Sex crimes can now earn life in prison

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Hennepin County Attorney’s office has been aggressively using a relatively new tool to put away some sexual offenders for life.

Under a law passed by the Minnesota Legislature in 2005, suspects who commit particularly heinous sex crimes, or have a history of those types of crimes, can receive a life sentence. In order to do that, the county attorney must first go to a grand jury to get an indictment, instead of the usual procedure of simply filing charges.

“There are a number of ways to deal with (repeat) sex offenders and I can’t think of a better one than sending him away for life without the opportunity of parole,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a news conference Monday.

In the case announced this week, Yahye Abdisalan, 33, was charged in an April 2010 house break-in and sex attack on two sisters, age 15 and 17 who were sleeping in their beds. Their mother ran to the room and pulled off Abdisalan’s ski-mask as he fled and DNA from it linked him to the assault.

He fled to Canada and was extradited back to Minneapolis last week. But because he had an earlier conviction for a sex crime, the Hennepin County Attorney’s office took the case to a grand jury in November and received an indictment in this case. If he is found guilty, he will be eligible for a life sentence.

There has been significant controversy around how to protect citizens from repeat rapists. One method has been to label some of them as sexual predators, and as their prison terms are expiring, have them civilly committed to secure facilities until they are deemed safe.

However, this is an expensive way to deal with the problem, determining who should be committed can be difficult and there are concerns that they are being punished twice for the same crime. Going after these defendants with a life in prison sentence eliminates those concerns.

“I’ve been trying to bring some sanity to our sex offenders system,” Freeman said at the news conference, and added this was one piece of that effort.

The life sentence option has been rarely used in the state. According to the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission, more than 1,300 cases were eligible for this designation between 2006 and early 2010, but only a dozen were prosecuted statewide.

Since last year, Hennepin County has sought a life sentence on five men. Christopher Tate was found guilty and in June sentenced to life. Amacker Elmore was indicted, but the judge did not find the aggravating circumstances for a life sentence, so he received 15 years.

Three other cases still are pending.