The Incorrigibles

They are the ones we truly fear. When the children head out to play, when a wife or sister is overdue from the office, these are the miscreants who make us wonder whether it's safe to go outside anymore. They are random and repeat sexual predators; many are killers, too. They get locked up for a long time, sometimes-though only after two or three convictions. Occasionally, they're executed, as was Westley Dodd by a hangman in Walla Walla, Wash., last week. But others kill no one. They just rape, molest, abuse and terrorize. They do some time and then they're released regardless of what dangers officials believe they pose. They don't fall through the proverbial cracks in the criminal-justice system; they walk right out its front door. These predators are The Incorrigibles. Meet three of them:

On a quiet street in suburban New Jersey, convicted rapist Donald Chapman, 37, resides with his aging parents. Police keep a 24-hour watch on the house at a daily cost of $2,000. Neighbors are afraid. Last November Chapman was released from prison after serving 11 years for kidnapping, raping and assaulting a woman with a vibrator. Previously he had been convicted of another sex-related offense, and in jail he admitted to four other earlier attacks. Psychologists and psychiatrists who treated him in prison say he remains a clear danger to others, having admitted to continuing sexual arousal and sadistic fantasies involving rape, torture and mutilation of adult women.

For more than 250 days, Peter Anderson hasn't been alone. On probation for a 1986 conviction for exposing himself, he lives in a group home for the emotionally disabled in Welch, Minn. While administrators say he presents no danger to the tiny community, townsfolk feel otherwise. They are worried that the 37-year-old Anderson will accost a child again, so they watch him wherever he goes. The patrols include fathers and mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers. The sheriff's office says it can't do a thing "unless a crime has been committed." The neighbors have sued to close the whole house down as a nuisance; the three residents and the manager are in federal court claiming discrimination.

Earl Shriner, 43, isn't on the outside anymore. He's doing 131 1/2 years in prison for attacking a 7-year-old boy in 1989. Forcing him off his bike in the woods near his Tacoma, Wash., home, Shriner raped the boy anally and orally, stabbed him in the back, tried to strangle him with a cord and, finally, cut off his penis. The boy survived, later describing Shriner, who was well known to officials. After all, Shriner had a 24-year rap sheet of sexual violence, including a 10-year sentence for abducting and assaulting two 16-year-old girls. The Tacoma crime was bad enough, but that history enraged the public-especially since prison authorities acknowledged they knew of Shriner's sadistic criminal intentions. He had, for example, told a cellmate of his desire for a van customized with cages so he could pick up children, molest and kill them. "It wasn't a question of 'if'," says prosecutor Barbara Corey-Boulet. "It was a question of 'when'."

Such grisly cases underscore one of criminal law's toughest dilemmas: how to balance society's need for protection from rapacious monsters against an individual's constitutional rights. We put people in prison for what they've done, not for what they might do based on a menacing remark or diabolic biography-at least that's long been the tradition in Anglo-American law. Suspicion is fine to get a search warrant or tail a Camaro, but not enough for jail time. "Nobody, except God, is able to predict human behavior," says Prof. Norval Morris of the University of Chicago law school.

Yet there is no mistaking the gravity of the problem. "Democratic society is not well equipped to deal with these monsters," concedes Vivian Berger, general counsel of the ACLU. Sex crimes are widespread nationally, though they represent a small fraction of the nearly 2 million annual violent crimes: in 1991 there were an estimated 173,000 rapes and attempted rapes and 138,000 cases of child sexual abuse (average victim age: just over 9 years). A former Denver parole officer is so cynical at this point that he can't even enjoy Christmas anymore. "When I see a Santa Claus," says Van Whisman, "I see a pedophile. A lot of my parolees would love that job." While repeat offenses are not tracked rigorously, there is consensus among criminologists that recidivist rates for sex offenders are generally higher than for those who have committed other violent crimes. A 1991 study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology stated that 43 percent of convicted child molesters released from mental institutions went on to commit new violent or sexual offenses within an average of six years.

Most experts say these reprobates were fully formed at a young age and cannot be cured. Take the case of chronic offender Leslie Allen Williams in Michigan. As a child, he was asked on a fill-in-the-blank psychological test, "Boys grow up to be men and girls to be..." Williams wrote "punished." Long prison sentences are one option, but that has not been the national experience. Justice Department statistics show that the average rape sentence is 10 1/2 years, with the average time served half that. For other sex offenses, like molestation and exhibitionism, the terms are even shorter.

If some of the predators are indeed beyond rehabilitation and life sentences don't happen, then what is to be done with them? Washington state, in a political frenzy after Shriner's horrible acts were revealed, thought it had the answer. Gov. Booth Gardner created a task force on "community protection" in response to a grass-roots campaign that included dumping 8,000 tennis shoes-symbolizing the vulnerability of children and other victims-in the governor's office. The task force recommended longer indeterminate sentences and other reforms. It also settled, though, on a unique-if also constitutionally suspect-solution. Besides mandating the registration of all sex offenders and community notification when an offender is released, the so-called sexual-predator law allows the state to lock up any convicted violent sex offender, even after he has served his time. (This was very different from conventional commitment procedures, which typically require a state to prove recent and overt acts before a judge can order a person locked up in a mental hospital.) "It was the apparent powerlessness of the state to act under such compelling circumstances" that propelled the statute, wrote David Boerner, its drafter. The law was passed by the legislature unanimously in early 1990, and not even the local ACLU complained initially.

