Minnesota recommends release of two repeat sex offenders

  • Article by: BRAD SCHRADE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 20, 2013 - 10:19 AM

State program has been under fire for releasing almost no patients.

Two repeat sex offenders have been recommended for release from the state’s most secure treatment program.

If their release is approved by a state Supreme Court appeals panel, they would be only the third and fourth men released from a program that is facing legal pressure to show it is not a lifetime sentence for hundreds of offenders who have completed prison terms.

Thomas Duvall and Kirk A. Fugelseth have been recommended for release by a special review board of the Department of Human Services, which oversees the state’s sex offender treatment program in St. Peter and Moose Lake. Until last year, the two-decade-old program had only released one man, who returned on a technical violation. A second man was released in 2012.

Duvall was convicted of raping a 17-year-old Brooklyn Park girl at knife point in 1987 just after completing a prison term for a separate rape conviction, records show.

Fugelseth has admitted to molesting more than 30 boys and girls from ages 3 to 14. In 1997, he admitted that he had been molesting his girlfriend’s 9-year-old daughter for months after he moved to Moorhead, records show. His first sex crime conviction followed a 1993 charge for sexually molesting two boys in Oregon. In 2003, Clay County asked the court to have him civilly committed, claiming he was a danger to the community.

DHS officials on Monday confirmed the board’s recommendations for conditional release of the two men from the treatment program, but would not discuss the cases. DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson declined to comment through a spokeswoman. She is reviewing Duvall’s case and has not made a decision whether she will oppose the board’s recommendation for provisional discharge.

In a letter dated July 26, Jesson told the judicial appeals panel that she does not oppose the release of Fugelseth, which the DHS special review board considered at a May hearing. In her letter, Jesson said the discharge plan contains 30 conditions, including ongoing sex offender outpatient treatment and prohibitions from behavior that triggered past offenses. He will undergo continued supervision by the state program and face GPS monitoring, frequent visits and covert surveillance.

Upon release, Fugelseth would move to a halfway home in Golden Valley that successfully housed Clarence Opheim, who she said returned to the community last year under a monitored release.

“The plan includes safeguards to protect former victims and the public and other measures to ensure his safe and successful reintegration,” her letter said.

Both Duvall and Fugelseth have undergone years of treatment. Duvall, now 57, was living in a Minneapolis halfway house in 1987, when one day after Christmas, he coaxed a Brooklyn Park teenager into letting him into her apartment, saying he needed to use the telephone. Records show he tied her to a bed and terrorized her for more than three hours, sexually assaulting her with a hammer and a curling iron.

Fugelseth, 47, admitted that he sexually victimized more than 30 children starting when he was 14. For more than two decades, he would gain the trust of children with gifts and favors over time, and then violate them, court records show. He held a position of authority over many of his victims and he continued to reoffend even when he was on probation or receiving treatment for past sexual offenses, records show.

State DHS officials reviewing the men’s cases face pressure from a federal judge to overhaul a treatment program that some legal experts believe is unconstitutional because almost no one ever gets released, in what critics say amounts to a de facto life sentence. Yet, if an offender is released and commits new crimes, then state officials could face a political firestorm.

These pressures have led to a program that has ballooned to more than 600 offenders being held indefinitely in expensive high-security treatment facilities. A task force that the federal judge ordered Jesson to appoint has been looking at challenges and possible options for reform since last year.

“It has been a broken system,” said Eric Janus, a task force member who is dean of the William Mitchell College of Law.

Janus said the court panel that will decide whether the men are released will weigh what kind of progress they have made in treatment and examine what kind plan is in place to ensure public safety. He and other task force members have said the state must address the constitutional and legal questions surrounding the program or risk a negative ruling from the federal courts.

“There’s a window here where the state has an opportunity to demonstrate this is a bona fide program,” he said.

 

Staff writer Paul McEnroe contributed to this report. Brad Schrade • 612-673-4777

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