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Monday, July 4, 2022

Stephanie Faye Hamman's Temporary Insanity

     Stephanie Faye Hamman lived with her husband Steven in an apartment in Church Hill Tennessee. At nine-thirty Sunday night, March 16, 2014, as Steven watched a NASCAR race on television, his 23-year-old wife climbed into her Toyota Celica and drove the car through the front doors of the Providence Church across the street from their apartment.

     From inside the church Stephanie called Steven on her cell phone and informed him she had plowed the Toyota into the building. When Steven walked into the church through the demolished front entrance he found his wife lying at the foot of the altar. As he checked on the condition of his wife she rose up and stabbed him in the right side of his chest with a large kitchen knife. "The devil is in me!" she yelled.

     The devil may have been in Stephanie, but the big knife was in her husband. He managed to pull it out of his chest and make his way back to his apartment where he called 911.

     After thrusting the kitchen knife into her husband's chest Stephanie climbed back into the damaged Toyota and drove off. Later that night a Church Hill police officer found the car parked in an apartment complex parking lot in nearby Allandale. A relative had driven Stephanie Hamman to the emergency room at the Holston Valley Medical Center.

     When taken into custody at the hospital Stephanie explained to the arresting officer that she had stabbed her husband because she was angry over his "worshiping NASCAR."

     At the Church Hill Police Department, after she had been advised of her Miranda rights, Stephanie became quite talkative. "So God told me," she said, "that He wanted me in their [the church] so I drove my car through the front doors. God told me to do it, so I did it."

      "After I drove through the doors, I put all the things I brought to the church to the altar. I called Steven and told him I had wrecked. I laid down in front of the altar until he got there. The devil told me to take the kitchen knife with me. I prayed I would not have to use it on him, but I did."

     Stephanie told detectives she had been baptized earlier in the day at another church. She also admitted that she smoked a lot of marijuana. "I smoke a bunch of weed," she said. "I love to smoke it. Sometimes when I do, I start seeing things that others don't. Isn't God good? He told me this would happen, and just look, I am okay."

     While Steven Hamman wasn't as okay as his wife, doctors expected him to survive his puncture wound.

      A Hawkins County prosecutor charged Stephanie Hamman with attempted first-degree murder and felony vandalism. The judge denied her bail.

     On December 8, 2014, a Hawkins County Grand Jury indicted Hamman on the attempted murder and assault charges. But on December 17, 2014 Judge J. Todd Armstrong acting on the recommendation of Attorney General Dan Armstrong, dismissed the Hamman case. According to the prosecutor a psychiatric evaluation of the defendant revealed that at the time of the assault she was not mentally competent. In justifying his decision Judge Armstrong used the term "temporary insanity," a legal defense that in reality does not exist.

The Jon Lang Murder Case

     After a party on the night of June 18, 1993, 35-year-old Jon Lang's wife Debbie died in the couple's swimming pool. The drowning took place in Patterson Township not far from the western Pennsylvania town of Industry. The Beaver County coroner ruled the death accidental.

     Nineteen years after Debbie Lang's drowning, a coroner's jury sitting in Beaver Pennsylvania ruled that Debbie Lang's death had been caused by a criminal act. In November 2012, a Beaver County prosecutor charged Jon Lang, now 54, with the murder of his wife.

     Whenever a suspect is charged with murder decades after the questioned death, the newly discovered evidence is usually a crime scene fingerprint identification or DNA evidence that linked the defendant to the victim or the site of the murder. It's forensic science that usually saves the day in cold-case murder investigations.

     In the Lang case, however, the evidence supporting the long delayed murder charge lacked the incriminating value of physical evidence. The incriminating evidence was in the form of the most unreliable evidence of all--eyewitness testimony.

     The new testimony in the Lang murder consisted of an event the witness had seen nineteen years ago when he was 16-years-old. Jamie Darlington told a panel of Beaver County coroner's jurors that on June 18, 1993 he was a guest at the Long residence. That night when Darlington looked out a second-story window he saw Jon Lang push his wife into the swimming pool. According to the witness Mr. Lang kept his struggling wife submerged by holding her down with a long-handled pool skimmer.

