The rapist confronts his past before a panel that could approve the first release from the Minnesota program.
A chronic sex offender with a violent past faced two of his victims in a Ramsey County courtroom Friday morning, saying, "I can never make up for what I've done,'' but arguing that he deserves a chance at supervised release after years of treatment and confinement.
John Rydberg, 69, whose record includes more than 90 sex offenses, described himself as a recovering sex offender, and admitted from the witness stand that in the past, "My focus was on my pleasure -- not their pain or hurt.''
Rydberg's release from a secure treatment facility in St. Peter would be the first since Minnesota's controversial sex offender program was created in 1994. It was recommended by a panel of experts at the state Department of Human Services, but must be approved by a special three-judge panel, which convened Friday's hearing.
Rydberg spent much of the day on the witness stand, by turns remorseful and wary, sparring with an assistant state attorney general who tried to show that the rapist who has spent more than 30 years in prison and treatment cannot square his sympathetic self-image with the deviant thoughts revealed in his medical records.
Noting that Rydberg said as recently as November 2010 that he had fantasized about assaulting an imaginary family with two daughters, Assistant Attorney General Noah Cashman challenged Rydberg to explain how his fantasy was any different from the violent assaults he actually committed years ago.
But Rydberg's attorney, Brian Southwell, argued that the aging offender has proved he deserves the public's trust.
"If he had intended to escape [from St. Peter] he could have done it many years ago,'' Southwell told the packed courtroom. "If he had intended to re-offend, he could have done it many years ago. The risk is reasonable.''
That argument failed to move Tom and Janet McCartney, an Edina couple who were Rydberg's victims in a night of sexual debasement at their rural Wisconsin home 36 years ago.
Tom McCartney, 58, took the witness stand to oppose Rydberg's release in emotional terms. Staring across the room to the defense table, where Rydberg sat with a bowed head, McCartney told the judges: "Look at him. He can't even look up.''
Under questioning from Cashman, McCartney continued: "I know he's not been cured.'' Then, looking toward the three judges, his voice rising in anger, he added: "He has 90-plus offenses. Is 100 when we put them away?''
Rydberg was civilly committed as a psychopathic personality in 1993 after serving a lengthy prison term in Stillwater in connection the rape of a Blue Earth County woman in 1979.
Whether years of confinement and treatment have cured Rydberg's worst impulses was the vexing question at the heart of the daylong hearing. The state's commissioner of human services opposes Rydberg's release, despite the recommendation of the agency's experts.
For nearly two hours in the afternoon, Cashman walked Rydberg through volumes of police documents and treatment reports in an attempt to show that Rydberg's statements to authorities after he committed sexual assaults didn't match up with the recollections he recounted in counseling sessions.
In several instances, Rydberg bristled with frustration when Cashman pointed out that what Rydberg described as mere "crimes of opportunity'' were actually acts of predatory assault that he had carefully planned.
As the afternoon wore on, Rydberg acknowledged he still has deviant sexual fantasies, including the rape of an imaginary couple with two daughters, and extreme anger over his restrictions at St. Peter and the sense that he might never win discharge despite years of treatment. He has revealed his worst impulses in therapy sessions in an effort to better understand himself, he said.
"What can I say?'' he told Cashman. "I am a work in progress. I slip once in a while.'' He said he has never lied on a polygraph and only inflated the number of his victims -- to upwards of 150 -- in order not to appear evasive before the examiner.
"I have so many victims. I can't keep track,'' he said. "I don't like to face what I did but I'm trying to go forward.''
The hearing is expected to resume March 11. Presiding is a special three-judge panel consisting of Ramsey County Chief Judge Kathleen Guerin, retired Dakota County Judge Leslie Metzen and Ramsey County Judge Joanne Smith.