Topeka — Sexual predator Leroy Hendricks won't be moving to Leavenworth County.
The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday upheld a decision from Leavenworth County that prevented the state from moving Hendricks out of a special treatment program for violent sexual predators to a group home in rural Leavenworth County.
The court told the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services that because communities aren't willing to accept sexually violent predators, the agency must do something to resolve the question of where those who leave the treatment program end up.
"We trust that SRS will call the dilemma to the attention to the only branch of state government empowered and equipped to address it: the Legislature," Justice Carol Beier wrote in the unanimous decision.
Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the Legislature was not eager to get involved.
"It looks to me like the court just shuffled the problem to the Legislature," he said. "They could've ruled it unconstitutional and overridden the Leavenworth decision if they were concerned about it."
Missi Pfeifer, a Lawrence resident who helped organize a petition drive to stop a plan to house Hendricks in Lawrence, said she was excited to hear Hendricks would not be allowed to move to Leavenworth County, northeast of Lawrence.
"It needs to stay that way," she said.
Still a danger?
The case centered on the placement of Hendricks, the first offender in the special sex predator treatment program to have reached a point where officials say he should be released into a monitored residence.
Hendricks, who has a long history of sex offenses involving children, is 71 years old and has several physical impairments resulting from a stroke and diabetes. He was the first person designated a sexually violent predator under a 1994 law that permits the state to confine predators indefinitely for treatment after they're released from prison. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law, rejecting an appeal by Hendricks.
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Last year, a judge ruled Hendricks could be released from the program at Larned State Hospital. But attempts to settle him first in Lawrence and then rural Leavenworth County were rebuffed. He is living at Osawatomie State Hospital and will remain there, officials said.
Richard Whitson, director of Community Provisional Living, sought to place Hendricks in a home in rural southwest Leavenworth County.
Whitson has a provisional license from SRS to operate a group home for up to three sex offenders, according to court records.
But a resolution by Leavenworth County commissioners said Whitson's license had violated the county's zoning regulations. Group homes for people with mental illnesses and disabilities were allowed, but only if the person was not a danger to others, the commissioners argued.
Hendricks, the commissioners claimed, remained a danger.
Justice Beier agreed, saying "there was uncontroverted evidence that he was likely to re-offend if at large."
Justices Eric Rosen and Donald Allegrucci agreed with the majority decision, but said it was because Whitson had failed to get a special-use permit from the county for the group home to house Hendricks.
Given Hendricks' age and physical ailments, the two justices said it was unlikely Hendricks could have re-offended if placed at the home, which would have had numerous monitoring safeguards.
"We will be evaluating the court's decision and see how that impacts the transitional phase," said Mike Deines, an SRS spokesman. "There may be, at some point, some contact with the Legislature to do something different with the program."
Leavenworth County Commissioner Dean Oroke, whose district includes the home where Hendricks was to be housed, said he expected residents to be "elated" by the news.
"I guess every public official's fear is when something of this nature moves into your county, whether your local rules and regulations : are sufficient to withstand challenges," he said. Even though Hendricks is classified as a sexual predator, the case was primarily about land-use rules, he said.
He said he was disturbed that SRS hadn't required Whitson's agency to apply for a license for the group home before Hendricks moved in.
"They kind of slid him in, you might say, in darkness," he said.