Judge refuses to overturn verdict keeping sex offender behind bars


Herald Writer

A Snohomish County judge declined Friday to second-guess a jury’s decision to keep a convicted rapist locked up, even though state experts believe he’s ready to be eased back into the community.

Mitchell Gaff, 42, had asked Superior Court Judge James Allendoerfer to toss out an August verdict that will keep him locked up for another year at the Special Commitment Center for sex offenders. The center is inside the state’s prison on McNeil Island in south Puget Sound.

Gaff has been diagnosed as a sexual sadist. Allendoerfer ruled there is sufficient evidence to support the jury’s conclusion that it is not yet safe for Gaff to taste freedom, even under strict supervision.

But the judge also made clear he is not comfortable with much of what has happened in Gaff’s case.

He said some of the statistical evidence jurors heard about the risk that Gaff may rape again probably wouldn’t survive scientific scrutiny if attacked more vigorously in court.

The judge also criticized state officials for requiring Gaff to undergo a treatment program that some evidence indicates could actually make him more likely to harm others in the future.

That not only makes little sense, it also may be unconstitutional, the judge said.

Gaff was clearly unhappy with Allendoerfer’s decision, but he maintained his composure while in the courtroom and as he was hustled back to jail.

The judge’s ruling came after nearly two hours of arguments by lawyers .

Gaff’s attorney, public defender Mark Adair, said prosecutors had failed to make the case that his client belonged behind bars. Every expert testified the time had come to move Gaff into a community-based setting, where he can continue to receive treatment under strict supervision.

"We are not asking the court to simply unlock the door and send him on his merry way," Adair said.

Deputy prosecutor Paul Stern reminded the judge the same state experts testified that statistical analysis shows up to 92 percent of people with Gaff’s particular problems are likely to reoffend within 25 years.

"I’ve not met anybody in 19 years (of prosecuting rapists and murderers) who is more dangerous to this community than Mitchell Gaff," Stern said.

But Allendoerfer said the statistical analysis used appears too crude to take into account the effects of Gaff’s eight years of sex offender treatment.

As for Stern’s observations about Gaff’s dangerousness, "We aren’t talking about what you think" but whether Gaff has changed, he told the prosecutor.

At his trial in August, Gaff testified he raped eight women and girls during the late 1970s and early 1980s and sexually attacked scores more. At one point, he was accosting or attempting to attack 10 to 30 women a day, knocking some to the ground and putting his hands up their skirts, he admitted.

Gaff has been behind bars since 1984, when he slipped into an Everett home and bound and gagged two sisters, one 14, the other 16. He spent more than two hours repeatedly raping, sodomizing and beating the pair.

The attack ended only when one of the girls was able to wriggle free and escape, naked, into the street. At the time, Gaff had been trying to strangle one of the girls with an electrical cord.

Gaff served 10 years in prison for the 1984 rapes. On the eve of his release, prosecutors filed papers seeking to have him detained under the state’s sex predator law. A Snohomish County jury in 1995 determined Gaff belonged behind bars receiving treatment.

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