CA pedophile gets chance to end predator status
SANTA ANA, Calif. - April 20, 2012 (WPVI) -- A judge ruled Friday that a convicted sex offender who is designated as a sexually violent predator will have a new trial to determine if he should remain in a California mental hospital.
The ruling came in the case of Sidney Landau, who was designated as a sexually violent predator under a little-known California law and has been housed in a mental hospital since 2000.
The 70-year-old petitioned for his release in 2010 after a state doctor found he could be released under supervision with no risk to the public because of his advancing age.
Orange County Superior Court Judge W. Michael Hayes indicated Landau had done as much as he could to show probable cause to deserve a hearing.
The defense requested a jury trial and the judge scheduled it for Oct. 22.
Landau was convicted of molesting two boys in the 1980s and was paroled in 1996.
His case became famous when police publicized his name and address under a new notification law and he was chased from multiple addresses by angry neighbors.
Landau's public defender, Sara Ross, has said his advancing age and health makes him a candidate for release into the community.
"Ultimately, when it comes down to it, Mr. Landau served all of his time. He served each and every minute that the government asked of him and paid his dues and he's no longer a danger to society," she said. "He hasn't done anything in 20 or 30 years and he really wants to go home."
Experts who study California's statutes on sexually violent predators, however, say Landau faces an extremely difficult fight to regain his freedom.
Under a law enacted in 1996, offenders who are convicted of a sexually violent offense, have at least one victim and are diagnosed with a mental disorder that makes them likely to reoffend can be committed to a mental hospital for treatment after a rigorous legal process that involves findings by doctors, a judge and a jury. Inmates convicted of sex offenses are evaluated by prison staff starting six months before their scheduled release and those who are flagged are forwarded to the state's Department of Mental Health for further assessment.
There are currently 533 people statewide who have been formally committed to a mental hospital for an indeterminate time because they are sexually violent predators and another 321 who are housed at Coalinga State Hospital awaiting a determination, said Deborah Ireland, a spokeswoman for the hospital about 200 miles north of Los Angeles.
Ninety-one sexually violent predators have been released since 2006, Ireland said, but it wasn't immediately clear whether those individuals gained release through a jury trial or other avenue.
Offenders are re-evaluated each year and can request a hearing to determine if there is cause to challenge the findings.
At each step, convicted molesters such as Landau face significant hurdles because the district attorneys and judges handling their cases are elected officials. And if a case does get in front of a jury, it's unlikely convicted molesters will find much sympathy, said David Ramirez, a defense attorney who specializes in representing sexually violent predators.
"You've got to understand, if you let this person out in the community, there's a lot of political pressure and the heat could come down for them. If he goes out in the community and kills and rapes an 8-year-old girl walking to school, there's going to be consequences," Ramirez said. "And at trial, the prosecutors usually go over it piece by piece. 'How did you pick your victim? Was it her hair color? Her height?' The jury is obviously repulsed by that. It's an ugly process."
Landau - convicted in 1982 and 1988 for molesting two boys under age 14 - was one of the first sex offenders to be targeted in California by Megan's Law. The law derives its name from Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old New Jersey girl who was sexually assaulted and killed in 1994 by a previously convicted sex offender; the crime led to the creation of state and federal Megan's Laws that allow police to provide notification when high-risk sex offenders move into neighborhoods.
After Placentia police disclosed Landau's name and address, he was shuffled from city to city in Orange County and evicted from a number of addresses, including motels.
Landau later sued the Placentia police in federal court, saying they violated his privacy rights, but he lost and went on to serve more time on three parole violations.
On the eve of his final release in 2000, prison officials referred him for evaluation as a sexually violent predator.
Landau was housed for six years in the state mental hospital while he awaited a jury trial to determine whether he should be civilly committed. Two trials resulted in hung juries but Landau was committed for an indefinite period in 2009 after a third jury found him to be a sexually violent predator.
In 2010, a state psychologist concluded he could be safely released under supervision because of his age and Landau petitioned for his release. The director of the Coalinga State Hospital, however, disagreed with the doctor's assessment and the judge rejected Landau's request as frivolous, according to court papers.
Landau appealed and last year, a state appellate court found that the judge erred and remanded the case.
Despite his age, Landau remains a danger to society and has refused treatment while at Coalinga, said Dan Wagner, the Orange County deputy district attorney handling the case.
"Through the years he's even by his own admission molested at least 10 children and we think the number is quite higher than that. The amount of damage this man has done is just staggering," Wagner said.
california, sex offenders, national/world
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