Rapist won't be released from sex offender program

  • Article by: PAUL MCENROE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 18, 2012 - 10:59 PM

John Rydberg completed his sex offender treatment, but a court panel found he still is a danger to the public. An appeal is likely.

A convicted rapist who was selected as a test case for release from Minnesota's sex offender treatment program will not be discharged because he remains a danger to the public, a state Supreme Court panel ruled Friday.

In a long-awaited decision, the three-judge panel said John Rydberg, a violent offender who admitted to committing more than 90 sex offenses, must remain under supervision at the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) campus in St. Peter.

The three judges rejected a recommendation by a state human services panel that Rydberg, 70, be granted a provisional discharge because he had completed the program's therapeutic requirements. That recommendation was opposed by Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson when she took office in 2011.

Rydberg had served time in prison before being committed in 1993. The panel's recommendation, in 2010, generated controversy because at the time, he was the first person in more than a decade to be chosen for discharge from the MSOP. The costly program, which treats more than 630 male patients -- often for years on end -- was under pressure to demonstrate that residents could eventually be released safely. But when news of Rydberg's extensive, sadistic criminal background became public, it triggered a broad public backlash and hearings at the Legislature.

In February another MSOP patient, Clarence Opheim, was granted provisional release by the judges. Opheim, a pedophile with a long history of sex offenses against children, admitted his crimes and showed a cooperative nature during years of therapy, factors that appeared decisive with the judges.

Conversely, in Friday's decision, the justices took special note of Rydberg's evasions with a doctor who examined him about his crimes and his threats to MSOP staffers.

"When asked how he reconciled his previous behavior, which was sadistic and humiliating, with who he is now, Rydberg told the doctor that he had programmed himself to have no conscience and it was all about his own feelings," the judges observed.

Jesson said Friday's decision affirmed her original belief that Rydberg was not ready for release. "One of the most difficult early decisions I had when I became commissioner was to oppose my special review board's decision," Jesson said. "I read the reports, his background, and I thought that this was just the wrong decision. I have great respect for the board and for MSOP, but provisional discharge of this man was not appropriate."

Brian Southwell, Rydberg's attorney, said he was extremely disappointed with the decision and vowed to "appeal or start the process all over again in six months."

Southwell said he believed Rydberg had met the requirements for provisional discharge. "It's not over, that's all I can say at this point," Southwell said.

A night of terror

For Tom and Janet McCartney, the decision came as an immense relief. As a young couple living in a small Wisconsin town in the mid-1970s, they found their lives traumatized when Rydberg broke into their home one night, bound them and raped them both at gunpoint.

The McCartneys, who now live in Edina, sat day after day in a Ramsey County courtroom during Rydberg's hearings, confronting their attacker while reliving their night of terror.

"I'm happy as can be," Tom McCartney said Friday. "I'm glad people like that are where they are, and they should stay there."

McCartney said he was at work about 1 p.m. Friday when he took a phone call from Noah Cashman, the assistant state attorney general who argued the case against Rydberg's release.

"I broke down," McCartney said. "It's been a whole lifetime of having to live with this."

Paul McEnroe • 612-673-1745

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