By Martiga Lohn
The Associated Press
ST. PAUL, Minn. — A convicted rapist on Friday lost his bid to gain more freedom from a Minnesota program that confines more than 600 of the state's most dangerous sex offenders after they leave prison.
A three-judge panel denied John Rydberg's request for a provisional discharge, finding that the 70-year-old repeat sex offender remains a threat to public safety.
"Based on all the evidence, the testimony, and the credibility and persuasiveness of the evidence, the panel is NOT satisfied that Rydberg can make an acceptable adjustment to open society on provisional discharge," Judges Joanne Smith and Kathleen Gearin of Ramsey County and retired Judge Leslie Metzen of Dakota County wrote in an order dated Friday.
Rydberg's case seeking the discharge came before a judicial panel last year as lawmakers across the country were struggling to balance their state budgets. It reopened the debate about the costs and legal wisdom of civil commitment programs for sex offenders. Minnesota, then awash in red ink, was grappling with the rising costs of treating sex offenders.
His request to be moved to a halfway house also brought attention because, at the time, he could have become the first person permanently freed from the Minnesota program for sex offenders.
Rydberg's long string of offenses includes convictions for rape and other sex crimes going back to the late 1960s. His last crime was raping a woman at knifepoint in front of her children in 1979 in Blue Earth County, Minn., during an escape from a Wisconsin sex offender program. He was confined to the court-ordered treatment program in Minnesota as a psychopathic personality.
Rydberg sought to move from the St. Peter campus of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, where he lives in an unlocked house outside the security perimeter, to a Twin Cities halfway house, where he would have been subject to GPS monitoring, supervision and continued treatment. His bid to be freed was opposed by Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson even though program staffers in her department recommended him for provisional discharge.
A forensic psychologist, who testified last year when Rydberg's case was being heard, said back then that Rydberg still presented "a significant danger to the public."
"I am pleased that the Minnesota Judicial Appeal Panel agreed with my assessment that this client is not ready for placement in the community," Jesson said after the ruling. "Treatment can work, but we must be careful to ensure the public is not put at unnecessary risk as patients are granted more freedom."
Rydberg's attorney, Brian Southwell, had argued that Rydberg made progress in treatment. On Friday, he said Rydberg had the right to come back to court in six months and would either do that or appeal.
"He's been in the system a long time. He understands that the system is slow and very cautious," Southwell said.
The Minnesota program, which began in the mid-1990s, has been criticized for the indefinite nature of the confinements of sex offenders.
A 64-year-old man became the first person provisionally discharged from the program in more than a decade earlier this year when he was allowed to move to a Minneapolis-area halfway house. Only one other person was ever released from the program, and he was soon taken back into custody on a violation.
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