Minnesota sex offender makes bid for freedom

  • Article by: PAUL MCENROE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 7, 2012 - 8:06 AM

John Rydberg, 69, could become the first resident released since 1994 from state sex-offender treatment.

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In this 1985 photo provided by the Minnesota Department of Corrections, convicted sex offender John Rydberg is shown during his intake into the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater.

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In a final bid to convince judges that he poses no danger to the public, serial rapist John Rydberg testified Friday that he has led a responsible life during his years of treatment in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) and deserves release to a halfway house.

"I'm not perfect, but I think I'm doing very well," Rydberg said from the witness stand in a Ramsey County courtroom, where a three-judge panel listened closely.

Rydberg, who was committed to the program in 1993 as a psychopathic personality with deviant, antisocial behaviors, could become the first civilly committed sex offender to be released from the controversial program since 1994. Now 69, Rydberg has admitted to more than 90 sexual offenses dating back to the 1970s.

"I'm going to stay in treatment, besides staying sober," Rydberg said confidently when his attorney asked for details of a plan developed to keep him from violating the terms of his release, should it be granted. In addition to attending support programs, Rydberg would be required to wear an electronic bracelet to track his whereabouts and check in daily with probation officers.

In late 2010, a panel of experts from the state Department of Human Services recommended that Rydberg be released from the MSOP because he had successfully completed all the rehabilitation courses required of him.

Then, admitting they were at cross-purposes with their own panel, department executives -- with the support of Gov. Mark Dayton -- filed suit in an effort to keep Rydberg confined. He currently lives in an unsecured residence on the grounds of the Minnesota Security Hospital campus in St. Peter.

The judges' decision on Rydberg's release is not expected until late spring or summer.

Wrenching testimony

Sitting in the front row to hear Rydberg testify Friday were two of his many victims, Tom and Janet McCartney of Edina. Both were repeatedly raped by Rydberg after he broke into their rural Wisconsin home in 1975. Including Friday's hearing, the couple have attended each of the five wrenching sessions over the past year, during which attorneys have argued and engaged their own experts on whether Rydberg is a risk to reoffend.

Rydberg's attorney, Brian Southwell, argued Thursday that his client has had repeated opportunities to escape but has obeyed his restrictions with little complaint.

Southwell noted that Ryberg leaves the hospital grounds with an escort about six days a week to attend various support sessions -- about 500 times since he was moved to St. Peter from the highly secure MSOP facility in Moose Lake. In addition, Southwell said, Rydberg has acted responsibly on shopping trips to area malls, shopping under a buddy system while an MSOP employee waits for them.

Assistant Attorney General Noah Cashman, representing the Department of Human Services, sought to portray Rydberg as emotionally unstable -- a man who has been able to mislead his therapists and is prone to serious outbursts of anger over perceived slights.

Ryderg admitted he's lashed out at times in the past year over what he believes were unjustified, tightened security measures.

"I've got 10 cameras in the house, four counts a day. Once in a while, I slipped,'' he said. "I'm trying to come to grips to not burst out in anger. I believe I can stop myself before that happens.''

Paul McEnroe • 612-673-1745

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