February 3, 2012

In rare ruling, Ramsey County court allows release of Minnesota sex offender

2-3-2012 Minnesota:

A Ramsey County District Court panel made a rare ruling Friday to discharge a Minnesota sex offender who has been incarcerated in a state treatment facility for nearly two decades.

Clarence Opheim, 64, was "provisionally discharged" from the state's Minnesota Sex Offender Program by the three-judge appeal panel's bench ruling. Once the bench ruling is formalized into a written opinion, likely next week, the state may take steps to release Opheim from the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter to a metro-area halfway house.

Offenders in the program have no set release date but may petition at any time for their release.

Opheim is not the first to be discharged from the program, which began in 1994 and included 635 offenders as of January 2011. In 2000, state officials noted, a man was similarly discharged but violated the terms of his discharge and was pulled back in the program in 2003.

Opheim was originally admitted to St. Peter in 1993 and entered the sex offender program in 1998. Originally of Northeast Minneapolis, Opheim was convicted in the 1980s of two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct and a single count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Last May, a special review board reporting to the state's Department of Human Services, which oversees the sex offender program, recommended Opheim's petition for discharge be denied, saying he "is at high risk to commit a future serious sexual offense."

In the board's findings of fact,
it stated Opheim "reported 29 victims of his sexual crimes and a total of approximately 100 separate incidences of sexual offenses" against children ranging in age from 8 to 17. Some of the incidents "involved physical harm, threats of bodily harm, the use of weapons, and the use of alcohol," the findings stated.

The findings added that Opheim had made "significant progress" in treatment, and his assessment "did not determine if Mr. Opheim presents an insurmountable danger to the public and fits or does not fit the statutory criteria for provisional discharge."

Friday's ruling came after DHS commissioner Lucinda Jesson wrote a letter to the court stating she did not oppose the release.

Jesson, who noted that she originally opposed Opheim's release, told the Pioneer Press she had spoken with the chair of the review board, attorney Fabian Hoffner, to see whether his concerns had subsequently been addressed.

Jesson said the board's primary concern, based on her discussion with Hoffner, was not Opheim's risk to reoffend -- which she described as "kind of standard stuff they (the review board) put in. Anyone they put in is going to be listed under those factors, because they haven't been out."

Rather, Jesson said, the board was more concerned about Opheim's chemical dependency issues. The board findings stated Opheim had "struggled mightily with alcohol," and Jesson said Opheim had successfully started chemical dependency treatment.

Hoffner did not return a call placed late Friday for comment.

Jesson added that Ramsey County District Court's independent examiner, a licensed psychologist, had also supported the release.

Opheim currently lives on the hospital campus but outside its security fence. Once the ruling is written, the department has 15 days to comply with the court ruling. Those on provisional discharge must wear a GPS tracker, undergo regular chemical dependency testing and therapy, and notify staff of their location at all times. ..Source.. by Tad Vezner

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