     According to the 35-year-old's testimony, Mr. Lang became aware that he had been seen murdering his wife. When Lang entered the house after the drowning he threatened the boy. "You didn't hear anything," he said. "And you didn't see nothing." Darlington said he didn't report the homicide out of fear for his own life.

     William Difenderfer, Jon Lang's attorney, called Jamie Darlington's testimony "preposterous." The attorney asserted that Darlington was telling this story now because he was himself in trouble with the law. (In this regard Mr. Darlington was not unlike a jailhouse snitch, the absolute bottom of the evidentiary totem pole.)

     In speaking to a local television reporter after the coroner's jury verdict, Gloria Caler, a Lang neighbor in 1993, said, "I just never believed it was an accident because the lady couldn't swim and the pool was green and it was like, who would want to go swimming in a pool like that? At the time I never thought it was an accident, but nothing came about it."

     On December 9, 2013, the first day of Jon Lang's murder trial, the defendant pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter, a lesser homicide offense. While the no-contest plea was not legally an acknowledgement of criminal culpability it could nevertheless be interpreted as an admission of guilt. Why else would Jon Lang allow himself to be convicted on such flimsy evidence?

     The Beaver County Judge sentenced Jon Lang to three to six years in prison, a light sentence if he murdered his wife in cold blood. 

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Comedian Andy Kaufman's Bad Joke

     Andy Kaufman became famous in the 1970s as the comedic character Latka Grauas in the popular sitcom "Taxi." He later appeared regularly on "Saturday Night Live." At the height of his fame, after a performance at New York's Carnegie Hall, Kaufman arranged for 24 buses to take his audience of 2,800 out for milk and cookies after the show. As he career petered out Kaufman took on the persona of a cheesy and abusive lounge singer from New Jersey he called Tony Clifton. During this period the eccentric comedian participated in a series of bizarre wrestling matches with women. At times he seemed unhinged which in Hollywood often passes for brilliance.

     In May 1984, suffering from a rare form of lung cancer, Andy Kaufman died in a West Hollywood hospital room. He was 35.

     In 2013, the 9th Annual Andy Kaufman Comedy Awards ceremony was hosted by Andy's brother Michael at the Gotham Comedy Club in New York City. That Monday night, November 11, 2013, Michael stunned the audience with the announcement that his brother was in fact alive.

     Michael Kaufman informed the awards show audience that when going through Andy's things following his supposed passing he had found an essay by Andy detailing how he planned to fake his own death. According to the scheme, Andy would reappear at a specific restaurant on Christmas Eve 1999.

     Michael, on Christmas Eve 1999, showed up at the restaurant to meet his presumably dead brother. Instead, he was met by a waiter who handed him a typed letter from Andy in which Andy had written that he had fallen in love and had gone into hiding. (The typed letter precluded handwriting identification.)

     In the letter, Andy supposedly wrote that he and his girlfriend resided with their ten-year-old daughter at an undisclosed place. The letter led Michael to believe that everything was great in Andy's life. He had faked his death simply to get away from being Andy Kaufman. The reclusive ex-comedian asked Michael not to tell their father, Stanley Kaufman, that he was alive. 

     In July 2013 Stanley Kaufmann passed away. Not long after his father's death Michael received a call from a 24-year-old woman who claimed to be Andy's daughter. The caller had good news. Andy Kaufman was still alive. (He would be 65.) The young woman said she went by the last name McCoy, the name Andy had used when checking into hospitals.

     As the awards audience tried to digest Michael Kaufman's shocking revelations, the host called a young woman onto the stage and introduced her as Andy's daughter. Addressing the comedy crowd, this woman said, "Andy just wanted to be a stay-at-home dad. That's why he wanted to leave showbiz. He's pretty much a great dad. My mom has her own business…he helps her with that kind of thing--paperwork and stuff--so he can work from home and he doesn't have to be hiding out or concealing himself. He just makes us food and takes care of the house."

