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December 7, 1999

Jury Commits Offender Under Sexually Violent Predator Law

Webster County jury determines Harold Williams is a sexually violent predator. Williams entered Civil Commitment Unit at Oakdale on Monday.

Harold Williams was transferred Monday to the Civil Commitment Unit for Sexual Offenders at Oakdale after a Webster County jury reached a verdict Friday that Williams is a sexually violent predator who is likely to engage in sexually violent predatory acts unless he is confined in a secure facility.

Williams, age 43, of Lehigh, Iowa, is the fifth person committed to the unit, which is operated by the State Department of Human Services at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center at Oakdale, near Iowa City. The unit is near capacity, but additional space will be made available at Oakdale as needed.

The civil trial was conducted last Tuesday through Friday in Webster County District Court in Fort Dodge. The eight-person jury reached a verdict about seventy minutes after deliberations began. The Attorney General's Office serves in the role of prosecutor.

Iowa's sexually violent predator law took effect last year. In certain cases, persons discharging prison sentences may be civilly committed for control, care and treatment until they are safe to be at large and do not constitute a threat. Persons committed under the law must be segregated from other patients, must receive comprehensive treatment, and must receive annual evaluations and review by the court to determine whether their mental abnormalities have changed enough that the offender is safe to be at large.

According to the statute, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an offender has previously been convicted of a sexually violent offense and suffers from a mental abnormality that makes the person likely to engage in predatory acts constituting sexually violent offenses unless confined in a secure facility.

Evidence presented at the trial included:

That Williams was convicted on four different occasions of sexually violent offenses under Iowa law: in Hardin County in 1977 of lascivious acts with a child; in Marshall County in 1981 of lascivious acts with a child; in Cerro Gordo County in 1984 of indecent contact with a child and lascivious acts with a child; and in Webster County in 1988 of second degree sexual abuse. Williams was incarcerated in connection with each of the convictions. He was set to discharge a 25-year prison sentence on the 1988 charge as of June 26, 1999.

In trial, Williams denied that he had offended against four victims that were part of the 1984 case; charges involving the four children had been dropped as part of a plea bargain (Williams pled guilty to charges involving two other children in the case.) Testimony was heard at last week's trial from three of those four victims that they were victimized as young children by Williams. (The State could not locate the fourth.)

From the State's point of view, Williams' denial, refuted by witnesses, is important because unsubstantiated denial is considered a strong indicator that an offender remains likely to re-offend.

That Williams had completed a sex-offender treatment program during his 1984 incarceration, but that six months after his release for those offenses he was re-arrested for sexual abuse of a young child.

That evaluation concluded Williams suffers from pedophilia, a sexual disorder which qualifies as a mental abnormality under Iowa law. The State expert's evaluation placed Williams in a high risk category for sexual re-offending if not held in a secure facility.

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[Note: this release is a corrected version.]

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