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As usual, sex offender case swept up in politics

James Nord//June 18, 2014

As usual, sex offender case swept up in politics

James Nord//June 18, 2014

Attorney General Lori Swanson’s opposition to the proposed release of Thomas Duvall from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) has drawn the embattled program into the political crosshairs once again.

Swanson has fought Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration on the release of Duvall, a violent offender who has admitted to attacking at least 60 women since the 1970s, since the process got moving in 2013. Earlier this month, the attorney general’s office alleged a cover-up in the case of Duvall, because he had officials at the MSOP destroy his journals, or “fantasy logs,” in which he described violent rape fantasies, the Star Tribune reports.

“I call it a coverup,” Solicitor General Alan Gilbert said in his testimony before a state Supreme Court appeals panel this month, adding: “[Duvall’s] destruction of the documents… demonstrates that he has not shown the necessary transparency required as part of the treatment program,” Gilbert added.

The controversial program, which houses about 690 offenders, has been swept up in legal battles about the constitutionality of indefinitely confining its participants. A report prepared by a court-ordered task force has recommended changes to the way patients are reviewed for release, but failed to gain legislative traction last session.

“Over time, as people have potentially been appropriate for community placement, sometimes what has gotten in the way is the lack of political will to support their requests, and other times what’s gotten in the way is the lack of appropriate community resources to provide supervision and treatment in the community,” said Eric Janus, dean of the William Mitchell College of Law and a member of the task force.

Observers say the move by Swanson is likely at least in part motivated by Swanson’s future political ambitions, including a potential gubernatorial bid in 2018, when Dayton has said he’ll step down if he wins re-election this year. “That’s the rumor clearly at this point,” said David Schultz, a political expert and Hamline University professor. “For her next four years, this will be the sort of tough-on-crime issue that she sets herself up for 2018.”

The long process to this point hasn’t been without other examples of political ambition. In Nov. 2013, former House Speaker Kurt Zellers, who had already tossed his name in the ring for the 2014 governor’s race, publicly agreed with Swanson’s assessments that Duvall shouldn’t be released. Zellers also continued his calls this week for stricter measures to protect the public from sex offenders.

“I have spent my legislative career fighting to protect our families from violent sex offenders,” Zellers said in a statement on Wednesday. “As a father and public servant, my number one job is to protect the people of Minnesota. That is why I take this issue seriously and will make sure the public is aware of the facts and safe from Thomas Duvall.”

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