“Sexually dangerous” claim illegal detention in Butner prison

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This story is the second in a 2-part series on 93 men held at the federal prison in Butner after being deemed “sexually dangerous” by states across the country. Read part one here.

The 93 men deemed “sexually dangerous” and being held at the federal prison in Butner are testing their detentions in the federal courts. Many sued the federal government in the United States District Court in downtown Raleigh. Photo by Will Huntsberry.

The 93 individuals held in Butner under the Adam Walsh Act are scattered across the criminal spectrum.

The prisoners include men imprisoned for making or possessing child porn; bank robbery; lying to a federal official; illegal gun sales; carrying a gun as a convicted felon, sex with a minor; and rape of a 12-year-old girl.

Gerald Timms is the plaintiff in Timms v. Johns, the second of the three cases in which the District Court found civil commitment unconstitutional (Johns is the Butner warden).

Court records state that Florida sentenced Timms to 15 years imprisonment in the late eighties for second degree murder: During consensual sex, the documents state, he cut off her clothing, cut her abdomen and when she struggled, struck her in the chest and throat. Timms admits he’s guilty of murder, but says he didn’t commit a subsequent sexual assault he was accused of.

In 2001, while still in prison, Timms pleaded guilty to possession of child porn. He was scheduled for release on Nov. 11, 2008, but on Oct. 23, the Bureau certified him as sexually dangerous.

“I knew I wasn’t going home,” Timms said. “I was angry, I was highly upset, but there was nothing I could do about it. I’ve come to a long resolution—if you can’t do something about it, accept it and deal with it as you can.”

Gerald Timms has a case before the Supreme Court. Photo courtesy Karen Adkins.

In an interview with the Record, Timms said the thinks the law might have merit if the goal were genuinely to help mentally ill prisoners, rather than holding people beyond their sentences: “The psychologists who are employed by the BOP are not trained to rehabilitate persons who are not convicted criminals, their position is in preventing release.”

Sean Francis told the Record his crimes include threatening interstate communications, extortion and intimidating a witness, but no sex crimes, something his attorney confirms.

In a letter, Francis stated that his 2003 “threatening communications” charge refers to calls he made to female college students in other parts of the country, threatening to rape or murder them. He knew none of the victims, he said, and made no attempt to carry out his threats.

In 2009, the Bureau evaluated him for civil commitment, found he didn’t qualify and sent him home where he landed a job as a bartender at Applebee’s. In August or that year he was rearrested for a supervised release violation: “I was violated for watching an adult movie that I had ordered off my cable box in the privacy of my home with my girlfriend,” he said. He received a 6-month sentence in Butner, where he was flagged for civil commitment five days before his February 2010 release.

“In sum, I’m not sexually dangerous when … I’m released from prison,” Francis said, “But in Feb. 2010, while finishing out a technical parole violation, I am.”

Francis said he sees the civil-commitment procedure as a tool to hold someone the government doesn’t want to release: “If I’m a federal prosecutor, why would I want to take a man indicted for some kind of sexual crime to a trial? At a criminal trial the accused has a right to a speedy trial, a jury, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to face his accuser, etc. It makes more sense for the prosecutor to just civilly commit the accused as he is afforded none of those rights.”

Paul Aldrich was convicted of First Degree Sex Abuse in New York, in 1989. In 2006, the Northern District Court of New York sentenced him as a felon in possession of a firearm. Three months before his October 2008 release, the Bureau certified Aldrich as sexually dangerous.

The government, Aldrich said, “is getting away with keeping people in prison past their time for a single crime that may have happened 5, 10 or even 20 years ago.”

Aldrich said, “I have been sitting here at Butner for over two years past my actual release date without even being brought to any type of hearing … I could be here another two years before I even come up on the list for a commitment hearing.”

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