Perverted Justice?

Or is a new law that puts sexual predators in long-term psychiatric lock-up really -- and finally -- justice for perverts?

Today, Felix is sitting in San Francisco's County Jail No. 1, on the sixth floor of the Hall of Justice, awaiting his second court hearing under the sexually violent predator law.

Felix completed his prison sentence in 1993, having served 11 years on a 19-year, four-month sentence for rape and forced oral copulation in 1982. He was on parole, doing fine, relatively speaking. Then, he relapsed, violating terms of his parole that forbade him from drinking. Arrested for being drunk in public in March of 1996, his parole was revoked and he went to San Quentin for nine months. The sexually violent predator law went into effect just three months before he violated his parole.

Two state psychologists visited him in prison to make evaluations under the new law's guidelines. Applying an amalgam of actuarial studies, textbook psychology, and their own clinical judgment, both deemed Scott Felix to be a sexually violent predator, even though he had not committed a sex crime for 16 years.

Under the new law, their findings and testimony, along with other evidence, were presented to a 12-person jury. That jury was unable to reach agreement, hanging 8-to-4 in favor of committing Felix to a mental institution. The San Francisco District Attorney's Office has decided to submit the matter to another jury. By the time this story hits the stands, Felix will be in the middle of his new trial.

If the new jury agrees with the state, Felix will be confined to Atascadero State Mental Hospital for two years. There, he will be given the opportunity to undergo therapy with sexually violent predators from all over the state, child molesters included. Every year after his commitment, the state will conduct a new evaluation. If Felix is not deemed "cured" of his predatory condition, he will, by his choice, face either a judge or another jury, which will determine if he is to be committed for two more years. And so on. There is no guaranteed date of exit from the state's mental wards once you are locked in under the Sexually Violent Predator Act.

On many levels, the system is rigged in favor of continued incarceration, and is against the possibility that any of the so-called sexual predators will ever be declared cured. One small example: If the two psychiatrists who are sent to evaluate an alleged predator cannot agree -- if only one says the convict is OK for release, for example -- the state gets to pick two more shrinks, and keep on picking until it gets two psychiatrists who agree with each other.

The law also raises difficult civil liberty issues. In ways, it seems to mirror some of the worst aspects of the Soviet penal system. But it's not easy to dismiss the Sexually Violent Predator Act as just another ill-thought-out, tough-on-crime initiative. There are predators in Atascadero right now who probably need to stay there for the unforeseeable future. And Scott Felix isn't the perfect candidate for ACLU sainthood.

In fact, he is the embodiment of the uncertainties and paradoxes inherent in a law that requires human beings to predict the long-term behavior of other human beings.

Felix did terrible things in 1978 and 1982. He was a monster, a hulking bear of a man, fueled by a panoply of narcotics and unresolved anger, prowling the dusky pre-dawn streets of San Francisco looking to violently violate women -- and occasionally succeeding.

Compared to others, though -- compared to some of the truly sick garbage currently doing time in state prison-- Scott Felix is a Boy Scout.

Still, he is at serious risk of prolonged, even permanent incarceration, at Atascadero. "If he goes in," his lawyer, Randy Knox, says somewhat dramatically, "he ain't coming out." And there is no way to be certain that putting him in, or letting him out, is the right thing to do.

Felix saw his first victim before he raped her, but she never saw him. She lived behind his Uncle Mike's house on 48th Avenue in the Sunset.

In the early morning hours of July 21, 1978, Felix broke into her house and raped her. He says he was in a state of drug-induced psychosis. He says it was the PCP, not him so much, that raped the woman. "All I remember is being at Juvenile Hall, being charged with the crime," Felix says. Whatever it was, Felix or the PCP -- or whatever organic combination of the two -- he went back for more, several weeks later. That time, the act was aborted.

Felix was arrested, charged, and found guilty. But at that time he was a juvenile, and was sent to the California Youth Authority, where he spent more than a year.

But by the time he committed his first rape, Felix was already a practiced criminal. He was widely known as a wild Sunset kid. He ran with the ever-expanding and always-metamorphosing gangs that terrorized the neighborhood. After a while, Felix says, the groups devolved into two camps: the soft- and the hard-core. One group just smoked dope and did petty crimes. The other drank, drugged hard, and took its crimes to new heights -- or depths, depending on your perspective. The latter group was more Clockwork Orange-esque, and that's where Felix ended up.

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