Agency not li­able in rapist’s re­lease, court says

It finds Depart­ment of Men­tal Health fail­ures didn’t cause rape and killing of teenager.

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By Maura Dolan maura.dolan@la­times.com Twit­ter: @mau­radolan

SAN FRAN­CISCO — State men­tal health au­thor­i­ties are not li­able for de­ter­min­ing that a con­victed rapist — who raped and killed a teenager four days af­ter leav­ing pri­son — was suit­able for re­lease, the Cal­i­for- nia Supreme Court de­cided unan­i­mously Mon­day.

Elaina Novoa sued the Depart­ment of Men­tal Health, al­leg­ing that her sis­ter’s death was caused by the gov­ern­ment’s fail­ure to ful­fill its du­ties un­der the Sex­u­ally Vi­o­lent Preda­tors Act. That law per­mits danger­ous sex of­fend­ers to be con­fined in a men­tal in­sti­tu­tion af­ter their pri­son terms end.

In a rul­ing writ­ten by Jus­tice Carol A. Cor­ri­gan, the state high court agreed that the men­tal health de­part- ment failed to fol­low the law in eval­u­at­ing Gil­ton Pitre, who was in pri­son for rap­ing a fe­male room­mate in 1996.

But the court said the vic­tim’s sis­ter could not prove that the gov­ern­ment’s in­ad­e­quate eval­u­a­tion caused the 2007 rape and stran­gu­la­tion of Alyssa Gomez, 15, a run­away who lived on the streets of Hol­ly­wood.

As Pitre was near­ing his re­lease date, the Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions asked men­tal health au­thor­i­ties to eval­u­ate whether Pitre was a vi­o­lent sex­ual preda­tor who should be com­mit­ted to a men­tal in­sti­tu­tion rather than be re­leased.

The law re­quires the Depart­ment of Men­tal Health to as­sign two pro­fes­sional eval­u­a­tors to rec­om­mend whether a sex of­fender should be held over for trial for a civil com­mit­ment. Only one per­son eval­u­ated Pitre and found he could be re­leased.

“DMH’s fail­ure to ap­point a sec­ond eval­u­a­tor can­not prop­erly be con­sid- ered a prox­i­mate cause of Pitre’s heinous crime,” Cor­ri­gan wrote.

Pitre, now serv­ing a life sen­tence for Gomez’s death, has since been charged with killing two other women in 2004.

Jus­tice Kathryn Mickle Werde­gar, joined by Jus­tices Good­win Liu and Leon­dra Kruger, agreed with the re­sult but wrote separately in fa­vor of a more nar­row legal anal­y­sis.

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