Officials defend provisional release for sex offender

Minnesota Department of Human Services officials appeared at a House committee hearing Wednesday to defend their actions in the case a civilly committed sex offender who is to be released.

A panel of three Ramsey County judges granted Clarence Opheim the first provisional release of a civilly committed man from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.

Republican lawmakers called for the hearing last week, saying they wanted to know why DHS, which oversees the sex offender program, did not oppose Opheim's release.

Opheim has confessed to 100 acts of criminal sexual violence with dozens of children. He served a prison sentence for sexually assaulting a boy and has been in civilly committed for nearly two decades. He will be transferred to a secure halfway house within the next few weeks.

DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said she changed her mind about Opheim's release after hearing from experts. Assistant Hennepin County Attorney George Widseth, who had previously opposed Opheim's discharge also said he changed his mind after reviewing the same material.

Republican State Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen said there was a subjective element to the process.

"I believe in rehabilitation. I believe in forgiveness. But that doesn't mean you remove the consequence," Gruenhagen. "This person in my opinion — we should have a law in the state: locked up for life, no chance for parole and, or, the death penalty."

Legislators said they were confused as to whether the neighborhood receiving Opheim would be notified of his arrival.

The sex offender program's director, Dennis Benson, said there would be no neighborhood notification.

"As long as he's going to a licensed halfway house that provides treatment, the statute does not trigger community notification until they leave," Benson said.