The statute requires that the defendant, referred to as a "patient," have a "personality disorder or mental abnormality" making him likely to commit further sexual offenses. If found by a jury to be such a predator, the patient is subject to indefinite confinement and treatment. Since the law took effect 10 ex-cons have been committed; seven more are awaiting trial. None have been released. During that time, about 1,800 sex offenders have been let out into society without fanfare. Civil libertarians have challenged the law, citing among other things the vagueness of its definitions, and a decision by the state Supreme Court of Washington is expected sometime this year. At least five other states-Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Minnesota and Oregon-and the city of Toronto have looked into passing their own statutes. What new, tough drunk-driving legislation was to the 1980s, sexual-predator laws may be to this decade.

Under the Washington law, it is psychiatrists who must first make the decision that a prisoner is a danger. Some mental-health experts suggest that puts the onus on the wrong profession. "The law makes us the jailers," says Robert Wettstein, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh medical school. He blames the law's authors for coming up with criteria like "mental abnormality," which he says is a "subterfuge" to keep the convicts locked up. "This same process has been going on since the 19th century," Norval Morris says. "It's always a few rather pathetic individuals kept for a very long period and having no effect on crime rates. We've called them sociopaths, and before that psychopaths and moral imbeciles. Before that, they were warlocks and witches."

Committing sex offenders obviously implies that they will receive some form of therapy. Yet experts readily admit that treating habitual sex offenders may be in vain. "We can't give someone a sense of right and wrong if they don't have it," says Prof. Jack Levin of Northeastern University. The medical community recognizes that molesters are often educated and articulate and thus able to manipulate their would-be therapists; Westley Dodd was a master at it. "Even if it were possible to successfully treat someone like Dodd," says Lucy Berliner, research director at the Harborview Sexual Assault Center in Seattle, such a criminal should never be released. "The risk of failure is not worth taking." The Washington law itself acknowledges the likely futility of that effort. "The prognosis for curing sexually violent offenders is poor," it states. Most psychiatrists nonetheless argue that doesn't obviate the need to try. "We think it's a clear legal and moral responsibility," says David Weston, who runs the predator-commitment center on prison grounds in Monroe, Wash.

If incarceration is really the goal, critics say, then legislate life-without-parole sentences. The current system puts people "in a psychiatric gulag," says Prof. John La Fond of the University of Puget Sound law school, who is helping the ACLU challenge the statute. The Washington State Psychiatric Association opposes the law because it says predators "do not meet the clinical definition of mental illness." Instead, says spokesman Dr. James Reardon, "this is a form of antisocial behavior ... If you can lock up sex offenders this year, what about auto thieves or bank robbers next year?"

There are more than a half dozen forms of therapy in use for sexual offenders. Most common is group therapy, which is patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous. Advocates of this approach contend that offenders can fool a counselor, but not so easily each other. Other forms include chemicals to reduce sex drive, empathy training, role-playing to improve social skills, electric shock and other negative conditioning techniques. If therapy begins at an early enough age-that can be as early as 9 years old-even skeptics say it may be helpful.

Isolating the likes of Earl Shriner is the laudable goal of the Washington legislation, however harsh it might be. But there are some who suggest it doesn't go far enough. State district Judge Michael McSpadden of Texas, outspoken and eccentric, has become an advocate for what he says is a quicker, cheaper and more effective way to neutralize the predators among us. Citing studies that show the procedure reduces recidivism from 80 percent to 5 percent, he proposes castration. That, too, is harsh. One way or another, society keeps searching for a way to protect itself. After all, the Constitution isn't a suicide pact.

He raped a woman he had picked up in a bar in 1976 and was put on probation. A year later he raped another woman who had spurned his advances. After 12 years as a model prisoner, he was released. Eight months later he was charged with the murder of two young women. He is awaiting trial near Boston.

Surrounded by violence, he knew abuse and trauma as a child. With a long record, he confessed last year at 38 to the murders of four teenage girls and at least four sexual assaults, including one on a 9-year-old.

For four gory months beginning n December 1986, the 32-year-old laborer, often impersonating a police officer, sexually assaulted nine women and a 13-year-old girl. The "Imposter Rapist" is scheduled to be sentenced in California in March. Since he has a record of other sex crimes he will be labeled a "habitual" offender and may never be released.

A former Roman Catholic priest, he has admitted to molesting between 50 and 100 children over the last 30 years. He allegedly assaulted children in parishes from Fall River, Mass., to Las Vegas, Nev. He left the priesthood and later married. Last year he was convicted in Minnesota of molesting his own children's babysitter in 1987.

While still in prison, he described how he would attack children again. After his release, he raped a 7-year-old boy, stabbed him, then cut off his penis. This time he was sentenced to 131 1/2 years in Washington.