Maine sex offender first in US to be committed by federal court
A Maine man with a history of sexual assaults on teenage boys was ordered held by a federal judge yesterday as a sexually dangerous person, making him the first person in the country to be successfully committed by a federal court, according to US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan's office.
Jeffrey Shields, a 47-year-old from Bath, was committed under the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, the first law that allows federal commitment for sexually dangerous offenders. US Judge Patti B. Saris issued her ruling after a 10-day trial in September that showed Shields had groped teenage boys on multiple occasions and that he had suffered sexual abuse himself as a child.
The judge's ruling means Shields will be held indefinitely under the jurisdiction of the US attorney general's office and receive sexual offender treatment. Once he has undergone treatment, he can petition the court to prove he is no longer a risk to reoffend. Where Shields will be held has yet to be determined.
After serving several state prison terms, Shields was convicted in federal court in 2002 of possessing child pornography, and federal prosecutors sought to have him committed after his release from prison in 2006.
One of his lawyers, John G. Swomley, said yesterday that he was disappointed with the judge's ruling, noting that a 12-member jury that was created in an advisory role declared that while Shields had a mental illness, it could not conclude by a unanimous decision that he would be likely to reoffend.
"The jury that heard the case couldn't reach a decision, and if 12 good citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts couldn't decide he was sexually dangerous, it's disheartening that a judge did and could," he said.
Swomley said he also plans to appeal the ruling on grounds that the child protection act is unconstitutional, saying a federal judge in the Fourth Circuit in North Carolina - the only other place in the country where such cases are heard because of the availability of prisons with sexual offender treatment programs - has ruled that the federal government does not have the authority to commit people as sexually dangerous. Swomley said the constitutionality of the act has not been challenged in Boston because this is the first time someone has been committed.
Christina DiIorio-Sterling, a spokeswoman for the US attorney's office in Massachusetts, would not comment on Swomley's plan to appeal.
Under the child protection act, Saris had to decide not only that Shields had a mental illness or disorder, but also that he was likely to reoffend. The judge based her decision on Shield's history of abuses: fondling a 13-year-old boy and other teenagers, sexually assaulting a 9-year-old in a bathroom, and assaulting a 6-year-old boy outside a school, among other offenses.
Saris also stated that Shields has failed in sexual offender treatment before, pointing out that he once said that a 12-year-old he groped was a prostitute rather than a victim.
Milton Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.