In the eyes of the law, Amy Hudon’s story was pointless, but she told it anyway, for the last time before a familiar courtroom.
“Have you ever had anybody break into your house, put tape around your head and hold a knife to your throat?” she said, sobbing. “I beg you: Don’t let another woman go through this.”
It was a Wednesday morning in May at the Asotin County Superior Courthouse, and the state was moving to release Hudon’s former captor. Monte Hoisington, 61, would soon leave the high-security compound where he’d lived for the previous 12 years among hundreds of the state’s most detested pariahs including sexual sadists and serial rapists like him and move to Spokane.
The presiding judge seemed reluctant (and said as much), but his job was to uphold the law and he couldn’t ignore the evidence: Three forensic psychologists had assessed Hoisington and concluded that by law, the thrice-convicted rapist no longer posed a threat to society.
For Hudon, hearing the judge read the expert testimony was troubling, and she wasn’t alone.
The process used to release civilly committed sex offenders is not without its critics. While the majority of committed sex offenders refuse to be treated, many decline on the advice of attorneys to even speak with clinicians, so as to avoid self-incrimination. As a result, when offenders petition for release, the evidence against them is often stale and outdated putting further pressure on prosecutors who must prove offenders suffer from mental abnormalities and can’t control their behavior.
“I think that’s essentially not a very scientific process, and one can’t confidently say that someone is cured or reformed as one does, for instance, if they were confined for tuberculosis or a communicable disease,” says Ronald Page, a clinical psychologist in Walla Walla who has diagnosed hundreds of sex predators throughout his career, including Hoisington. “There are laboratory tests to rule those [illnesses] out, and that simply doesn’t exist here.”
In the summer of 1991, Hoisington crept through the sliding glass door of Hudon’s mother’s house in Clarkston, Wash., and raped her for two hours at knifepoint. She was his last known victim after a string of violent sexual assaults in the Lewiston, Idaho, and Boise areas in the ’70s. Hoisington was convicted three times for rape before being civilly committed in 2001 for what Hudon and law enforcement officials hoped would be the rest of his life.
Back in the courtroom in May, Hudon gave a dirty look to Hoisington’s sister, a stoic gray-haired lady with a braid and glasses. The woman reached out her hand and touched the back of Hudon’s seat.
“I don’t want him out either,” she told Hudon.
But on June 12, Hoisington moved into an apartment building on West Second Avenue in Spokane where he rents a room for less than $300 a month. He’s a registered Level III sex offender. He’s signed an agreement to follow certain rules for the rest of his life: No alcohol, drugs, porn, topless bars or X-rated stores. No burglary tools or weapons. No contact with his victims and no crimes against women.
And when “community custody” ends in 11 months, he’s told evaluators he may go west to Oregon or California and to the best of his ability start over. Something that Hudon is still trying to do.
Hudon was 19 when she was raped. According to police records and interviews with The Inlander, she was sleeping on the couch before she heard movement in her mom’s bedroom.
A man with a flashlight was rifling through her mother’s dresser. In one swift movement, he grabbed her and raised a knife to her throat.
“Keep your eyes shut! Keep your eyes shut!” he barked.
He wrapped masking tape around her head one, two, three, four times to cover her eyes. But Hudon could peer through the bottom of the tape, by the sides of her nose, just enough to see a man in Levi’s and cowboy boots pick up a butcher knife from the kitchen counter.
“I like this one better,” he said.
Throughout the attack, Hudon kept a mental inventory in case she survived: He had light brown hair that curled on the end, a stud in his left ear, a silver watch and a mustache. He touched her telephone, several drawers, a stereo, a bottle of lotion and a jar of Vaseline. He handed her a bottle of Perrier from the refrigerator. He smoked Camels.
When he was finished, he got dressed, walked her into the shower and told her not to come out until he was gone.
“Let me give you some advice,” he said. “If this ever happens to you again, just tell the guy to get the hell out.”
DNA testing and fingerprints pointed to Hoisington. A Clarkston native and ex-Marine, Hoisington had been convicted for rape twice before in Lewiston in 1978 and served 10 years in an Idaho penitentiary for those crimes. He had previously been charged with two attempted rapes in Lewiston and reported as a prowler in 50 to 60 incidents. One woman he attacked was 70 years old. When he got out of prison, DNA linked him to another rape of a Boise woman with multiple sclerosis. While in custody, he admitted another rape to investigators. He was never prosecuted for those crimes.
Page, the clinical psychologist, evaluated Hoisington back in 1978 and again in 1993 to determine whether he would be a suitable candidate for civil commitment. In his report, he diagnosed Hoisington with sexual sadism, meaning he seems to derive sexual pleasure from hurting and humiliating his victims.
