A 24-year-old rapist indefinitely committed to Minnesota’s controversial sex offender program since 2012 on Thursday became one of its few inmates to be released.

After a review ordered by the state Supreme Court in April, retired Sibley County District Judge Thomas McCarthy ruled that Cedrick Ince is likely to sexually reoffend. But, McCarthy said, there wasn’t clear and convincing evidence that Ince met the legal criteria for commitment as a person “highly likely” to reoffend.

McCarthy dismissed the county’s petition to commit Ince as a sexually dangerous person and said he should be released “forthwith” from the secure facility at Moose Lake. The former Arlington, Minn., resident is now the responsibility of the state Department of Corrections, which will supervise him until he completes his probation requirement in approximately seven years.

Attorney Ryan Magnus, who represented Ince, said he knows of no other indefinitely committed sex offender whose commitment petition was dismissed after it was sent back to district court. Two years ago, the state Court of Appeals dismissed a petition in another case because it didn’t meet the criteria.

The state sex offender program, started in 1993, has placed only two of its 700 offenders on provisional release for successfully completing treatment. None has been unconditionally released, and only six of the 450 offenders who have appealed their commitments have had them overturned.

“Cedrick and his family are elated, and hopefully he can put it all behind him and be a productive member of society,” Magnus said. “That’s what you would want from anybody who was released.”

No date has been set for Ince’s release from the program. Magnus didn’t know if the county will ask the district court for a stay of release while they appeal Thursday’s ruling.

Sibley County Attorney David Schauer said he hadn’t finished reading the ruling or considering whether an appeal would be appropriate, but said he has public safety concerns if Ince returns to the community.

“The underlying offenses he committed are pretty serious,” Schauer said. “The initial court commitment ruling said he was highly likely to reoffend. I don’t know what motivated the judge to change his mind.”

Magnus, who worked the case this summer with colleague Jennifer Thon, said Ince is unlikely to live in Sibley County after his release. The initial portion of his probation will involve intense supervision, and he will undergo sex offender and chemical dependency treatment.

Attacks on fellow teens

Ince has two convictions for criminal sexual conduct, both involving assaults on fellow teenagers. In 2007, when he was 17, he assaulted a 17-year-old girl who had passed out on a couch at a party. In 2008, two weeks after being placed on probation for the earlier offense, he broke into a 19-year-old’s home and raped her after a lengthy struggle. Ince later told authorities that he was drunk during both attacks.

Ince was sentenced to four years in prison, and Sibley County petitioned for a civil commitment. He was released on intensive supervised release until the conclusion of his commitment trial in May 2012. During those eight months, Ince got a job on a dairy farm and rented a farmhouse from his employer. He also started court-ordered sex offender treatment and was successfully dealing with his alcohol and drug issues.

Citing the unusual circumstances in his case, the Supreme Court ordered the district court to re-evaluate whether Ince was highly likely to re-engage in acts of harmful sexual conduct and if a less-restrictive treatment alternative might be available.

The state’s indefinite-commitment program has come under harsh scrutiny in recent months. U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank, in response to a class-action lawsuit by offenders, has been highly critical of it and has urged the Legislature to take action to change it. Two task forces have been formed to examine the program, and Gov. Mark Dayton has publicly voiced his concerns.

During Ince’s time in the offender program, he had numerous behavioral and disciplinary incidents. He also had continuing chemical dependency issues and at least 30 incident reports, violations and sanctions.

His behavior, in part, reflects the hopeless environment the offender program creates, McCarthy wrote in his ruling. It demoralizes inmates when their efforts in treatment and to follow rules are unlikely to result in release, he wrote.

“The Court finds that Ince’s behavior in the program is not an indicator of what Ince’s behavior will be in the community,” McCarthy wrote.

Before making his ruling, the judge held a two-day trial and heard evaluations of Ince’s chances of reoffending from three psychologists. They used a variety of standard assessment tools. But McCarthy noted that to determine whether Ince was highly likely to reoffend “can’t be defined by a numeric value.”

Said Magnus: “Nothing makes Cedrick’s case worse from anybody else. You can’t predict how he will act in the future, but the likelihood he will commit another sex offense is pretty unlikely.”