No decision on sex offender release

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Minnesota's executive branch is divided over what to do about a convicted sex offender, according to the Star Tribune.

Attorney General Lori Swanson has said convicted rapist Thomas Duvall should not be released despite being held 13 years in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP). Gov. Mark Dayton is supporting a state panel that recommended he be eligible for a provisional discharge.

The Associated Press reports the issue is growing partisan, with prominent Republicans calling for Duvall to remain committed.

A state Supreme Court appeals panel heard arguments in the case Friday, but failed to issue a ruling.

Attorneys representing Duvall, the state, and Hennepin County did not challenge Swanson’s court motion for a formal public hearing on the proposal to grant Duvall supervised discharge from MSOP.

“Duvall’s many victims should also have the opportunity to express their viewpoints,” said State Solicitor General Alan Gilbert during Friday’s hearing. “Transparency is essential in a matter of this importance to the public and public safety.”

A five-day public hearing has tentatively been scheduled for early April, at which more testimony is expected from experts and victims.

Thomas Duvall, 58, is accused of attacking at least 60 women. He was convicted of raping a 17-year-old Brooklyn Park girl at knifepoint in 1987, not long after he got out of prison for another rape. He served 13 years in prison, and then was civilly committed to the sex offender program.

If Duvall's release is approved, he would be just the second man released in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program in its 20-year history.

But a special state review board in August determined that Duvall had shown enough progress in treatment to have earned a recommendation to the panel of judges that he receive a provisional discharge.

Attorney General Lori Swanson objected. But Gov. Mark Dayton is backing the state Department of Human Services panel. The Star Tribune disclosed an email exchange between Dayton and Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, in which Dayton asks specific questions about Duvall’s therapy records – including his sex fantasy journals – and the severity of his crimes. But Dayton has deferred to her judgment.

"Look, I share the same feeling as the public — lock ’em up the rest of their lives, why should we take a chance?" Dayton said in an interview with the Star Tribune last week. “But the real question is are we ever going to take responsibility for this backdoor, indiscriminate way of leaving these people warehoused forever?”

Another official who believes Duvall should remain locked up is gubernatorial candidate Rep. Kurt Zellers, who Dayton blasted on Friday.

Underlying the debate over Duvall is the broader controversy about how the state should deal with convicted sex offenders. Currently, there are 698 of them locked in facilities in St. Peter and Moose Lake, at a cost of roughly $73 million a year, according to the state's overview of the program.

The offenders remain held at the facilities under Minnesota's civil commitment law. But some allege the confinement violates their constitutional rights because it amounts to a de-facto life sentence, even though the offenders have completed both court-ordered prison sentences and treatment.

Last year, a federal judge ruled that an offenders' challenge to Minnesota's sex offender program could move forward as a class action suit.

In a story last year, KSTP went inside the Moose Lake facility, where one offender vowed to "sue my way out the front door."

Meanwhile, the state has a 15-member task force delving into the complex questions related to the state's sex offender program, and the panel plans to offer reform recommendations to state lawmakers by December. The panel is considering dramatic changes to the system, the Star Tribune reports.

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