Hung jury in child molester trial |

Hung jury in child molester trial

Kevin Hurtado doesn’t want to hurt anyone.

In the past, those words had flowed easily from his mouth. Years of treatment did not keep Hurtado from failure. A boy paid the price.

Can child molesters reform?

Is there ever a time when the community is safe from a sex offender?

California legislators have responded with stringent new laws. About 80,000 residents are required to register as a sex offender for life. And the number of the offenders sentenced annually for felony sex crimes rose 27 percent during the 1990s, according to the legislative analyst’s office.

The Sexually Violent Predator Act, which went into effect January 1996, placed some of the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of citizens, and ever since juries around the state have been wrestling with the question – When is someone a sexually violent predator? – one of most heinous titles to label a person.

Last week 12 South Lake Tahoe citizens were asked to decide if Hurtado fit that description. If he did, instead of being released on parole after six years in prison, Hurtado would spend two more years receiving treatment in Atascadero State Hospital in San Luis Obisipo County. Near the end of the two years Hurtado would be re-evaluated, and possibly sent back to South Lake Tahoe for another jury trial to determine if he would enter another two-year commitment. Hurtado saw the trial as a possible life sentence.

The jurors listened to three psychologists, heard testimony on the statistical likelihood Hurtado would reoffend, and even listened to Hurtado himself. After a day and a half of intense deliberation they still did not have an answer. They came back Monday evening – a hung jury – 9 to 3 in favor of the prosecution.

Jury foreman Frank Champlin, who voted in favor of committing Hurtado, said emotions ran high Monday afternoon.

“At the beginning I thought it would be very clear, that this guy wasn’t ready to be back out on the street. But people let their personal feelings and emotions get involved. They were taking into consideration things they should have never taken into consideration,” he said. “Within the first two hours of deliberation it was 9 to 3, and it didn’t change. At the end things were getting fairly hot. People were using personal attacks and that is when I called an end to it.”

Champlin said some of the jurors had a hard time considering Hurtado, 33, sexually violent. Hurtado’s victims were all boys between the ages of 10 and 11. It began in 1986 when Hurtado, then in his early 20s, became a counselor at a wilderness camp in Santa Cruz County. Over three summers he molested seven boys. It ended in 1988 when one child reported Hurtado’s nighttime activities. Hurtado would orally copulate and masturbate the boys.

“Some of the people didn’t believe he was a violent man,” Champlin said. “But the way the law is written he is.”

The law requires a person to have at least two sex-related convictions and be suffering from a diagnosed mental disorder. The convictions must be for what are considered “sexually violent” offenses. That includes acts involving “substantial sexual contact” with a child under the age of 14. The victims must either be a stranger, a casual acquaintance, or a person that the offender established a relationship with for the purpose of making them a victim.

Hurtado claimed that the molestations were not premeditated, and he did not become a counselor to gain access to victims.

“I wasn’t aware of my strong attraction to boys at the time … I was still in an adolescent state of mind in regards to sexuality,” he said.

After out-patient treatment and one violation of his probation Hurtado molested again in 1992. This time while staying overnight at a friend’s home in South Lake Tahoe. The victim was the woman’s son. When asked why therapy had not worked, Hurtado replied, “I don’t think I took my problem very seriously. I didn’t realize the situations I was putting myself in and the risks.”

Hurtado told the court that he truly believed that with continuing out-patient therapy and several parole restrictions he would not reoffend. Two of the psychologists agreed with him saying that with extensive parole restrictions like electronic monitoring, periodic lie detector testing, intensive treatment, and structured monitored living he would not be likely to reoffend. All three psychologists agreed that Hurtado was a pedophile. However, none could give a total accurate estimate on whether or not Hurtado would continue to be a molester.

On Monday Hurtado will again be before the court to hear if the district attorney’s office will either dismiss his case or set it again for another trial. If dismissed Hurtado will be released to Alameda County, his last residence, for the remaining two years of his parole.

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