“Concerning future danger, it is difficult to categorize Mr. Hoisington as other than a moderate-to-high risk for recidivism. His commision of similar offenses, separated by over one decade and a very lengthy related imprisonment, would suggest that his aberrant sexual cathexis may be a central element of his sexual identity,” Page wrote. “Assuming he may have been involved in three or more similar predatory rapes, this may be a rather compelling fantasy and sexual psychopathology.”
Page concluded Hoisington would be a potential candidate for civil commitment “in view of the established pattern of sexual psychopathology and statically significant future danger.”
In Asotin County, Hoisington agreed to a plea bargain and his charges were reduced to second-degree rape and second-degree burglary. He was initially sentenced to life imprisonment until an appeals court threw it out as “excessive” for second-degree rape. He was resentenced for another 354 months until the state civilly committed him to McNeil Island in 2001.
At McNeil’s Special Commitment Center, Hoisington never participated in any of the voluntary sexual deviance treatment programs. He routinely refused to speak with psychologists. And every year since his commitment, Hoisington has petitioned for his release. As one of the center’s psychologists noted in Hoisington’s most recent annual report, his “repeated challenges to his sentence suggests he does not accept responsibility for his assaultive behavior, or for the consequences attached to the behavior.”
The most widely used tool for measuring an adult male sex offender’s relative risk for recidivism in legal cases is a 10-item assessment known as a Static-99. It is based on statistical averages of sexual offender recidivism research. When assessing an offender, it considers, among other things, his age at release, any prior sexual offenses and whether or not his victims were strangers.
The Static-99 was revised and reissued as the Static-99R in 2009, after researchers pointed out that older sex offenders are at a lower risk to reoffend than younger offenders. In the updated assessment, age is weighted. Turning 60 trims three points from an offender’s score.
“One can talk about averages and about statistics with confidence as it applies to groups,” Page says. “But any individual can be an outlier within a population.”
Hoisington turned 60 three days after his 2010 annual review. These yearly reports are assembled by Department of Social and Health Services psychologists, tasked with evaluating a committed offender’s mental condition and ultimately determining whether or not he continues to qualify as a “sexually violent predator.” If an offender no longer meets the criteria of a so-called “SVP,” the court can can decide to release him into the community.
But residents at McNeil aren’t required to participate in interviews with forensic evaluators. “Therefore, any of the resulting diagnostic impressions are based solely on a review of records, which may be inaccurate, biased, or lacking sufficient detail or clarity to be helpful,” McNeil psychologist Dr. Daniel Yanisch explains in an email. “While it is generally helpful if a person interviews, it is not always required to be able to answer the forensic questions that the law is asking be reviewed.”
Psychologist Paul Spizman measured Hoisington’s risk for reoffense using the Static-99R for his 2010 review. Factoring in his “advanced age,” Hoisington scored a 3 on a scale of 12. Earlier that year, Hoisington was diagnosed with a malformed artery in the brain that has affected his mobility and strength. He carries a cane, usually a couple of feet off the ground, in case he gets dizzy. He’s legally blind in his right eye. He may need new glasses. McNeil staff note he’s often quiet and aloof, but respectful and polite.
Taking into account his low assessment score and medical history, Spizman concluded Hoisington no longer met the criteria for a sexually violent predator under Washington revised code.
“Of course, I must emphasize this is all based on very limited information, with Mr. Hoisington himself declining to provide information in various areas that would assist in understanding his overall risk,” Spizman wrote in an annual review report. “The caveat that he is limiting this evaluation cannot be stated strongly enough.”
In civil commitment cases, the burden is on the state to prove that a civilly committed sex offender is “more likely than not” to reoffend if released from secure confinement. Additionally, it must prove the offender suffers from a mental abnormality, so much so that he cannot control his violent behavior. The cases are heavily reliant on expert testimony, explains Assistant Attorney General Brooke Burbank from the AG’s Sexually Violent Predator Unit.
“I do think that there is philosophical opposition to the statute in which a lot of the defense experts we see testify really don’t believe anyone should be committed against their will,” Burbank says, adding, “They’re entitled to a good defense.”
In Hoisington’s case, three different experts evaluated him using records from criminal history, previous reports and various assessment models including the Static-99R. Only one psychologist, retained by the state, interviewed Hoisington in person thanks to a court order.
While two diagnosed him with paraphilia, an aberrant sexual disorder, as Page did years ago, all three found he no longer met the legal criteria for a sexually violent predator.
