Approval hinged on promise he wouldn't land in state offender program. With no assurances to keep Shawn Sullivan out of Minnesota's Sex Offender Program, he can live as a free man in London.
LONDON - An accused pedophile will not be returned to Minnesota to face criminal charges after officials in Hennepin and Dakota counties refused to guarantee he would not be committed to the state's controversial sex offender program.
One of Britain's highest courts had demanded the assurances last week before deciding whether to extradite Shawn Sullivan to face charges that he sexually assaulted three young girls in Hennepin and Dakota counties in the early 1990s.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom refused to rule out the program for Sullivan. "Mike Freeman and I just don't believe that it is in the interests of public safety in my county and Hennepin County to ever waive our rights to a civil commitment," Backstrom said Thursday.
As a result, Lord Justice Alan Moses and Justice David Eady of London's High Court ruled Thursday that committing Sullivan, 43, to Minnesota's Sex Offender Program, from which only one person has been released in 10 years, would be a "flagrant denial" of Sullivan's human rights under Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Sullivan's legal team claimed he could be locked up indefinitely under the Minnesota program regardless of whether he was found guilty at trial. One of his British attorneys, Ben Brandon, told the court: "Minnesota commits greater numbers of sex offenders per capita of state population than any other state in the union."
Another of Sullivan's lawyers, Ed Grange, said his client now could live as a free man in the United Kingdom. Freeman and Backstrom said they will pursue criminal prosecutions if Sullivan ever returns to the United States.
A life in Europe
He fled the United States after a warrant was issued for his arrest in March 1994. He settled in Ireland, where he married and obtained an Irish passport.
He was convicted in 1997 of two indecent assaults on two 12-year-old girls in Ireland for which he received a suspended prison sentence of five years.
It is thought he then fled to continental Europe, where he lived in various countries before entering the United Kingdom. He was arrested in London in June 2010 after being placed on Interpol's Most Wanted list.
Sullivan married Sarah Smith in November 2010. Two prison officers signed the marriage certificate, which gave Sullivan's job as an international property consultant. A month later, he was released on bail but ordered to wear an electronic tag and to observe a curfew.
Backstrom said discussions with attorneys representing Sullivan began in late 2010. "The English courts have bought into the presumption that the civil commitment process equates to a life-in-prison sentence and that's just not true -- people are being released."
Backstrom said there was never any pressure from the U.S. Justice Department to agree to Sullivan's demands.
Mike Hall, the attorney representing the two women, said his clients would take the decision hard. He vowed to continue to pursue a civil action against Sullivan that is pending in Hennepin County, seeking damages in an attempt to recoup at least something for his clients -- cousins -- who were 11 when the assaults took place.
Eric Janus, president of the William Mitchell School of Law in St. Paul and a national expert on civil commitment issues, said the decision reiterated the European view that Minnesota's program does not recognize basic human rights.
"The Minnesota civil commitment system violates the European Convention's provision for human rights," Janus said. "It should add pressure on Minnesota, but I don't know if it will."
Ian Evans is a freelance journalist in London. firstname.lastname@example.org • 612-673-1745