Sex offender slips through cracks into town
MONT VERNON - A convicted sex offender who officials wanted to have civilly committed as a "sexually violent predator" under a relatively new state law has been released and is now living in town. Police Chief Kyle Aspinwall confirmed that Raymond K. Fournier, 40, has registered with the police and will be living with relatives. Fournier, who has completed his prison sentence, was released last week after a superior court judge found that the courts did not act on a petition to have him committed in the time period called for under state law. Aspinwall said the police will notify abutters and the school district that Fournier has moved to town. Information about Fournier will also be listed in the state's sexual offender registry. He is one of three registered sex offenders currently living in town. Other than that, police don't have the authority to monitor Fournier. "He's paid his debt to society," Aspinwall said.On Wednesday, lawmakers in the state Senate took action to ensure that missed deadlines will not lead to the release of such offenders. The bill now goes to the House and received a nod of support from the governor. "It is unacceptable that two incarcerated sexual predators were released earlier this week just because the courts failed to comply with deadlines," Gov. John Lynch said in a statement. "I applaud the Senate for acting quickly to pass legislation ensuring that missed court deadlines will not result in the release of sexually violent predators into our communities." New Hampshire Corrections department spokesman Jeff Lyons said Fournier is allowed to live wherever he chooses. Since Fournier - who did not complete the sex-offender treatment program in state prison - maxed out his sentence, he is not under the supervision of parole officers, Lyons said. In 1994, Fournier pleaded guilty to seven counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault. He was sentenced to five to 15 years in prison and was due to be released on June 16, 2008, according to New Hampshire Supreme Court documents. A sexually violent predator is considered to "suffer from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes the person likely to engage in acts of sexual violence if not confined in a secure facility for long term control, care, and treatment," according to the state's Sexually Violent Predators Act. Under the law, which took effect Jan. 1, 2008, someone convicted of a sexually violent offense is eligible to be involuntarily committed to a secure psychiatric unit at the New Hampshire State Prison for a period of five years after serving his or her prison sentence. At the end of the five years the state can petition for another five years of commitment. No one has been committed as a sexually violent predator yet, Lyons said, although there are two other petitions pending. Lyons said the prison system identifies about 100 inmates per year who may be eligible to be committed under the law and passes that information along to state and county prosecutors. Either the attorney general or the county attorney is responsible for petitioning a superior court judge to have a sexually violent predator committed. The Hillsborough County Attorney's office handled Fournier's case. A team of professional evaluators must assess if a person meets the state's definition of a sexually violent predator. If the team recommends a person be committed, prosecutors have two weeks to file a petition to have the person involuntarily committed. The law says the state must then prove "by clear and convincing evidence" presented at a trial that the person is a sexually violent predator. On March 7, 2008, the evaluation team recommended Fournier be committed. On March 17, 2008, prosecutors petitioned a judge to find probable cause within the 10-day window called for under state law. However, the court made an initial finding of probable cause 42 days later, on April 28. Then, an emergency probable cause hearing was held June 16. At that time, Fournier's attorney sought to have the petition dismissed because it had not been acted upon in the time period laid out in the law. By law, the court has 60 days to hold a trial from the date of an initial probable cause determination or the defendant's election to hold a jury trial. However, no trial date was scheduled April 28. Finally in July, a trial date was set for Sept. 2. Before a hearing could be held, the New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed to review the case. The Supreme Court reviewed the Fournier case in January and ultimately referred the matter back to the Superior Court on March 19 because it wasn't clear to the justices what caused Fournier's case to be delayed. In its ruling, the Supreme Court said sticking to time deadlines is important because time limits are "rooted in the right to due process and the protection of a liberty interest." Fournier's motion to dismiss the state's petition to have him committed was then granted by Hillsborough County Superior Court North Presiding Justice Larry Smukler. Smukler wrote in his April 3 opinion that the Superior Court failed to comply with statutory time limits for the commitment process. "There was no probable cause determination within 10 days of the filing of the petition, or a trial on the merits within 60 days of the request for trial," Smukler wrote. Fournier remained in prison while the case was being reviewed. On Monday, another sex offender the state was trying to commit was released as a result of the courts' failure to comply with time limits. That man, Richard Hilton Jr., is living in Manchester. In a memo released this week outlining procedures "to ensure nothing happens like this again," Superior Court Chief Justice Robert Lynn seemed to put most of the blame for these errors on the court clerk's office. He also put some responsibility on the county attorney's office for not "raising an alert when deadline approached." Lynn writes that the court clerk handled this case as it would any other civil case, despite the deadlines. Among other procedures, Lynn ordered clerk's offices to have a specific employee in charge of the SVPA petitions and for there to be a backup for that person.