     Andy Kaufman's friend, fellow comedian Al Parinello, in talking about Andy's secret life after death, said this to a reporter with The Comic's Comic: "Only the family actually saw Andy's body [before the closed-casket funeral]. Andy was an aficionado of meditation. One of the things Andy was taught at the highest level was a process where one could slow down his breath to a point where you can literally fool anyone that you may be dead when in fact you are alive."

     Andy must not only have mastered the technique of death impersonation well enough to fool the hospital pathologist, he must have found a way to tolerate having his blood replaced by embalming fluid. Otherwise, he managed to pull off a tricky body switch. It that's what happened, then there's a body in Andy's grave that's not him. That is unless the substitute corpse was cremated.

     In response to the news that the comedy world's strange duck was not a dead duck, Kaufman's last girlfriend, 56-year-old Lynne Margulles, told TMZ that she had watched him die in the West Hollywood hospital room. According to Margulles, Kaufman's only daughter is a 40-year-old named Maria.

     If Andy Kaufman had in fact faked his own death, is he guilty of a crime? In the United States faking one's own death is not against the law per se. It is, however, a criminal offense to use the ploy to defraud an insurance company or to avoid taxes and other debts. It is also not a crime to publicly announce that a dead man had faked his own death. But it is a bad taste joke. But in life that's what Andy Kaufman had become--a bad taste comedian. 

The Marcel Melanson Arson/Theft Case

     In 1998, 22-year-old Marcel Melanson joined the fire department in Los Angeles County's Compton California. While the ambitious and popular firefighter succeeded at his job, he wasn't good at managing his financial affairs. In 2005 the state of California filed a $29,000 tax lien against him. Two years later the IRS hit him with a $80,240 tax lien.

     Melanson became a minor celebrity in 2009 as a regular participant in a BET Network reality TV series called "First In." A TV crew followed the fire battalion chief as he led a rescue team that came to the aid of victims of traffic accidents and street crime. About this time Inked Magazine featured Melanson's elaborate tattoos on his back, arms and neck.

     The crime-ridden city of Compton, like its celebrity firefighter, had run into financial problems. The municipality, due to a revenue shortfall and bloated budgets, had disbanded its police department. In June 2010 members of the Compton City Council, in anticipation of bringing back the police force, authorized the purchase of $1.7 million in communications equipment from the Motorola Corporation. Melanson, an emergency communications expert, sat on a three-person technology committee that oversaw the purchase of this equipment.

     By 2011 the city of Compton was on the verge of insolvency. As a result the police department was not coming back and the city was stuck with hundreds of radios that cost $2,500 a piece. The city stored the excess communications equipment at the Compton Fire Department.

     In December 2011 a fire broke out and quickly spread at the Compton Fire Department in the area housing the surplus radio equipment. Arson investigators determined that the fire had been intentionally set and that Marcel Melanson was the only person in the station at the time of the fire. Detectives with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office discovered that prior to the blaze someone had stolen thousands of dollars worth of the radios. Further investigation revealed that over the past several months the thief had been selling the stolen property, one radio at a time, on Internet sites like eBay. Theft detectives, by 2013, had recovered fifty of the stolen communication units.

     In February 2013, Melanson, the prime suspect in the thefts and the arson, was fired. Deputies with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office, at eleven o'clock on the morning of May 15, 2013, arrested the 37-year-old at his home in Torrance California. Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Renee Rose charged the former celebrity firefighter with arson, grand theft and embezzlement. If found guilty as charged, Melanson faced up to ten years in prison. A judge set his bail at $350,000.

     Investigators believed that Melanson set the fire to cover his radio equipment thefts. The suspect's attorney, Robert Rico, publicly insisted that his client was innocent. According to the defense attorney, a Long Beach Fire Department arson investigator had initially reported that the Compton fire was not arson, then later changed his mind.

     While a firefighter committing arson is not that unusual, firefighters rarely torch a fire station. Due to the celebrity element in this particular case, Melanson's arrest attracted a lot of southern California media attention. People who knew him and worked with the former high-ranking firefighter had a hard time believing he was guilty as charged.

