Supreme Court blocks sex predator’s release

By Kim Curtis The Associated Press
Thursday December 13, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — The state Supreme Court decided unanimously Wednesday to keep a serial rapist locked up at a state mental hospital until at least February while it considers his case. 

Patrick Ghilotti had been scheduled for release nearly two weeks ago, but the state filed an emergency petition asking the Supreme Court to intervene. The court granted that request, ordering an expedited hearing Feb. 6 in Sacramento. 

Ghilotti, 45, has been confined at Atascadero State Hospital for four years under a state law that allows sexually violent offenders to be committed for treatment after completing their prison sentences. 

Ghilotti, who has spent nearly half his life locked up, has been convicted of raping four Marin County women and has admitted to raping at least six others. 

“We are very disappointed that the court has asked for additional briefings on a point of law that seems so clear,” said Ghilotti’s lawyer, Frank Cox. 

Marin County Superior Court Judge John S. Graham ruled Nov. 30 that Ghilotti should be released the following day, when his latest two-year commitment expired. He said he could find no legal reason to keep him hospitalized. 

Instead, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer, at the urging of Gov. Gray Davis, filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court asking it to block Ghilotti’s release, saying he remained a danger to the public. 

“The governor is gratified that the California Supreme Court is hearing this case,” said Davis spokeswoman Hillary McLean. “We hope that the Supreme Court will agree with us and with the Department of Mental Health when making a decision that could have grave implications for public safety that all relevant information regarding Mr. Ghilotti should be considered.” 

Ghilotti would have been released Wednesday if the seven-member high court had refused to consider his case. He could not be reached by telephone for comment. 

Ghilotti had been slated to become California’s first sex predator released under a 1996 law that has sent hundreds of the state’s worst rapists and child molesters to a mental hospital for treatment, a practice upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Two independent evaluators must certify the offender is mentally ill, a danger to society and likely to reoffend in order to commit him as a sexually violent predator. Once certified, the offender can be recommitted every two years. 

In Ghilotti’s case, three Mental Health Department-approved psychologists have said the twice-convicted rapist no longer meets sexually violent predator criteria. 

But the state said the opinions of other department officials also should be considered. In Ghilotti’s case, both the department and hospital directors agree he remains a public safety threat. 

The justices said they want to review whether someone can be recommitted without two evaluations. 

“The statute is clear, previous court decisions are clear. No person can be committed to a sexually violent predator program without two independent forensic examiners agreeing,” Cox said. “In Mr. Ghilotti’s case, three independent forensic examiners agree he no longer fits the criteria.”