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Thursday October 5, 2000

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Denver fights sex offenders release

By The Associated Press

DENVER - A court ruling that could free more than 100 Colorado rapists, child molesters and other sex offenders from prison has alarmed victims of sex crimes and sent law enforcement officers scrambling to undo the damage.

Nine inmates were turned loose before Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar stepped in and halted the releases Saturday. Authorities were still looking for them yesterday.

"I frankly was outraged that this number of offenders could be given the green light to walk without taking as much time as could be taken under the law to make sure victims were notified," Salazar said.

He has asked the state Supreme Court for another hearing to reconsider its Sept. 18 ruling.

Corrections Department officials tried to calm dozens of victims fearful that their attackers are free to strike again.

"This is ridiculous," Rebecca Nye, whose two young daughters were molested by a neighbor five years ago, told The Denver Post. "The laws need to work for kids."

Allison Morgan of the agency's victim notification unit said callers are told the agency must follow the ruling. "They fully understand that this comes down from the Supreme Court," Morgan said. "They are shocked that the court would do this."

The ruling threw out mandatory five-year parole sentences for rapists, child molesters and other sex offenders convicted between 1993 and 1996.

Corrections officials responded by releasing nine inmates and notifying 84 paroled sex offenders they no longer had to attend mandatory therapy sessions or make visits to parole officers.

All but five of those offenders have been notified they are back on parole pending the court fight, Corrections Department Director John Suthers said.

If the ruling stands, it could free 112 sex offenders in prison for parole violations and release an additional 170 offenders from parole supervision and mandatory therapy, Suthers said.

An additional 600 offenders could be released from prison without parole once they complete their sentences.

"To release them without supervision is contrary to what society needs and to what they need," Suthers said. He said pedophilia is best controlled with mandatory therapy sessions.

Karmen Carter, executive director of the Rape Assistance and Awareness Program, said most victims of sex offenders take steps to improve their home security and other precautions when they know their assailants have been released from prison.

"There really wasn't time for victims to do the kind of work they need to prepare for it," she said.

However, she noted that the authorities' efforts to seek a rehearing are comforting to many.

"At least there is the hope by the victims that there is somebody who is paying attention to these perpetrators, which is different that just letting people out," she said.