     In April 2014 Marcel Melason pleaded no contest to felony arson and embezzlement by a public official. In June, the judge sentenced him to three years and four months in prison and ordered him to pay $517,477 in restitution. 

Saturday, July 2, 2022

The Stephen Howells and Nicole Vaisey Kidnap/Rape Case

     At seven in the evening of August 13, 2014, 6-year-old Delila Miller and her 12-year-old sister Fannie, members of an old-order Amish clan consisting of Mose and Barb Miller and their thirteen children, were working on the family farm when a car drove up to the Miller roadside vegetable stand. The Miller family resided in Oswegatchie, New York, a farming community of 4,000 near the Canadian border 150 miles north of Albany. Because the land was relatively inexpensive and the soil fertile, the Oswegatchie area had grown into the second largest Amish enclave in the state.

     When Delila and Fannie saw the 4-door white sedan pull up to the vegetable stand they walked the few hundred feet between the barn and the stand to greet the customers. The couple drove off, and when they did, the girls were gone. Someone ran to an English neighbor's house and called 911.

     The authorities issued an Amber Alert while scuba drivers prepared to search nearby rivers and helicopters flew over the area in search of the missing girls. Agents on the US/Canadian border reviewed surveillance camera footage in the event the abductors left the country.

     On Thursday evening at eight o'clock, 24 hours after the abduction, the kidnappers dropped the Amish girls off in Richville, New York, a town thirty miles from the Miller farm. The girls knocked on the first door they came to and asked for help. They were greeted by Jeff and Pam Stinson who recognized the older girl from having purchased corn from her at the Miller produce stand.

     It had been raining and the girls were cold and wet. They were also hungry so the Stinson fed them grape juice and servings of watermelon. The girls quickly consumed the food and were driven straight home where they were met by the police.

     Police officers, working off clues provided by the kidnapped girls, identified a pair of suspects and took them into custody Friday night, August 15, 2014. Charged with counts of first-degree kidnapping, officers booked 39-year-old Stephen Howells II and 25-year-old Nicole Vaisey into the St. Lawrence County Jail.

     Stephen Howells lived in nearby Hermon New York with Vaisey, his girlfriend. According to the St. Lawrence County sheriff the couple and their victims did not know each other. The district attorney told reporters that Howells and Vaisey sexually abused the girls during their period of captivity. The judge denied the suspects bond.

     Sheriff Kevin Wells at a press conference Saturday morning August 16, 2014, in speaking about the suspects, said there was "definite potential" of other kidnap victims associated with the couple. As a result addition charges could be filed against Howells and Vaisey. The sheriff said he believed the Amish kidnappings had been carefully planned.

     Howells, a father of three, worked as a registered nurse at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center in Ogdenburg, a town adjacent to Oswegatchie.

     Nicole Vaisey graduated with honors in 2011 from Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania. During her senior year, as a psychology major, she received a $1,500 grant to do research about the effects of watching pornography on attitudes toward rape. She was president of the Mercyhurst chapter of Psi chi and a member of the Mercyhurst Psychology club and the school's Active Minds club.

     Upon graduation from Mercyhurst, Nicole Vaisey worked as a substitute teacher at a day care center then took a job with an agency in St. Lawrence County that served developmentally disabled people. After moving in with Stephen Howell she worked twice a week as a dog groomer at Bows & Bandanas Pet Salon and Resort. The couple had met online.

      Nicole Vaisey's lawyer, Bradford C. Riendeau, told a reporter with The New York Times that he planned to argue in court that his client was in an abusive and submissive relationship with Howells. She was not, he said, the lead person in the kidnapping. "She appears to have been the slave and he was the master."

     St. Lawrence County district attorney Mary Rain, said, "We are confident that Vaisey was equally involved in the allegations as he was."

    In May 2015 Stephen Howells pleaded guilty to two counts of kidnapping and the sexual exploitation of children. He also pleaded guilty to five counts of child pornography.

     Nicole Vaisey pleaded guilty as well. 

