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For months, defense attorneys in Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties have been fighting to free Cary Verse and Brian DeVries from confinement under California’s Sexually Violent Predator law. But political pressure and bureaucratic glitches have kept the pair locked in Atascadero State Hospital long after their release dates. In the DeVries case, Gov. Gray Davis has weighed in against DeVries’ wish to move in with his father in Washington state. Verse’s attorney tried — and failed — to force a Contra Costa County social service agency to help coordinate his client’s post-release treatment. Verse’s case will go before Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge John Minney for a progress report Friday. Exasperated defense attorneys say although Verse and DeVries are the first convicts to “graduate” from the treatment program established by the 1996 Sexual Violent Predator Law, more than 20 other SVPs have already gone free. “These guys, quite frankly, are not the most dangerous guys out there,” said Brian Matthews, the Santa Clara County deputy public defender who represents DeVries. If they are released, Verse and DeVries — who have undergone chemical and surgical castration, respectively — will get extensive treatment and housing, and will be monitored by a global positioning system. But other freed SVPs, although forced to register as sex offenders, receive much less scrutiny and treatment, Matthews says. Under the SVPA, certain inmates can be civilly committed to a state hospital after their prison terms end and until they complete a rigorous treatment program. Every two years, however, they are entitled to a hearing to determine whether they no longer pose a danger and should be released. According to the California Department of Mental Health, of roughly 430 convicts who have been committed under the program, 21 have been released, including three men who convinced a jury that they should be set free. Four others successfully appealed the initial court rulings that put them in Atascadero. Eight were let go early on in the program because doctors agreed that they no longer had a mental disorder that made them likely to re-offend. In six cases, prosecutors withdrew or did not file a request to keep the SVPs locked up, despite the state Department of Mental Health’s objections, said department spokeswoman Nora Romero. Romero downplayed the releases, noting that “dropouts” are routine throughout the SVP process. For example, while nearly 5,000 convicts’ names are passed on to the SVP program, only a small fraction have been committed to the mental hospital. Verse and DeVries, on the other hand, were cleared for release because judges determined they are ready to start the final phase of the SVP treatment program — supervised released into the community. DeVries’ release has been held up for months because the Department of Mental Health has been unable to find housing. Santa Clara County Judge Robert Baines set off a political firestorm earlier this month when he said DeVries, a convicted child molester, could be released to his father. Recently, the judge gave the state mental health department a little more time, until Aug. 10, to find housing in California. The attorney general’s office says it expects to appeal if DeVries is released to Washington. It would be nearly impossible to monitor DeVries once he crosses state lines, said Deputy Attorney General Susan King. “To release him in Washington is to release him without conditions,” said King, who is handling DeVries and Verse’s cases for the AG. DeVries’ attorney is not optimistic that the state will find housing. Even a site on Santa Clara County property a short distance from the county jail was rejected, Matthews says. “It’s a bizarre situation,” he said, contending that DeVries’ prolonged captivity violates his constitutional rights. Meanwhile, Verse’s attorney is optimistic that the Department of Mental Health will eventually put the finishing touches on his client’s community release program. Verse was sent to Atascadero in 1999 after he served seven years in state prison for assaulting a man in a homeless shelter. Delays in setting up Verse’s program have pushed back his client’s May release date. “I am still optimistic that he will be released,” said Contra Costa County Deputy Public Defender Ronald Boyer. “They are very close,” Boyer said, referring to the progress that has been made on his client’s release programs. “I’m not assuming that they will fail.” Reporter Jahna Berry’s e-mail address is [email protected].

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