SAN FRANCISCO — While Gov. Gray Davis’ efforts to keep Patrick Ghilotti behind bars went all the way to the California Supreme Court, few noticed when at least 16 other sexually violent predators were allowed to disappear quietly into their communities.
Davis and others maintain that four years of treatment at Atascadero State Hospital haven’t been enough to make Ghilotti, a serial rapist, safe to re-enter society.
But only four of the 16 other child molesters and violent rapists who left Atascadero’s program received treatment while in custody, according to Nora Romero, spokeswoman for the state Department of Mental Health.
When Alan Charmatz, who prosecuted Ghilotti’s case, was told that 16 sex predators already have been released from Atascadero, he marveled at the disparity between the attention paid those cases and Ghilotti’s.
“They’ve let these other people slide away,” he said. “If they really cared about people they’d be keeping track of these other guys and they’d be working with law enforcement to know where they are to help ensure public safety.”
Only the state’s most dangerous repeat sex offenders are designated as sexually violent predators by the Department of Mental Health and sent to Atascadero after serving their prison sentences. Two independent mental health experts, a district attorney and ultimately a judge or jury must agree the offender remains a threat to society before he is committed to Atascadero for two years. After that, an offender can be released only if two evaluators agree his mental disorder has changed and the patient is not likely to commit acts of predatory sexual violence. The high court ruled Thursday that political officials can’t arbitrarily overrule the evaluators’ findings.
Ghilotti, the only sex predator to have completed Atascadero’s treatment program, remains in custody pending the fresh look at his evaluations by a trial judge that the high court ordered.
The 16 were released by judges’ orders or jury decisions. Like Ghilotti, each was determined to no longer be a threat to society.
“This just goes to show how political this law is,” said Jean Matulis, a lawyer who has defended several sex predators. “The only constitutional justification for holding these guys in the first place is for treatment. But when a person completes the treatment and they still don’t want to release them, I have to ask myself whether it’s really for treatment or to keep them off the streets.”