     In January 2016 St. Lawrence County Judge Jerome Richards sentenced each defendant to 25 years in prison.

The Haily Owens Murder Case

     In February 2014 ten-year-old Haily Owens was a fourth grade student at Westport Elementary School in Springfield Missouri, a town in the southwestern part of the state. At four-thirty on the afternoon of Tuesday February 18, 2014, Haily, after visiting a school friend walked along West Lombart Street on her way home. A few blocks from her house on Page Street a witness saw a man in his forties with long, stringy gray hair, driving a gold 2008 Ford Ranger pickup truck, pull alongside the unaccompanied child.

     When the five-foot tall ninety-pound grade schooler ignored the man in the truck he drove away. But minutes later he returned to the girl. This time the man jumped out of the truck, grabbed the child, forced her into the cab through the driver's side door and sped off. The witness called 911 and provided the dispatcher with the license plate number to the abductor's truck.

     Through the truck's registration information and the witness' description of the driver, investigators identified the kidnapper as 45-year-old Craig Wood. Forty minutes following Haily Owen's abduction police officers had Wood's house on East Stanford Street under surveillance.

     At seven-thirty that night the authorities issued an Amber alert for Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

     Forty-five minutes after the Amber alert, three hours into the police surveillance of the suspect's home, Craig Wood pulled up to the house in the gold 2008 Ford Ranger. Haily Owens was not in the truck. Police seized the vehicle and transported Mr. Wood to the Springfield Police Department. When confronted by detectives the suspect refused to speak other than to demand an attorney.

     What kind of person would abduct a ten-year-old girl in broad daylight in front of at least one witness? Who is this man? In 1990 Craig Michael Wood pleaded guilty in Springfield to possession of a controlled substance. After he completed a court-ordered drug counseling program the judge suspended his sentence. In 2001 he was convicted of illegal taking of wildlife, a misdemeanor offense. (Hunting or fishing without a license.)

     In 1998, Craig Wood, an amateur bluegrass musician, became a teacher's aide and middle school football coach at the Pleasant View School in Springfield. He also worked as a substitute teacher in the school district. In 2013 he earned a salary of $17,000 a year.

     Wood had no children and had never been married. His parents were wealthy and raised show horses.

     Later on the night of the abduction police officers executed a search warrant at the suspect's house. Officers worked at the dwelling well into the early morning hours of the next day. During the search they found, in Wood's basement, Haily Owen's body. She had been stuffed into a trash bag and placed into a plastic container.

     The school girl had been shot in the back of the head. Crime scene investigators also noted ligature marks on her wrists that suggest she had been tied up. Wood's basement floor was still damp from bleach used to clean up physical evidence from the murder.

     At the Wood residence police officers found a three-ring binder containing pornographic photographs of young children. From the dwelling searchers also seized cameras, thirty video recordings, a handwritten journal, a spent .22-caliber shell casing and the hat Haily Owens had been wearing when abducted.

     Charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and armed criminal action, officers booked Craig Wood into the Greene County Jail. At the suspect's arraignment his public defender's office attorney, Chris Hatley, announced that his client intended to plead not guilty to all charges. At the hearing, assistant prosecutor Todd Myers challenged Wood's use of a public defender, noting that police officers found evidence of a $1 million trust fund in the suspect's name. "I think he can afford his own attorney," Myers said. The judge denied Craig Wood bail.

     In October 2016, Craig Wood, in order to avoid the death penalty, pleaded guilty to murdering Haily Owens. A Greene County Missouri judge, in February 2017, sentenced Craig Wood to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Friday, July 1, 2022

Richard Bradford: The Man Who Beat The System

     In 1970 18-year-old Richard Bradford, a student at San Jose State College, belonged to a hold-up gang that robbed several grocery stores in the San Jose area. On November 2 of that year, during the hold-up of the Spartan Market, Bradford shot and killed Robert Burgess III. The following year a San Jose jury found Bradford guilt of first degree-murder and first-degree robbery. The judge sentenced the defendant to life in prison.