“My greatest concern was the fact that Mr. Hoisington had done nothing indicating he had changed,” Asotin County Prosecutor Ben Nichols says. “If there was any indication that he had made any effort at all to address the issue, it would have been a different matter. But I have to believe that some treatment must surely be better than no treatment at all.”
King County prosecutor David Hackett, who handles his county’s sexually violent predator cases, is also concerned about released sexually violent predators who don’t participate in treatment. While research shows a correlation between age and recidivism among low-risk offenders, the reliance on expert testimony in these cases for highly dangerous offenders leaves the prosecutors in a “pickle,” he says.
“They’re left with only what they can prove ... where they can’t go forward with the case due to the staleness of the evidence or the way DSHS evaluations presented the manner,” he says. “It does put a pretty high burden on the prosecutor, but more importantly I think it puts a pretty high burden on society. The burden being the risk to reoffend.”
Hoisington declined to speak with The Inlander through his community corrections officer Bob Bromps. His defense attorney, Lin-Marie Nacht from the Seattle-based nonprofit Society of Counsel Representing Accused Persons, says justice was served.
“I think it’s important to know that [civil] commitments are mental health commitments. It is not punishment for the underlying crime. The person has already served their sentence,” she says.
“There is a great value in following our Constitution’s precepts in protecting our freedom. When a law is interpreted through fear and guesses and used to lock people up, that does not meet our constitutional standards.”
Amy Hudon will never forget that night. It haunts her. Camel cigarettes. Faint noises in the night. Everything in her mother’s house.
The gold shag carpet in Hudon’s room was ripped from the floors, the walls were painted and the bed was thrown out. But she couldn’t live there anymore. She moved out, joined the Air Force in Florida and later got a job in Maryland before settling in Idaho a few years ago.
She used to fantasize about killing Hoisington, stopping him dead in his tracks on his way out of prison.
Hudon grabs a tissue. “God,” she whispers. “It just sucks.”
Tonight, before she goes to bed, Hudon will place something like the vacuum sweeper or piano bench in front of the door to her house, even though it’s deadbolted. If someone comes in this time, she’ll hear him and she’ll be ready.
She’s got a gun. She can shoot.
“Maybe the attorneys and the judges and shrinks who work for them, maybe they can sleep at night if it happens again,” she says. “But I can’t.”
In 1990, Washington state passed the nation’s first civil commitment law allowing courts to lock up and treat its most dangerous sex offenders well beyond their criminal sentences. Despite numerous constitutional challenges, 19 states followed Washington’s lead and adopted similar measures.
To be civil committed in Washington, the court must find that the offender in question is a “sexually violent predator,” which under Revised Criminal Code 71.09 is defined as “any person who has been convicted of or charged with a crime of sexual violence and who suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder which makes the person likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence if not confined in a secure facility.”
Nearly 300 sex offenders reside in the Department of Social and Health Services-run Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island. The cost to detain each resident is roughly $150,000 per year.
Although their detentions are indefinite, some, with help from treatment, can move to less restrictive community settings and eventually gain freedom. But treatment is voluntary — only 37 percent of the residents actively participate. Others are discharged simply because they’re so old, sick or frail, they no longer qualify as violent predators.
Since the center’s founding in 1990, at least 32 civilly committed offenders have been unconditionally released into society. According to the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, discharges from the facility outpaced admissions in 2012 for the first time.
Tighten the Law?
A 2011 bill sponsored by state Sens. Debbie Regala and Jim Hargrove would have amended the state’s sexually violent predator law, in part by compelling committed offenders to participate in in-person interviews with an evaluator during their annual review.
The idea, explains David Hackett, the King County prosecutor who helped draft the amended language, was to encourage offenders at McNeil Island to undergo treatment. Currently, according to the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, just 37 percent of the resident population does. Lawmakers argued the annual review system created one major unintended consequence of indefinite civil commitment; namely, offenders could zip their lips, refuse treatment and effectively age out of confinement through continuous litigation.
“Basically, you didn’t do anything and your attorney would claim in court all the information about you was old and outdated,” Hackett says. “That’s a pretty common strategy [among defense attorneys].”
But the bill went one step further: It placed the burden of proof on the offender, rather than the state, to “prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the person’s condition has so changed” that he no longer meets the definition of a sexually violent predator.
SB 5202 “was pretty much dead on arrival,” says Brooke Burbank, an assistant attorney general. The bill passed the Senate unanimously, and made it through the House, but in a drastically altered form. Eventually it went nowhere. “The defense bar has a very strong lobby and they did not like [it],” says Burbank.