« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

Associated Press, Published March 11 2011

Expert says Minnesota sex offender still a psychopath

ST. PAUL (AP) — A convicted rapist seeking greater freedom in Minnesota is still a psychopath and not ready to be released from a program that houses the state's most dangerous sex offenders after they leave prison, an independent expert testified Friday.

Forensic psychologist Harry Hoberman was hired by the state to help fight John Rydberg's request to be released from a psychiatric hospital to a halfway house. Hoberman said he reviewed Rydberg's treatment and prison records, concluding that the 69-year-old repeat sex offender "still represents a significant danger to the public."

Hoberman said he became even more convinced when Rydberg testified last week and disputed his diagnosis as a sexual sadist. Rydberg acknowledged that his victims suffered, but said his motivation was his own pleasure and not to inflict pain.

Hoberman said Rydberg was "trying to cover up what he did."

A three-judge panel is considering whether Rydberg deserves a provisional discharge from a state hospital in St. Peter to a Twin Cities halfway house, where he would be subject to conditions including GPS monitoring, supervision and continu1ed treatment.

Nobody has been permanently released from the Minnesota sex offender program since it began in 1995. Critics have questioned the program's costs and the constitutionality of keeping people in state custody after they complete their prison terms.

Rydberg was convicted of rape and other sexual offenses dating back to the 1960s. His last attack — raping a woman at knifepoint in front of her children in Blue Earth County, Minn. — occurred during his second escape from a Wisconsin sex offender program in 1979.

Program staffers recommended Rydberg's provisional discharge, but their superiors disagreed. If the judges grant his request, it could be a step toward full freedom.

Documents filed by Rydberg's attorney, Brian Southwell, argue that Rydberg has made steady progress in treatment. Southwell was expected to present Rydberg's case later in the hearing process.

Southwell wouldn't allow Hoberman to interview Rydberg, so Hoberman based his analysis on prison and treatment records.

During his treatment, Rydberg recalled committing about 94 sex offenses ranging from peeping and exposing himself to violent attacks on women, Hoberman said. He counted about 25 admissions of rapes or attempted rapes in Rydberg's records, not including four date rapes and the offenses for which he was sent to prison.

The records show that Rydberg has a long history of submitting to treatment only when it was required, then had a change of heart in 1998 when it became clear the courts would uphold Minnesota's laws for civilly committing the most dangerous sexual predators after they finish prison terms, Hoberman said.

That suggests Rydberg's motivation was more about freedom than addressing the roots of his sexual violence, Hoberman said.

"If you don't accept that you have a problem ... then how can you do the work that's necessary?" the psychologist asked. "This is a person who is likely to be trying to work the system, to manipulate people."

Hoberman also found it worrying that Rydberg didn't admit to about 10 instances in which he stalked and attempted to grab women until he was preparing for an important polygraph exam last November.

Hoberman also said state psychologists misused a common numerical scoring system for measuring whether someone is a psychopath, scoring Rydberg too low. Treatment records from the 1970s in Wisconsin and since then in Minnesota indicate his minders thought he was doing well, but it was "incongruous" that Rydberg went from refusing treatment to suddenly becoming a leader in the Minnesota program's group therapy sessions, Hoberman said.

The all-woman judicial panel — judges Joanne Smith and Kathleen Gearin of Ramsey County and retired judge Leslie Metzen of Dakota County — are scheduled to hear a third day of testimony June 10 before adjourning to make their decision. They'll have about 90 days to rule.

The Minnesota sex offender program currently has more than 600 patients and adds about 50 people per year. Only one man has been released in the program's history, and his provisional discharge was revoked when he violated conditions of his release. He eventually died in custody.

Rydberg's case has advanced the farthest out of the seven men in the program who have reached the final stage of treatment before they can seek provisional discharge. The petition of a second man, Thomas Ray Duvall, who was committed by Hennepin County, could go to trial this summer.

The second day of Rydberg's hearing coincided with a legislative auditor's report that criticized the program. The report said the program offered less hours of weekly treatment than prison treatment programs, even though it costs three times as much. Program officials said they are increasing the amount of treatment as they fill vacant jobs.

Minnesota has grappled with balancing the rising costs of treating sex offenders against an estimated $5 billion budget deficit. Some attorneys and others have also raised questions about the constitutionality of a civil commitment program if no one is ever released.