     In 1978, after serving seven years of his "life" sentence, the authorities released Richard Bradford on parole. While in prison, in anticipation of his early release, Bradford had acquired a birth certificate and Social Security card under the name James Edward Heard.

     Less than two years after he walked out of prison Bradford skipped out of his parole supervision. He took up the identity of James Edward Heard and moved to Pasadena, California. The convicted armed robber and murderer got married and became a prominent member of the community.

     By 2010 the parole violator, under his fake identity, owned a home and several other pieces of real estate. He operated the Eston Canyon Treatment Center, a Pasadena drug rehabilitation facility for wealthy addicts. No one in the community had any idea that Mr. Heard was a convicted murderer named Richard Bradford.

     A parole apprehension team, in 2010, began an investigation to find and arrest Bradford for breaking the terms of his murder parole. Investigators caught a break in 2011 when two sets of fingerprints under the names Richard Bradford and James Edward Heard were found to have come from the same person.

     In March 2013 police officers arrested Bradford at a Home Depot store in the town of Monrovia just east of Pasadena. When taken into custody he was accompanied by his wife. (I don't know if she knew who he really was.) The 60-year-old parole violator was held without bail at the Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles.

     While this case is a gross failure of the state's criminal justice system, prison bureaucrats probably credited Bradford's successful life after his incarceration as evidence of how well California's corrections department rehabilitates its inmates. Because of Bradford's age, his status in the community and the fact California's jails were overcrowded, Richard Bradford was not be sent back to prison.

     He beat the system.

America's Expanding Waistline

    Everything in America is getting bigger. Men, women and children are getting heavier and require larger toilets, seat-belt extensions, bigger furniture, oversized theater seats, wider revolving doors, scales that go beyond 300 and even wide-body caskets. The U. S. government has gotten as fat and unhealthy as the American people and seems unable to trim itself or its citizens.

The Case of the Obese Boy

     In October 2011 Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Children and Family Service workers took an 8-year-old Cleveland Heights boy from his mother because the child weighed 200 pounds. A judge approved the seizure on grounds the mother's inability to get her son's weight down amounted to medical neglect. County workers were alerted to the boy's excessive weight early the previous year after his mother took him to an emergency room with breathing problems. Doctors diagnosed the child as suffering from sleep apnea and issued the family a breathing machine. After working with the boy's mother for twenty months, the agency placed the grossly overweight boy into foster care.

     The attorney representing the distraught mother told reporters that the foster mother was having trouble keeping up with all of the boy's medical and governmental appointments. As a result the county assigned a social worker to help the foster mom. A few days later the boy's real mother, an elementary school teacher, publicly stated that she had done her best to limit her son's access to food. She didn't want her boy to be obese and sick and did not feel his condition was a result of neglect or bad parenting.

     The government's removal of this child from his home set off a national debate over governmental authority and discretion versus parental rights. The weight of public opinion seemed to be with the mother. Perhaps that was because three million children in the country were extremely obese. Moreover, it was hard enough keeping kids away from cigarettes, drugs, pornography, pedophiles and alcohol. Controlling their eating habits, particularly in a glutinous culture of junk food and soft drinks, was easier said than done.

     This boy from Cleveland Heights is real person and a sad story. His story, while in the extreme, represents what is taking place regarding the health of our country. The government is big, bloated and unhealthy and so are its people.  

The Stolen Valor Act Versus Free Speech

     In 2006 congress passed The Stolen Valor Act which made it a crime to falsely claim to have earned medals for service in the U.S. armed services. The law imposed a maximum sentence of $5,000 and six months in prison. In 2007, Xavier Alvarez, a newly elected member of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District in Claremont, California, introduced himself to his fellow board members as a retired Marine of 25 years who, in 1987, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Alvarez never served in the military.

     Following his federal indictment under the Stolen Valor Act, Alvarez pleaded guilty then appealed his conviction to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which, in a 2-1 decision struck down the act on the grounds it violated free speech. The U.S. Solicitor appealed this decision and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

     In June 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 that The Stolen Valor Act violated the First Amendment right of free speech.

