Court rejects Minn. inmate's attempted name change

A three-judge panel ruled the name change to "Better Off Dead" would be too confusing


By Rochelle Olson
Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — A man indefinitely committed as a sexual predator can’t rename himself “Better Off Dead” even when he claims he’s doing it for religious reasons, the Minnesota state Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

Hollis John Larson has been committed since 2008 as a sexually dangerous person under the Minnesota Sex Offender Program that allows for indefinite confinement for predators.

Larson “professes a religious belief involving Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Agnosticism,” the court said. His desired name change is “in accordance with that religious belief and to express his freedom of speech.”

A three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court ruling denying the name change in part because “Better Off Dead” is an idiomatic expression, contains no pronouns and is “inherently misleading.”

Larson, who represented himself, said the only way for him to “achieve reconciliation with the divine is to escape the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth by being and remaining dead,” according to the ruling.

The district court didn’t buy it, saying that the name Better Off Dead “has no known connection to any particular religious faith or belief.”

Anoka County, which prosecuted Larson for his sex crimes, objected to the name change on the grounds that it would be confusing to law enforcement. The district court, and now the Court of Appeals, agreed with that argument.

The courts also said that denying the change wouldn’t impinge on Larson’s constitutional rights.

Larson failed to convince the court that he did not intend to “defraud or mislead,” the ruling said.

The inmate stated that every document “created by his current captors” with his new name Better Off Dead would also refer to his old name and wouldn’t cause confusion or harm public safety.

Anoka County countered that the name change would compromise the public’s ability to maintain and access his records.

The appellate court also rejected the name change on freedom of speech grounds. Larson claimed that renaming himself Better Off Dead was a “peaceful form of protest against (the government), all these entities that caused me this pain and suffering and leading to my … philosophy in life.”

He argued that the name change would allow him to “officially communicate his life philosophy to society,” the ruling said.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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