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Zellers letter criticizes Dayton for planned sex offender release

Mike Mullen//November 4, 2013

Zellers letter criticizes Dayton for planned sex offender release

Mike Mullen//November 4, 2013

Rep. Kurt Zellers wrote a letter criticizing Gov. Mark Dayton's support for the idea. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)
Rep. Kurt Zellers wrote a letter criticizing Gov. Mark Dayton’s support for the idea. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

The possible release of a convicted rapist confined to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program  has divided some of the state’s top Democratic figures, and one of Gov. Mark Dayton‘s potential Republican opponents has already seized on the topic.

At issue is the position espoused by Dayton and the Department of Human Services, namely Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, that the state should move to release Thomas Duvall, a civilly committed serial rapist who is linked to dozens of attacks on women. Jesson and a special review panel within the Department of Human Services recommended Duvall’s release in September, and his case is now under the authority of a Minnesota Supreme Court Appeal Panel.

Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, responded to the news with a letter calling on Dayton to block Duvall’s release, as well as the planned transfer of several offenders from high-security facilities to less-restrictive confinement at a Cambridge facility that currently houses mentally disabled people.

“The number one priority of state government is protecting the safety of its citizens,” Zellers writes. “It is outrageous, offensive and an affront to public safety and common sense that you support releasing dangerous sex offenders into least restrictive environments and our communities.”

The gubernatorial hopeful’s letter, dated Sunday, was posted to his campaign website and has since been promoted through campaign social media accounts. The letter is not Zellers’ first such stance against the release of a specific inmate: In 2011, while speaker of the House, Zellers and then-House Majority Leader Matt Dean criticized the state’s move to release Clarence Opheim, a convicted pedophile.

According to the Star Tribune, the planned release of Duvall, 57, was the cause of some debate within the Dayton administration, and is opposed outright by Attorney General Lori Swanson. Swanson has filed to intervene in the Supreme Court proceedings, and is pushing for a more trial-like review of Duvall’s case. Swanson’s motion to delay and broaden the review process will be heard Nov. 8.

Communications and court filings reveal Swanson’s concern over recent psychiatric evaluations of Duvall, who was found to harbor unsettling fantasies about women and juveniles as recently as 2012. For her part, Jesson has expressed belief that Duvall’s condition has improved through treatment, and pointed out that Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman supported his release. Under Jesson’s plan, any offender released would be monitored at all times through the use of an electronic ankle bracelet, and would be subject to frequent check-ins with authorities.

About 700 offenders are currently held at the state’s facilities in St. Peter and Moose Lake, and only one has been released since 1994. The condition of civilly committed offenders, whose detention continues even after their sentences have ended, has been the subject of critical findings by both a federal judge and Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles. Nobles’ office documented numerous problems with the state system in a 2011 report.

Acting on recommendations from Dayton, DHS convened a 15-person task force to craft recommendations on handling the state’s offender population. That task force, chaired by former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, issued its draft recommendations in October, and a final report is due out next month. Legislators attempted to craft a bill to reform the state’s process during the 2013 session, but House members balked at taking up legislation that had passed with bipartisan support in the Senate.

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