     Unless the questioned lying is under oath or pursuant to theft by deception this behavior should not constitute a crime. If we're prosecuting fake war heroes, what about job applicants who submit phony private sector resumes, people who exploit bogus diploma-mill degrees, and politicians who tout fake backgrounds and nonexistent accomplishments? Where would it end? If we're going to make lying a crime why not prosecute the bureaucrats and politicians who lie to us every day?

     While phony war heroes should be exposed and humiliated, nothing is gained, from a jurisprudence point of view, by sending this particular type of liar to prison. If all despicable behavior is criminalized there will be more people in prison than out. 

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Kansas v. Hendricks: Institutionalizing Sexual Predators

     While no one knows exactly how many pedophiles roam our streets and inhabit our institutions, anyone who is paying attention knows there are many of them, too many. Not only that, each pedophile is a serial offender with dozens of victims. And these sexual deviants cannot be rehabilitated. For them there is no cure, no treatment.

     So what can be done to protect potential victims against these sexual predators? Just catching them and sending them to prison isn't enough because they eventually get out and go right back to seducing and sexually violating children. Laws requiring convicted pedophiles to register as sex offenders and restricting where they can live doesn't deal with the problem either. These measures are legislative window dressing to make us think our political leaders are dealing with the problem.

     In 1994 lawmakers in Kansas concerned about children passed a controversial law called the Sexually Violent Predator Act that allowed the state, following a pedophile's release from prison, to involuntarily commit violent sex offenders to mental institutions through a process known as civil commitment.

     The procedure for committing pedophiles and other violent sex offenders under the Kansas law required notifying the local prosecutor handling the case 60 days before the prisoner's release. The prosecutor, upon such notice, had 45 days to file a petition with a state court requesting the involuntary commitment of the offender. Under this law, the prosecutor had the burden of proving that the person in question suffered from a "mental abnormality" that made him or her a "sexually violent predator." If a psychological professional found sufficient evidence to support civil commitment on these grounds, a trial would follow.

     If the defendant was found, beyond a reasonable doubt, to be a sexually violent predator, the trial judge would order his or her commitment to a mental institution. Following the commitment the law required the court to conduct annual reviews to determine if the committed person should remain in custody for another year.

Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 347, (1997)

     In 1995, convicted pedophiles Leroy Hendricks and Tim Quinn were scheduled for prison release. Both men had extensive histories of sexually molesting children. As a result, a Kansas prosecutor filed a petition under the Sexually Violent Predator Act to involuntarily commit Hendricks and Quinn to a state mental institution.

     At the Hendricks/Quinn commitment trial the defendants took the stand and agreed with the state psychiatrist's diagnosis that they were pedophiles who continued to experience uncontrollable sexual desires for children. Based on this testimony the jury found that Hendricks and Quinn qualified as sexually violent predators. The civil trial judge ordered both men committed to the state mental facility.

     Leroy Hendrick's attorneys asserted that the involuntary commitment of a man who had served his time in prison violated the ex post facto and double jeopardy clauses of the United States constitution. The circuit court judges ruling on the appeal did not address those specific issues but found the Kansas law unconstitutional on grounds the "mental abnormality" requirement was too vague to satisfy the constitution's due process clause.

     Attorneys representing the state of Kansas appealed the circuit court's ruling to the United States Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the high court justices reversed the appellate court ruling, finding that the Kansas Violent Sexual Predator Act did not violate the U.S. constitution's ex post facto, double jeopardy or due process clauses.

     Because only a few states have violent sexual predator laws, and prosecutors in states that do don't have the time or will to go through the civil commitment process, only a few prison released pedophiles remain isolated from society. Moreover, even if there were more laws like this and prosecutors who cared enough to go through the process, there are fewer and fewer institutions where these predators can be confined. As a result, Kansas v. Hendricks was a hollow victory that has not solved the problem of what to do about our pedophiles. Children are still at risk.

     If our political leaders where serious about protecting children convicted pedophiles would be subjected to mandatory life sentences.