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Interview With Lisa Bloom

Aired June 27, 2003 - 19:33   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, tonight, we will take a look at two different stories involving the Supreme Court and sexual predators. Now, a little later, we will discuss yesterday's court ruling on a California law that targets child molesters.
But first, we're going to look at some of the fallout from a ruling the court hand down last year. In that decision, last year, the high court considered efforts to confine sexual predators even after their prison terms expire. The court said the confinement cannot be indefinite and must end if psychiatrists conclude the offender no longer poses a threat.

The ruling led to the release of a convicted sexual predator named Michael Crane. But now Crane is charged with a new crime. He appeared for a brief hearing today and Jeff Flock has the story in Kansas City.


JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michael Crane walks into court, a place where even judges say he's always been lucky. He got probation for his first charge of attempted rape in 1987. In 1994, he was convicted of kidnapping and attempted rape and sodomy for attacking a video store clerk at this mall.

But the Kansas supreme court chose his case to redefine kidnapping and threw out his conviction. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and stayed in jail. After he served his sentence, the state tried to keep him incarcerated here at the state mental hospital as a sexual predator. He appealed and in 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court limited confinement of sexual offenders and he was freed.

(on camera): It seems like somehow something's failed here.

MIKE SANDERS, PROSECUTOR, JACKSON CO., MISSOURI: I think it's incredibly frustrating.

FLOCK (voice-over): Particularly now. Jackson County, Missouri prosecutor Mike Sanders say Crane, just out over a year, is now charging with going to this Kansas City apartment building in March and raping and sodomizing a woman in her car.

SANDERS: Mr. Crane is facing multiple life sentences in Jackson County court.

FLOCK (on camera): Here in the streets of Kansas City, the question is how can the case of Michael Crane go so far? Mike Sanders is not the only one who wonders how a man who prosecutors worked so hard to keep confined could wind up back to the street allegedly strike again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is another girl.

FLOCK (voice-over): Peggy and Gene Schmidt have been following crane's case, every case really, since their daughter Stephanie was raped and murdered by a repeat sex offender ten years ago. They have 31 books of clippings and help write Kansas' sexual predator law which is named for their daughter.

GENE SCHMIDT, VICTIM'S FATHER: No surprise, no surprise at all.

FLOCK (on camera): Weren't even shocked?


SANDERS: These people have a mental abnormality. And that mental abnormality makes them very likely to hurt themselves or others and they should be civilly committed indefinitely.

FLOCK (voice-over): At least 16 states now have predator laws which let authorities keep sex offenders locked up even after they've served their sentences if a jury rules the offender can't control his impulses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In sexual predator laws you are trying to predict the future.

FLOCK: Jackson County Chief Judge Jay Dougherty says confining someone who has already served their time is serious business. The Supreme Court rightly put limits on it. Sadly, he says, this is about as fair as it gets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no way a human being can look into a crystal ball and say with any certainty what is going to happen.

FLOCK: Prosecutors say they did understand the danger of putting Crane back on the street. This time, they say, they're sure they've got it.

SANDERS: We have the DNA evidence, which indicates that the odds are 1 in 1.75 quintillion and that he is in fact the person that committed this crime.

FLOCK: Crane is being held without bond on six felony charges. He's entered a plea of not guilty. CNN requested an interview with Crane, but through his attorney, he declined to speak with us.

Prosecutors say they have strong evidence against him, but as history has proven in the case of Michael Crane, there's no guarantee of how it will all come out.

I'm Jeff Flock, CNN, Kansas City, Missouri.


COOPER: We've asked Lisa Bloom of Court TV to come back and join us to discuss this very disturbing case. Lisa, thanks for being with us again.

So the Supreme Court ruling 2002, they basically ruled that just because a prison is mentally abnormal and dangerous, a sexual predator, that's not enough to keep them, but you have to show that this person has difficulties controlling their impulses. What exactly does that mean, Lisa?

LISA BLOOM, COURT TV: Well, it means there's going to be a battle of the experts at every commitment hearing. There is going to be a psychologist or a psychiatrist on one side, and there's going to be another one on the other side, and they're going to duke it out. And as your report just indicated, who can predict with 100 percent accuracy what someone is going to do in the future?

COOPER: But I have read some of the dissenting opinions from this 2002 Supreme Court ruling, and they basically said, look, we're leaving this incredibly vague and we're not really telling courts -- lower courts, how to deal with this, because who can -- I mean, the line for determining what they call difficulty controlling your impulses, it's a very shady line.

BLOOM: Well, you're absolutely right. And civil libertarians have a big problem with this idea to begin with, because our concept and our law is we only imprison people as punishment for a crime. We don't imprison people based on what we think they might do in the future. If we did, a lot more people would be in prison and we would have a lot less liberty.

COOPER: What do you think the result of this Michael Crane incident is? Do you think prisons are going to be much more loathed or much more quick to just say this person has difficulty controlling their impulses? Might it have a chilling effect?

BLOOM: You know, it's only one case. It's a significant case, because this was a U.S. Supreme Court case that set the precedent on the issue of future dangerousness, and here Michael Crane out re- offending allegedly, in a very short time. It's consistent with what we know about sex offenders. They are highly likely to re-offend within a very short period of time. I don't see a big change in the law, though, because our jurisprudence essentially says, you can't lock people up unless they are convicted of a crime.

COOPER: And Michael Crane, he goes away for -- we don't know...


BLOOM: That's really the solution, Anderson, isn't it? To lock people up for longer prison terms. Why did Michael Crane get probation the first time, and about four to six years the second time on attempted rape and sodomy charges? If he had gotten a longer term, this whole problem would be avoided. COOPER: As Jeff Flock said in his piece, he has been very lucky in court. We will see what happens to him in court this time around. Maybe his luck has run out. Lisa Bloom, thanks.


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