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Judge approves sex offender's release from MSOP with heavy supervision

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A man convicted of raping three girls in the early 1990s could be set for release from the controversial Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP).

In a ruling on Monday, Judge Edward Cleary upheld a state appeals panel ruling from August that said Christopher R. Coker, 47, had made "great progress away from sexual dangerousness" and could be released to a halfway house under heavy surveillance.

State prosecutors, however, are weighing an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court which could delay or prevent his release, the Star Tribune reports.

According to the ruling, Coker was convicted for the rape of three minor girls in separate incidents in 1991, and entered the sex offender program in 2000 (having been civilly committed after serving his prison sentence).

The program was ruled unconstitutional by a U.S. District Judge last year, saying found offenders were committed to its maximum-security centers in St. Peter and Moose Lake with little hope of ever being released.

The judge ordered the state to make a series of changes to the program, including ordering case reviews of the 700-plus patients currently committed.

Earlier this month, Gov. Mark Dayton proposed in his $1.4 billion jobs bill spending $12.4 million building two new, lower-security facilities for those who had made progress in their rehabilitation.

Doctor says 'sexual deviance not a concern' with Coker

Last year the states appeal panel found Coker had done well on at least 30 trips into the community, while testimony given during a panel hearing attested to his "sociable and productive behavior," with an MSOP security guard saying he "did not create problems and was helpful."

One of his doctors testified that while there may still be behavioral challenges for Coker, who has a fiancee of 12 years, "sexual deviance is not a concern and has not been for a long time," while the MSOP clinical director Dr. Haley Fox said he had no incidents of sexual or violent misconduct while in the program.

The Forum News Service reports the courts have released three patients to live in the community under close supervision during the program's history, with four others given provisional discharges – but those four remain in a state hospital. No patient has ever been fully released.

"I am very disappointed by the court's decision," Human Services Commissioner Emily Johnson Piper told the news service. "Based on the review and recommendations of multiple experts, this client is not ready for provisional discharge into the community. I am looking at my options to appeal to the Supreme Court."

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