor's mind set, and I feel honored to have had the privilege to do what I think is right,” he told the club during its luncheon meeting in Van de Kamp Hall at Descanso Gardens.

Club members were surprised to learn that Martin doesn't just work as a lawyer — as an actor, he's played one too, and is currently performing as Atticus Finch in a performance of “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Martin led off his presentation by performing his final scene from the play, in which Finch gives an impassioned defense of his client, as a way to illuminate his own feelings about the judicial system.

“It might not be a perfect system, but it's the best system that's ever been devised,” he said.

Afterward, Martin explained the Sexually Violent Predators Unit, a little-known program formed in 1996. Its work involves taking a look at the “worst of the worst” violent sexual offenders already convicted and incarcerated to see if they have a mental illness and a likelihood of re-offending.

Of the 6,000 cases referred to the unit each year, about 2% make it to Martin's office, he said. Of that 2%, roughly one-half to two-thirds are tried and committed to a state mental institution. Around 600 offenders have been committed since 1996.

After Martin's presentation, Kiwanis Club member Clyde Hemphill said he learned something new at the meeting.

“It was thought-provoking,” he said.

Martin's opening performance may have drawn the most interest, however.

“Well, you can tell he's an actor,” Hemphill said. “I thought I was sitting in a jury box.”

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