Judge not convinced convict ready for release from prison

The Associated Press
Friday May 25, 2001

SAN RAFAEL — The first release of a sexually violent predator in California was delayed Thursday when a judge said he didn’t know enough to be sure the serial rapist wouldn’t commit more crimes. 

Marin County Superior Court Judge John S. Graham blasted Atascadero State Hospital, the state Department of Mental Health and the state’s Conditional Release Program for failing to adequately prepare for Patrick Ghilotti’s impending release. 

“I can’t point to anything that he’s done or hasn’t done that could be blamed,” Graham said after Ghilotti’s psychiatrists testified in a four-day hearing that with a strict monitoring program, he could be set free. 

The judge had sharp questions for the state bureaucrats at the hearing, who said they aren’t ready to provide the kind of monitoring needed to ensure Ghilotti isn’t a danger to society. 

Just because Ghilotti “looks like a sufficiently dangerous ogre in the abstract and should never be released ... isn’t the reason for not following the law,” Graham said. 

Ghilotti, 45, claimed he successfully completed California’s sexual predator treatment program and deserves to be released. The judge agreed that “he has done extremely well,” but he criticized Atascadero for not providing hard evidence that his treatment has been successful. 

“Their opinions ... that Mr. Ghilotti is currently releasable to the community are not ... supported by careful work and evaluation,” he said. 

Ghilotti would be the state’s first sexual predator released since a tougher law went into effect in 1996 required the most dangerous sex offenders to get at least two years of treatment after leaving prison. To date, all of these offenders have been recommitted every two years. 

“There may be some people who are so nervous about someone with Mr. Ghilotti’s history to be out in the community,” but keeping him locked up for the rest of his life may not be an option, Graham said. 

Ghilotti was convicted in 1978 of raping three San Rafael women. After his release from prison in 1986, he raped a Ross woman. By his own admission, he’s raped at least six other women. 

“I knew I needed treatment,” Ghilotti told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “I knew I needed something. I knew my thinking wasn’t right.” 

He first received sex offender treatment at Atascadero State Hospital from 1979 to 1982. 

“His response to treatment at the time was at best lukewarm, and at times laced with denial,” according to Dr. Gabrielle Paladino, the hospital staff psychiatrist in charge of the sexually violent predator treatment program. 

Ghilotti was sent back to Atascadero in 1997, under the tougher sexually violent predator law, which enables the State Mental Health Department to recommit offenders every two years until they’re no longer deemed a threat. 

Ghilotti petitioned the court for conditional release near the end of his second commitment. If Judge Graham refuses to grant his request, Ghilotti will be up for recommitment again in December. 

Ghilotti’s victims are terrified about his possible release. 

The woman who still lives in Ross, who asked not to be identified, is now in her 60s and said that her life was permanently changed after Ghilotti broke into her home and sexually assaulted her in 1985. 

“He’s an angry, angry man, and he hates women, and he takes out his anger on women by raping them,” she said in an interview. “I don’t believe that attitude can change at all.” 

The woman said she still keeps a cell phone under her pillow and practices dialing 911 in the dark; her doors and windows are locked, and she keeps a light on all night. 

Another Ghilotti victim threatened suicide after receiving a phone message from a reporter. She may leave California if he’s released. 

But Paladino and other state psychiatrists believe he’s now safe, as long as he’s taking Lupron, a drug that reduces testosterone. 

“He’s a different animal on anti-androgens,” said Dr. Jay Seastrunk. “They think differently. They’re not plotting around to figure out how to have sex.” 

Ghilotti would continue getting Lupron injections every three months, and be subject to random drug tests and monitoring to make sure he doesn’t take steroids to counteract the effects, the psychiatrists said. 

Prosecutor Alan Charmatz argued that no community-based program has a clear plan to supervise Ghilotti. He also will need a job, housing, polygraph tests, individual and group counseling, and no one yet seems quite sure how to provide that, Charmatz said. 

Judge Graham urged all agencies involved to provide more details and report substantial progress at the next hearing, on August 1. 

As recently as February, hospital officials recommended that Ghilotti remain at Atascadero until such plans are solidified. 

But Dr. Douglas Korpi, the former director of the San Francisco-based Conditional Release Program, which would be responsible for monitoring Ghilotti, testified that the conditional release program would not be ready until they were forced to be, possibly with the judge’s order. 

“This is the first one who everyone agreed jumped through the hoops,” he said in court. “I’m a suspicious guy, and I tell you this guy is ready.”