El Cajon

Judge Denies Placement of 1 Sexually Violent Predator in East County as Residents Await 2nd Verdict

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A judge on Monday rejected placing a sexually violent predator poised for conditional release at a home in the Mount Helix neighborhood near El Cajon, saying the residence was located in a densely populated neighborhood and in close proximity to children.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Albert Harutunian III said the home at 10957 Horizon Hills Drive, which was proposed by state hospital officials to house 64-year-old Merle Wade Wakefield, was "not what the legislature intended for SVP placements."

Wakefield, who is currently housed at Coalinga State Hospital, is classified as a sexually violent predator, a designation for those convicted of sexually violent offenses and diagnosed with a mental disorder that makes them likely to re-offend. According to the San Diego County District Attorney's Office, Wakefield was convicted of sex crimes in 1981 and 1990 and served prison terms for each crime.

Wakefield was approved for conditional release to continue treatment at a supervised outpatient location, but Harutunian ruled the proposed location was in a neighborhood that was "too dense" and "too close to children and child care."

Officials will be tasked with a finding a new location to house Wakefield. A status conference was scheduled for later this month to discuss the next steps in finding a suitable placement.

The home rejected by the judge is the same residence that the Department of State Hospitals proposed for the placement of 78-year-old sexually violent predator Douglas Badger.

A public hearing was held to discuss the placement of a convicted sexual predator who is set to be placed in Jacumba Hot Springs.

Dozens of Mount Helix residents and local elected officials urged a judge last month to reject the placement on various grounds, including concerns over how stringently Badger would be monitored and the neighborhood having a much higher population density than the remote, sparsely populated locations where SVPs are typically housed.

Several people were protesting outside the federal courthouse on Monday, too.

“We feel the judge heard us,” parent Suzanne Kelso said. “We’ve been waiting six weeks to hear something like this. “It’s pretty amazing that he didn’t even have our speakers, speak that he knows that this is ludicrous; you can’t do this in a family-friendly community,” Kelso said.

"We hope Judge Weathers also does the same in his judgement for Badger,” Kelso said.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Theodore Weathers, who is overseeing the case of Badger's placement, has not yet issued a ruling.

Kathleen Hedberg, president of the Grossmont-Mt. Helix Improvement Association, applauded Harutunian's ruling.

"We are so happy that Judge Harutunian realizes that this is an inappropriate placement in a family-friendly community," she said. "We hope that Judge Weathers will agree soon and we can end this nightmare."

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said, "The public's safety is always our priority, which is why we contest and scrutinize every petition for conditional release under the law, including those of Mr. Wakefield and Mr. Badger."

Stephan agreed with Harutunian's finding, saying the home in question is near a music academy and childcare site, "which is clearly not an appropriate placement site for these sexual predators."

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