One of the state's most notorious child molesters is being released from a state prison hospital next week and coming to live in Lawrence.
A Sedgwick County judge has said that 70-year-old Leroy Hendricks is ready to move on from a decadelong stay in a sex-predator treatment program at Larned State Hospital. Hendricks is known for fighting the state's sexual-predator law before the U.S. Supreme Court, and he famously was quoted saying the only sure way he'd stop molesting children was if he died.
State officials say Hendricks is in deteriorating health and has completed all five stages of a treatment program at Larned. Early next week, he'll move to a supervised home setting in Lawrence for an indefinite time. He will have an escort with him around the clock, seven days a week, at an estimated cost of $278,000 for the first 15 months, according to state officials.
Leslie Huss, central office coordinator for Kansas' Sexual Predator Treatment Program, said the move was like "an extended visit to see how he's going to do" outside the hospital. "Our focus will be on providing him the supports and services he needs while making sure we have provisions in place to assure the safety of the community," she said.
The state's department of Social and Rehabilitation Services isn't saying where in Lawrence Hendricks will live, citing concern for his privacy. He won't be listed on the state's Internet offender database because his crimes happened long before the database took effect.
Hendricks has what the U.S. Supreme Court called a "chilling history" of repeated sexual abuse or molestation of children starting in 1955. His victims include at least 10 children through three decades, including his stepchildren and two young boys he molested while working at a carnival, according to the Supreme Court.
In 1994, Hendricks was about to be released from prison after serving nearly 10 years for taking "indecent liberties" with two 13-year-old boys in Sedgwick County.
But in response to the previous year's rape and killing of 19-year-old Pittsburg State University student Stephanie Schmidt, the Legislature enacted a law that allowed high-risk sex offenders to be kept against their will at Larned even after they finished serving their criminal sentences.
Hendricks was the first person committed under the law. He challenged the law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but in 1997 the court upheld it as constitutional.
His release comes at a time when the treatment and tracking of sex offenders is a controversial topic nationwide, in part because of the arrest of a registered sex offender in the abduction and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford in Florida.
No address listed
Kansas allows the public to track sex offenders and other violent criminals through an online registry at the Kansas Bureau of Investigation's Web site, www.accesskansas.org/kbi. But as the law now stands, the site contains only offenders whose crimes happened after April 1994.
"You can't assume that it's going to have absolutely everybody on the list," said Kyle Smith, a spokesman for the KBI. "It's a useful tool, but it's not a cure-all."
The Legislature is considering making the Web site retroactive to convictions as early as 1985, which would roughly double the size of the 3,100-person list. Hendricks' last conviction was in 1985.
Sexual predators -- who often prey on children -- pose a particular challenge because of their high rate of becoming repeat offenders, officials said.
"I think there's a misunderstanding that these are folks we can take, put them in a program for five years, release them to the community and they will no longer be a risk," said Mark Schutter, Larned's superintendent. "You have a disorder that is chronic, that can be a problem for life, but the risk can be substantially reduced with ongoing monitoring and ongoing treatment."
Of the 157 sexual predators committed to Larned since the program began, Hendricks will become just the third to leave the hospital and move into a community after having completed all five phases of treatment, state officials said.
It costs about $56,575 per year to house one patient at Larned.
His move to Lawrence is part of a new state program to help ease older sexual predators, who may require physical care because of their age, back into a community setting.
Earlier this year the state asked agencies for bids to provide the supervision needed. It just so happened, Huss said, that the agency that won the contract was Lawrence Community Innkeepers, an agency she said was formed within the past three years and that cares for adults with special needs.
Eventually, up to two more sex predators could move into the home where Hendricks is to live. The home has an alarm system that will sound if Hendricks tries to leave, officials said, and he will have one of a rotating staff of escorts at all times.
Police are being notified of Hendricks' address even though the public isn't, officials said.
"We're definitely not going to let our guard down about this," Huss said.
Hendricks will continue outpatient therapy and, if he chooses, will be able to go on outings with an escort, officials said. If he does well, there will be a court hearing to determine whether he can have less supervision.
Schutter, the Larned superintendent, said Hendricks has progressed through all the treatment possible at the hospital, a regimen that can include lie detectors, behavioral therapy, and plethysmography, which uses a device attached to the patient's penis to monitor arousal at different images.
"He's met his end of the bargain," Schutter said.
The fact that Hendricks has progressed so far through treatment may surprise some.
He was quoted in the U.S. Supreme Court decision as saying "treatment is bull----" and that the only sure way he could keep from abusing children was "to die." He later said the comment was taken out of context.
|The number of registered offenders on the Kansas Bureau of Investigation's Web site, as of Thursday:|
|County||Registered offenders living in county||Population (2003 estimate)||Ratio of population to offenders|
|Sources: KBI; U.S. Census Bureau|
|¢ Not all the people listed on the state's "offender registry" Internet site are sex offenders. The list also includes people convicted of violent crimes including murder, attempted murder and manslaughter.¢ As of this week, there were 62 registered offenders listed as living in Douglas County. Seven were on the list for non sex-related crimes.¢ The state requires registered offenders to verify their address every three months by responding to a letter sent to their listed address. If they fail to respond, a warrant can be issued for their arrest. Of the 62 Douglas County offenders, seven this week were listed as "address being verified," meaning they hadn't yet responded to the letter but hadn't had a warrant issued for their arrest.¢ The law doesn't require offenders to submit an updated photo, something Kansas Bureau of Investigation spokesman Kyle Smith said was a "gap" in the law.¢ Not all sex offenders living in the state are listed on the site. The site only includes people whose crimes happened on or after April 14, 1994.¢ The Legislature wants to make the registry retroactive to 1985, but Smith said he's concerned it could be burdensome to his agency. The KBI has never received money from the state earmarked to operate the registry, he said.|