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Friday, December 7, 2007

Prosecutors to seek life sentence for sex offenders

Minnesota’s new law permitting a judge to put a sex offender in jail for life may soon be put to use. According to an Associated Press report, prosecutors in Dakota and Ramsey counties are seeking to use the 2005 law in two pending sex crime prosecutions.

The Minnesota law allows life without parole for sex crimes featuring “heinous elements” such as torture, mutilation, multiple victims or “extreme inhumane conditions” that could lead to “severe ongoing mental, emotional or psychological harm.” First-time offenders aren't eligible unless their crimes involve two such factors.

In the Dakota County case, County Attorney James Backstrom is pursuing a life sentence for Robert O. Bollett, a 43-year-old repeat sex offender now charged with molesting two boys. In Ramsey County, prosecutors want life without parole for Gari Lamont Stewart, 26, who faces attempted murder and other charges in the assault of a St. Paul couple in June. Stewart allegedly tried to suffocate and stab the man, raped the woman twice, set the apartment on fire, then forced the woman to withdraw money from a cash machine.

Minnesota has never before allowed a life sentence for a sex offender who didn't kill his victim.

I have mixed feelings about the new law. Personally, I don’t believe that the harsher penalty will prevent people from committing sex offenses. And putting someone in jail for life has tremendous costs for the state. At the same time, I have doubts about whether repeat sex offenders can really be rehabilitated, so this is a way to get these people off the street. Regardless, because life in prison is such serious punishment, I do hope that the law is used only when it’s truly warranted to protect the public. It will be interesting to see what happens in these two cases.

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