Posted on Thu, Feb. 22, 2007
Verse now seeks total freedom
By Bruce Gerstman
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
Nader Khouri/Contra Costa Times
Verse admits fault in violating his conditional release, but also notes that his relationship with Liberty Health Care has been failing.
ATASCADERO - Early evening curfews bother Cary Verse. So does carrying a GPS device and getting official permission to give someone a ride in his car.
The four-time sex offender said he has found himself in a locked hospital again because many of the rules he had to follow while living in society were too strict. He grew frustrated with them.
While he lived in his own apartment in Bay Point, he hurt nobody. He had no desire to, he said.
But he chafed under the conditions of his release. His return to Atascadero State Mental Hospital came after police found him driving with an unauthorized male passenger in his car.
He said he regrets his mistake. He let down friends who were helping him start a new life. But, after a month and a half at Atascadero, he has a new sense of clarity. He now wants total freedom and intends to show a jury that he can handle it.
"Do I have what I need to live unconditionally?" Verse said, walking around the halls of the maximum security hospital. "Absolutely. A community, friends, job opportunities."
He intends to bring his case to trial, tentatively set for April 30. A Contra Costa County jury will decide whether, despite his violation of a condition of his first release, he is capable of living in society again, this time without restrictions.
If he loses, he must return to the hospital indefinitely until a judge grants him a conditional release similar to how he lived before.
He is taking a gamble because, like most sex offenders in the state's sexually violent predator program, he has only one chance to convince a jury to release him unconditionally from the hospital.
Verse appears relaxed in the hospital. He had lived in the same wing -- reserved for the hospital's 218 sexually violent predators -- for six years before his release in 2004. He grew to accept life there.
"I was putting pictures up on my walls," he said of his first stint. "I wasn't thinking about what I might miss."
Now, his section of his four-man bedroom is bare, except for two issues of the Jehovah's Witness magazine, Watchtower, leaning upright on a window sill next to his bed. He is looking forward to getting out, and he intends on sticking to his goals of going to college and becoming a chef.
"I don't expect to be here for a long, long time," he said. "I've had to put a lot of my life on hold. But I still feel like a taxpayer."
He still hopes to marry and have children, despite his sexual feelings for men.
A Superior Court judge returned him to the hospital after Walnut Creek police in November found a 14-year-old boy, the son of friends, as a passenger in his car. They had pulled him over because of a broken tail light.
He did not violate a law, but he did break a rule of his conditional release.
Verse offers no excuse. He said he felt frustrated at having to stick to dozens of strict rules for three years and became overconfident.
"This was not a sex offense, but I'm sure it felt that way to many people," he said.
He was living in Bay Point after undergoing six years of therapy in which psychologists eventually recommended that he could live outside a locked facility if closely supervised.
Liberty Health Care Corp. contracted with the state's Department of Mental Health to supervise him.
Verse rarely, if ever, complained publicly while out of custody about the restrictions he lived under -- from chemical castration to curfews. He always arrived in court hearings wearing a dark suit. He carried a Bible in one hand and a GPS in the other, and he politely answered any questions.
At first, he said that the restrictions keep predators such as him from reoffending.
Over time, he said he came to believe that he could live without the rules. But the state's financial support for therapy, food and housing helped him keep his life stable.
Now, he thinks he can do it himself.
"I am confident in myself that I will never commit another crime again," he said. "Especially sex offenses."
Verse was convicted of adult charges of assaulting four males from 1988 to 1992. He assaulted a 14-year-old when he was 17, a 17-year-old when he was 18, another 14-year-old when he was 19 and a 23-year-old when he was 21.
Since his return to Atascadero, hospital psychologists have placed him in the final of four stages of the in-hospital treatment program for sex offenders who wish to leave the hospital under supervision -- the same final step he completed before his 2004 release.
His current schedule in the final stage of the program gives Verse a lot of free time.
He attends group therapy sessions for three hours each week, discussing with other patients the possible situations they could face out of custody -- protests, angry neighbors, rude comments at the grocery store -- and how to stay upbeat rather than spiral into depression.
"People who have difficulty coping with stressful life situations get into this criminal behavior as a way of coping," said Jesus Padilla, the hospital's clinical psychology specialist. "It's a release from the stress."
Individual therapy takes up about one hour a week for Verse. He goes to the gym and to Jehovah's Witness religious services twice a week. And he is trying to learn Spanish on audio tapes.
"Since I've got more time on my hands, I might as well make the best of it," he said.
Patients such as Verse spend their first three stages of treatment in more rigorous therapy, Padilla said.
Verse had worked up to this point during his first six years here, passing tests along the way.
Men trying to leave the hospital on conditional release must pass polygraph tests to help make sure they are being honest about all offenses they have committed, Padilla said. Doctors ask about possible other sexual assaults they might have gotten away with, as well as details of their crimes, comparing them to victims' statements or doctors' reports.
They must also pass a test in which doctors attach an instrument to a patient's genitals, show images and audio of staged sexual assaults to determine whether the patient grows excited.
"It's quite intrusive," Padilla said.
He says he believes that sex offenders can learn to control themselves and live out of custody without continuing to act on their impulses.
"Most of the world controls their impulses," Padilla said. "I think it is possible."
Contra Costa County deputy district Attorney Brian Haynes is set to present recent psychologists' reports about Verse to a Superior Court judge on March 9.
The judge will decide whether enough evidence exists to hold a jury trial to decide whether he should be released unconditionally. If the judge does not find enough evidence, Verse would get to go free, with no restrictions.
Judges usually order trials. At trial, Verse can try to persuade a jury that Haynes' evidence fails to prove that he is a threat and that he should live without monitoring.
"There would be absolutely no restrictions on his behavior," Haynes said. "He would literally have to commit another crime for any action to be taken and be placed back into a custodial setting. Any continuing treatment would be optional on his part."
If Verse loses, he would be sent back to a hospital, requesting a judge every year to review his case again.
"I feel like if I don't go to trial," Verse said, "I will always regret it."
Reach Bruce Gerstman at 925-952-2670 or firstname.lastname@example.org.