The top prosecutor in Hennepin County is not opposing the supervised release of a violent sex offender who raped a 17-year-old Brooklyn Park girl at knife point in 1987, just days after getting out of prison for another sex crime.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman has taken a neutral position in the case of Thomas Duvall, one of two sex offenders recommended for provisional release from the state’s secure treatment program by a special review board of the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Freeman’s office opposed Duvall’s release two years ago, but the 57-year-old offender has completed additional treatment requested by prosecutors and psychologists.
Freeman says “there are no absolutes” but he believes the numerous release stipulations placed on Duvall will keep the public safe.
“I worry about these people too,” Freeman said. “But he’s done everything society has asked him to do, and he’s coming out under very strict conditions. This man has not been convicted by a jury of his peers to life without parole. He has to have an opportunity, as do others, to cure the issues and problems they have. To do otherwise would be wrong, so we are not going to stand in the way.”
As the state begins a policy shift to begin releasing some from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program that for almost two decades released no one, it is forcing court officers, psychologists and human service officials to weigh in on a thorny call: When are the state’s worst sex offenders safe for society?
Prosecutors play a central role in this process. Their objections can slow or derail the release that will ultimately be determined by a state Supreme Court appeals panel set up to hear the cases.
In addition to Duvall, the panel is expected in the coming weeks or months to consider the release of Kirk A. Fugelseth, also recommended by the DHS review board for release. Fugelseth has admitted to molesting more than 30 boys and girls, including a 1998 case involving his girlfriend’s 9-year-old daughter for which he was convicted.
Clay County Attorney Brian Melton, whose office prosecuted that case and sought to have Fugelseth civilly committed a decade ago, is not opposing his release, despite concerns that he should remain in the treatment program. Melton said the state is in a tough spot because if it doesn’t release some of the more than 600 offenders in the treatment program, the entire program could be deemed unconstitutional.
The state is under pressure from a federal lawsuit to overhaul the program, which some say violates offenders’ rights because only two offenders have been released in the program’s nearly 20 years.
That could lead to the demise of the entire program, which could pose serious risks for public safety, he said.
“I still believe he needs to be committed,” Melton said. “I believe the best place for him would be the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.”
DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson cited the lack of objection from Clay County officials in her letter to the judicial panel in which she outlined various reasons she does not object to Fugelseth’s provisional discharge. He would be only the third man released from the sex offender treatment program. There are 30 conditions contained in his discharge plan, including continued outpatient treatment, GPS monitoring with an ankle bracelet and frequent visits from caseworkers to ensure he is complying with the plan.
Jesson said on Tuesday that the number of offenders in the final stage of the treatment program has nearly doubled in two years. It’s still a relatively small number at 12.
The program is not a prison, it’s a treatment program, she said, and the law calls for a balance of public safety with the treatment of the offenders in a less restrictive environment if they progress in their treatment.
“There’s always risk that many could offend to begin with or reoffend,” she said. “That is part of the judgment ultimately the court has to make whether they can be treated in a less restrictive environment.”