As Sexual Predator Returns to Jail, Kansas Reviews Treatment Regimen
By Tony Rizzo And Christine Vendel
Eighteen months ago, newly released sexual predator Michael T. Crane stood outside the Johnson County Courthouse savoring a cigarette and his first day of freedom.
He talked of being a changed man who wanted people to feel comfortable around him. Now, Crane is back in jail, accused of committing a sex crime more violent than any he committed before he received years of mental health treatment.
Although Crane has yet to be tried, his arrest raises questions about the effectiveness of Kansas' predator program, enough so that state officials are reviewing the treatment regimen to see whether changes are needed.
But those who run the program aren't ready to panic or scrap their methods.
"The program is so new, it's hard to make a general statement," said Stacey Herman, public information officer for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, which operates the predator program.
Crane, 41, who was living in Blue Springs before his arrest last week, is one of only two men to be completely released from the program, Herman said. She said it's difficult to judge the program's success with so few examples to study.
"Each individual's case is unique," she said.
Nationally, there are little data available on the effectiveness of predator programs like the one Kansas started in 1994, according to Scott Matson, a researcher with the Center for Sex Offender Management, a U.S. Justice Department project in Silver Spring, Md.
Nearly 20 states, including Missouri, have laws permitting the detention of sexual predators beyond their prison terms. But few offenders have been released and not enough time has passed to do any meaningful research, Matson said.
Although a number of national studies have found generally that sex offenders who receive treatment have lower recidivism rates than those who don't, Matson said those studies may not be valid for the types of offenders placed in predator programs.
"They're there for a reason," he said.
In Washington, which in 1990 became the first state to adopt a predator law, only four men have gone through the program and are now living in the community.
But those men are all still under court supervision, and none has committed more crimes, according to a spokesman for the Washington Department of Social & Health Services.
In Crane's case, appellate court rulings cut short the post-release supervision that was supposed to last five years.
Under terms he agreed to after his release from the program, Crane was required to continue outpatient counseling and submit to annual polygraph tests. He also was supposed to keep a journal of his daily activities, including the names of persons who could verify his whereabouts.
But that program supervision ended only five months after his release. He remained under state parole supervision until January 2003.
News of Crane's arrest frustrated Palle Rilinger, executive director of the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault. She considers the sexual predator program a good tool to protect the public.
"I thought we had made significant headway in protecting the public," she said. "But here's a good instance where we didn't."
Paul Tamisiea is MOCSA's director of treatment and intervention services, which has a program to treat sex offenders. He said sex offenders have different motivations, and the ones who are motivated by deviant sexual arousal are nearly impossible to cure. Men who rape strangers typically fall into this category, he said.
"These guys have to have a level of violence involved with their sexuality," he said. "That's how they are hard-wired."
Men with this problem, even after undergoing treatment, remain—at the very least—a moderate risk to the public, Tamisiea said.
"There are no methods we know to change that," he said. "The odds would be that they would re-offend."
Under the Kansas law, sex offenders can be sent to the predator program after serving their prison sentences if a jury finds they have a mental condition that is difficult to control and makes them likely to continue committing sex crimes.
In Crane's case, doctors diagnosed him as an exhibitionist with an anti-social personality disorder.
According to court documents:
Crane began committing petty crimes and exposing himself to women 25 years ago, when he was 16.
His first arrest for indecent exposure occurred in 1985, and the next year he was arrested twice for physically assaulting women.
In one incident, he surprised a woman in Blue Springs, pushed her into her car and said, "You know what I want."
The woman's 3-year-old was in the car and crying, and she later told police that Crane suddenly stopped the assault and said, "This is crazy. I've been drinking," and ran.
A few months later he grabbed another woman, pushed her to the ground and began tearing at her sweater. Again he suddenly stopped the attack and ran.
Although he was convicted of various charges, Crane never served any significant prison time.
In 1992, while he was on probation, he exposed himself to a woman in a parking garage and then uttered an expletive and ran when he realized she was a probation officer who knew him.
His criminal career might have ended in January 1993 when he attacked a 19-year-old Leawood video store clerk. Crane dragged the woman toward a back room and told her he was going to rape her.
Following his pattern, he suddenly stopped the attack and ran.
A jury found him guilty of kidnapping, attempted rape and attempted sodomy, and Johnson County District Judge Peter Ruddick sentenced him to 35 years to life in prison.
He would still be in prison today if the Kansas Supreme Court had not intervened and thrown out the convictions. The court ruled that moving the woman from one part of the store to another was not enough to constitute kidnapping.
The case was returned to Johnson County, and Crane pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual battery. The charge carried a lesser prison sentence, but prosecutors filed the sexual predator case when he was released.
A jury found him to be a predator, but on appeal once again, the Kansas Supreme Court overturned Crane's commitment. State officials appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which used Crane's case to clarify what factors are needed to commit someone as a predator.
Throughout the appeal process, Crane was in the state's predator unit in Larned, Kan. By January 2002, doctors thought his condition had so changed that he was safe to be released.
Prosecutors could have tried him again as a predator, but because the state's own doctors said he was no longer a threat, another trial would have been pointless.
Offenders in the program are taught to recognize triggers that lead to their committing crimes and how to develop techniques to combat those urges.
They also learn how their actions harm victims as well as their own families and friends. They are required to maintain support networks and continuing counseling when they are released.
Herman said 82 offenders are in the program at Larned. Four are in the transitional release phase and one is in the final conditional release phase. Those are the last two steps before an offender can be released.
Before he left the Johnson County Courthouse on the day of his release, Crane said he had learned a lot in the program and was dedicated to changing his life.
"I didn't take my commitment as a joke," he said.
But on March 22, prosecutors allege, Crane attacked a woman outside an east Kansas City apartment complex.
As in the 1986 attack, he allegedly forced the woman into her car and struck her in the face. This time he did not run. The woman reported that as he sexually assaulted her he asked, "How does it feel to get raped?"
Investigators said they used DNA testing to link him to the crime. The odds are one in 1.75 quintillion that he is not the attacker, according to court documents.
He is charged in Jackson County Circuit Court with kidnapping, three counts of forcible sodomy, rape and third-degree assault and is in the Jackson County Jail. He waived a preliminary hearing Friday morning and is scheduled to be arraigned July 15.
© 2003 The Kansas City Star.
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