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2003 A pivotal year causes commitments to surge

  • March 23, 2011 - 4:46 PM

MAY

• Convicted rapist Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. is released from prison after state and local officials decline to seek his civil commitment.

• Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) clinical director Anita Schlank and other top clinical professionals resign because of what she said was a state plan to put some patients into less-secure settings, in preparation for their release and to save money. State officials first deny, later admit that such plans were discussed.

• Attorney General Mike Hatch, who is preparing to run for governor in 2006, accuses Gov. Tim Pawlenty's administration of endangering the public to save money. Pawlenty accuses Hatch of distorting the record for political gain.

JUNE

• Five-year-old LeeAnna Warner disappears while playing in her hometown of Chisholm, Minn., and is never seen again. Authorities say she may have been abducted.

JULY

• Amid controversy over whether step-downs in MSOP security were planned, Pawlenty issues Executive Order 03-10, prohibiting community passes or provisional discharges from the MSOP unless required by law or ordered by a court. Meanwhile, the daily cost to taxpayers for each MSOP patient reaches $314; the MSOP population reaches 200.

AUGUST

• State forensic director Dr. Michael Farnsworth, who designed and oversaw the MSOP, resigns, saying, "The whole sex-offender treatment issue has stalled, mired in politics and controversy."

NOVEMBER

• Dru Sjodin, 22, of Pequot Lakes, Minn., is abducted from a parking lot of a Grand Forks, N.D., shopping mall. Her body wasn't found until 2004, near Crookston.

DECEMBER

• Police arrest Rodriguez for Sjodin's disappearance. He eventually was convicted and sentenced to death for her murder.

• Amid intense controversy over Rodriguez, the Minnesota Department of Corrections stops following a 1991 state law requiring it to screen sex offenders due for release for possible civil commitment and make recommendations to prosecutors. Instead, it begins referring all Level III offenders due for release to counties for commitment consideration. It immediately gives county attorneys 235 names -- including names of 135 inmates already released -- in addition to the 14 already recommended for commitment that year. The total for 2002 had been 13. Corrections referred the names of 170 offenders in 2004 and 145 in 2005 before reversing course and starting to screen offenders again and make commitment recommendations.

LARRY OAKES

Sources: Minnesota Office of Legislative Auditor, Governor's Commission on Sex Offender Policy, attorney general's office, newspaper archives, state Department of Human Ser-vices and Corrections, court records

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