Thursday, October 9, 2008

Richard Hosier - Repeat Sex Offender Civil Commitment

With a history of sex assault since he was a teen, Hosier has admitted to raping about 30 women and children during the late 1970s and early 1980s, often picking up hitchhikers and assaulting them.

A King County jury has ruled that convicted sex offender Richard Hosier should remain confined until state psychiatrists decide he's no longer a threat to the community.

At Walla Walla and at Monroe, Richard Hosier was a model prisoner, an example to other sex offenders who had found their way behind bars.

But once he was released in Snohomish County, deputies arrested him, saying he gloried in using sex as a weapon against girls. He'd been dropping notes laden with sexual imagery for children to find.

To prosecutors, he represents a special case: a sexual predator so dangerous that he should be locked up with others like him in a treatment center even though his prison sentence has ended.

Prosecutors are asking a King County jury to send Hosier, 61, to a state Department of Social and Health Services treatment center on McNeil Island, where he would remained confined until death or rehabilitation through the state "civil commitment" system.

For most offenders taken into the 18-year-old program, such a move amounts to a life sentence. For the public, civil commitment is supposed to protect them from violent predators.

And now, a case where a jury rejected civil commitment stands for some as the ultimate example of why people such as Hosier must be locked up.

Like Hosier, Curtis Thompson faced civil commitment. But a jury refused in 2003 to commit him, and now Thompson faces a murder charge.

Less than a year after the state released Thompson, he started committing crimes, prosecutors say.

Thompson is accused of accosting four women in a weeks-long spree, killing one. He's currently facing the first of three trials, for which a conviction could send him to prison for the rest of his life under the state "two strikes" law applied to sex predators who reoffend.

Civil commitment proceedings are rare, with about a dozen being filed each year in King County. By comparison, county prosecutors filed 640 felony counts against accused sex criminals in 2007, up from 441 the previous year.

Thompson's outcome stands in contrast to the civil commitment system's record of success, said Steve Williams of the Department of Social and Health Services, which administers the civil commitment program.

Treatment through the program doesn't come cheaply for Washington taxpayers, costing the state $45 million in 2007, roughly $169,200 per offender. But, since its inception, none of the offenders involved has reoffended outside the secure facility.

"It was the jury that made the decision that he did not meet the criteria for civil commitment," Williams said of Thompson. "We would have recommended that he stay with us."

Of the 335 sex offenders who have entered the program, only two have been fully released. A third, Gary Cherry of Mason County, is scheduled to appear in court later this year to petition for release.

Several offenders have been placed at halfway houses in South Seattle or on McNeil Island, Williams said. None of those has reoffended in the community, in part because the offenders are returned to the secure facility if they appear to be backsliding.

"Any indication that they may be slipping up, we yank them out of the transition facility and put them back in the secure unit," Williams said.

The program has its detractors, chief among them the U.S. District Court in Seattle.

The commitment center was placed under court supervision in 1994 after a federal judge agreed in part with a complaint filed by a group of offenders who claimed that the facility was simply a prison by another name.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez ended that oversight in March 2007, finding that the state was offering an adequate amount of psychiatric treatment. But, in his ruling, he continued to express concerns about the problem posed by sex offenders who had served their sentences but continue to threaten society.

"This case is most troublesome to the court in that there seems to be no right answer, and no good fix for the situation these plaintiffs face," Martinez said in his ruling.

For prosecutors, the civil commitment system offers a tool to prevent offenders like Thompson from doing more damage.

Under the law, only repeat offenders with a psychiatric predisposition toward sex assault can be committed.

Prosecutors use the system when they look to put away people such as Hosier and Michael Atkins, a sex offender against whom civil commitment papers were filed earlier in September.

Atkins, 56, was scheduled to be released from prison Monday after completing a 10-year sentence. He pleaded guilty to charges related to the molestation of a 6-year-old girl.

That assault followed a string of sex crime convictions dating to the early 1980s, when Atkins was accused of raping two South Seattle girls.

But convicts can't be locked away indefinitely simply because their crimes are heinous, or they themselves are repugnant, said Robin Price, a public defender representing Hosier.

"Without a doubt, Richard Hosier is a disgusting and repulsive individual," Price told the King County jury Thursday. "There's no one in this room who would dispute that."

But, she said, her client isn't a high risk to reoffend and could be treated outside the walls of the McNeil Island center.

That argument, one often made in civil commitment trials, could be a tough sell to a jury whose faces blanched as prosecutors recited in graphic detail the litany of sex crimes of which Hosier has been convicted.

With a history of sex assault since he was a teen, Hosier has admitted to raping about 30 women and children during the late 1970s and early 1980s, often picking up hitchhikers and assaulting them.

Most recently, he was convicted of leaving sexually explicit notes at several locations around Snohomish County, including a day care center.

"25% of all sex offenders re-offend within 15 years"
.........Sarah Tofte

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