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The Process Has Begun To Release Civilly-Committed Sex Offenders

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A federal court proceeding has cleared the way for what will likely be the release of one, and likely more, sex offenders.

The offenders are civilly committed and housed at state facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter.

On Tuesday, at a court hearing, a state official agreed to begin the process to release 24-year-old Eric Terhaar. His sex offenses occurred between the time he was 10 and 14 years old.

Terhaar is one of 50 offenders who are civilly committed for crimes they committed when they were minors. If, as widely expected, Terhaar gets out, it's likely that others in this group will also get out.

Many states do not allow for the civil commitment of sex offenders who committed crimes as juveniles. But Minnesota does, and at a federal court hearing this week experts testified that the Minnesota program is not providing these offenders with adequate treatment.

Attorney Dan Gustafson is suing the state of Minnesota in federal court on behalf of the 700 sex offenders at St. Peter and Moose Lake.

"I don't think there is any doubt that there are people who are going to start being released from this program," he said.

Gustafson is arguing that the Minnesota program is unconstitutional. He believes Judge Donovan Frank will soon order Terhaar's release.

"We are optimistic," Gustafson said, "that the judge is going to find what the experts testified to, that [Terhaar] is no longer a danger to the community."

In a separate legal proceeding, convicted rapist Thomas Duvall is also fighting to be released from the sex offender program. He is also arguing that the program is unconstitutional.

The Duvall case has created a political firestorm. Some of the most pointed remarks are coming from gubernatorial candidate Kurt Zellers, accusing Gov. Mark Dayton of mismanagement.

"There is bipartisan failure from both the Democrats and the Republicans not to address this," said political analyst David Schultz. "They have known for several years that they had to fix this program."

The judge is expected to rule on releasing Terhaar within the next 30 days.

After that, there could be more cases of offenders who committed crimes as juveniles also being released.


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