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Attorney general alleges coverup over sex offender's release

  • Article by: Chris Serres
  • Star Tribune
  • June 17, 2014 - 8:47 PM

Personal journals in which a convicted serial rapist described his violent sexual fantasies were destroyed by staffers at the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP), according to court testimony that came to light this month.

Now those shredded journals, referred to as “fantasy logs,” are at the center of a high-profile dispute over whether the offender, Thomas Duvall, can safely be released from state custody.

Duvall, 58, who sexually assaulted teenage girls in the 1970s and 1980s, has been recommended for provisional release from the MSOP by state officials. But Attorney General Lori Swanson has challenged their decision, arguing that Duvall remains a threat to the public, and has asked the state to produce his journals for a hearing on his case.

In testimony before a state Supreme Court appeals panel, an attorney for Duvall said his client gave the fantasy logs late last year to staff at MSOP, who shredded them. Duvall had no reason to keep the logs because he had been approved for provisional discharge to a halfway house and was concerned the logs would not be secure, said William Lubov, a Twin Cities attorney who represents Duvall.

But Swanson’s office is alleging a coverup. Solicitor General Alan Gilbert, who represents Swanson, argued in the June 3 hearing that Duvall deliberately sought to destroy the logs because they contained evidence that he still had violent fantasies and was not ready for release into the community.

“I call it a coverup,” Gilbert said in his testimony.

“[Duvall’s] destruction of the documents … demonstrates that he has not shown the necessary transparency required as part of the treatment program,” Gilbert added.

In 2012, a doctor appointed by the Minnesota Department of Human Services, which oversees the MSOP, reviewed the fantasy logs before concluding that Duvall was not suitable for discharge. Dr. David Thornton said Duvall objectified women as “sexual body parts” in his fantasy logs and had “self-reported sustained rape fantasies,” according to court documents.

In April, James Alsdurf, a forensic psychologist appointed by the three-judge panel that is hearing Duvall’s case, said the fantasy logs are “important information that I would want to look at” in evaluating whether Duvall should be discharged.

Catch-22?

The debate over the fantasy logs has wider implications for the MSOP, which is at the center of a political and judicial storm over indefinite confinement of its roughly 690 offenders. As part of their treatment, sex offenders are often encouraged to maintain journals of their thoughts and experiences and then discuss them with therapists. Offenders are less likely to write honestly if they suspect the journals will be used against them when they petition for release, advocates have argued.

“We believe it has a chilling effect upon the treatment process to expect the fantasy logs and journals to become the subject … of public dissemination,” Lubov said in court testimony.

The Duvall case has attracted intense public scrutiny because of the horrific nature of his crimes and the rarity of his case. He has been convicted three times of sexually assaulting teenage girls and has admitted in treatment to attacking at least 60 women. In one case, he bound a 17-year-old girl with an electrical cord and repeatedly raped her while hitting her with the handle of a hammer.

Concerns over Duvall’s release have reached the highest levels of state government. After Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson last fall alerted Gov. Mark Dayton to concerns about Duvall’s discharge, Dayton wrote back in an e-mail: “How do you respond to the 2012 fantasy logs? Also to the # & severity of his crimes?”

Governor’s action

Facing sharp criticism over Duvall’s proposed release, Dayton last November ordered state officials to suspend the provisional release of any clients at MSOP until the state Legislature reviewed the program.

Now attorneys for Duvall and the attorney general’s office are at odds over whether Duvall had a legal obligation to retain the fantasy logs. Personal journals such as the one kept by Duvall are not part of a sex offender’s official medical record, and MSOP is not required to retain them, according to testimony by Robin Benson, deputy general counsel for the Human Services Department.

But the attorney general’s office has accused Duvall of giving contradictory statements about when he destroyed the fantasy logs, knowing that they might become evidence against him. In February, Duvall said he destroyed the logs before October 2013, whereas his medical records show he was journaling at least through March 2014, Gilbert said in testimony.

Duvall’s attorney disputed that claim, arguing Duvall was “on the doorstep” of the MSOP’s St. Peter facility and had no reason to suspect that further legal action was in store when he destroyed the logs.

Human Services does not have a uniform policy on whether sex offenders should keep their personal journals, Bensontestified.

“Some clients [at MSOP] find journaling to be quite therapeutic and it’s encouraged by their treatment teams that they do so,” Benson said. “Other clients don’t. That’s partly why we don’t have some kind of uniform policy — it’s because we are required to do individual treatment.”

Human Services officials said MSOP makes secure shredding bins available to clients at Moose Lake and St. Peter. Some bins are directly accessible to clients; some are not. Clients can give documents to staff members to place in bins, and staffers do not routinely examine the documents before shredding, officials said.

The panel is expected to rule this summer on whether to impose sanctions against Duvall for destruction of the logs. An evidentiary hearing on his proposed discharge is set for September.

 

Chris Serres • 612-673-4308

Twitter: @chrisserres

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