California pedophile wants out of mental hospital
SANTA ANA, California - The Associated Press
AFP photoUpon his release from prison in the mid-1990s, twice-convicted pedophile Sid Landau moved in with friends in Southern California, hoping for a new start and a chance to fade quietly into the background.
Instead, a firestorm erupted, fueled by freshly enacted legislation targeting molesters. Within months, Landau found himself relentlessly harangued by outraged parents and saddled with unique notoriety: one of the first people in California targeted by the full force of a tough sex offender law.
Police in Placentia, California, made sure Landau's name and face were widely known and seen. Parents picketed his house with signs and bullhorns. Neighbors called authorities each time he walked out his door. Soon, Landau lost his job at a thrift store and found himself on the run, chased from various addresses by angry crowds.
After his subsequent arrest for assaulting a cameraman and serving more time for parole violations, Landau was about to be released in 2000, but was flagged by authorities as a sexually violent predator under a little-known law and later committed to a mental hospital for treatment.
Now 70 years old, Landau is fighting to reverse that designation and get out of the mental hospital where he has remained for the past dozen years. A judge will decide Friday whether Landau is entitled to a jury trial to challenge his sexual predator status, a label that is given to just 1 percent of all sex offenders in California.
Landau's public defender, Sara Ross, says his advancing age and health makes him a candidate for release into the community.
"Ultimately, when it comes down to it, Mr. Landau served all of his time. He served each and every minute that the government asked of him and paid his dues and he's no longer a danger to society. He is in his seventies," she said. "He hasn't done anything in 20 or 30 years and he really wants to go home."
Experts who study California's statutes on sexually violent predators, however, say Landau faces an extremely difficult fight to regain his freedom.
Under a law enacted in 1996, offenders who are convicted of a sexually violent offense, have at least one victim and are diagnosed with a mental disorder that makes them likely to reoffend can be committed to a mental hospital for treatment after a rigorous legal process that involves findings by doctors, a judge and a jury.
Inmates convicted of sex offenses are evaluated by prison staff starting six months before their scheduled release and those who are flagged are forwarded to the state's Department of Mental Health for further assessment.
There currently 533 people statewide who have been formally committed to a mental hospital for an indeterminate time because they are sexually violent predators and another 321 who are housed at Coalinga State Hospital awaiting a determination, said Deborah Ireland, a spokeswoman for the hospital.
Ninety-one sexually violent predators have been released since 2006, Ireland said, but it wasn't immediately clear whether those individuals gained release through a jury trial or other avenue.
Offenders are re-evaluated each year and can request a hearing to determine if there is cause to challenge the findings.
At each step, convicted molesters like Landau face significant hurdles because the district attorneys and judges handling their cases are elected officials. And if a case does get in front of a jury, it's unlikely convicted molesters will find much sympathy, said David Ramirez, a defense attorney who specializes in representing sexually violent predators.
"You've got to understand, if you let this person out in the community, there's a lot of political pressure and the heat could come down for them. If he goes out in the community and kills and rapes an 8-year-old girl walking to school, there's going to be consequences," Ramirez said. "And at trial, the prosecutors usually go over it piece by piece. 'How did you pick your victim? Was it her hair color? Her height?' The jury is obviously repulsed by that. It's an ugly process." Landau was one of the first sex offenders to be targeted in California by Megan's Law. The law derives its name from Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old New Jersey girl who was sexually assaulted and killed in 1994 by a previously convicted sex offender; the crime led to the creation of state and federal Megan's Laws that allow police to provide notification when high-risk sex offenders move into neighborhoods.
Despite his age, Landau remains a danger to society and has refused treatment while at Coalinga, said Dan Wagner, the Orange County deputy district attorney handling the case.
"Through the years he's even by his own admission molested at least 10 children and we think the number is quite higher than that. The amount of damage this man has done is just staggering," Wagner said. "He's unchanged, he still is attracted to little boys and we're convinced that ... if he were to be released he'd be molesting again in a short amount of time." Even if Landau wins his freedom, experts say, it's unlikely he will fare well.
A sexually violent predator released in 2009 was forced to live in a mobile home in the desert that was paid for by the state. His presence in the tiny town of Desert Center raised the ire of residents and Steven Willett was required to wear a monitoring bracelet, take only supervised trips and submit to regular lie detector tests.
Less than a year later, he violated his parole by following an undercover female sheriff's deputy onto a bus and inviting her back to his home. Willett was sent back to the state mental hospital.