CA Fights to Keep Adult Labeled Psycopathic Killer in Juvenile Custody

Prosecutors say Donald Schmidt is a psychopath. Maybe he is. They say he has serious difficulty controlling his dangerous behavior. That might be true, although he's been in custody for more than 20 years and has therefore had no opportunity to demonstrate volitional control in an unconfined setting. During that time, according to his public defender, Schmidt has earned a high school diploma, has served as a grief counselor, and has excelled in treatment.

Putting aside the ongoing debate over the wisdom of detaining people in what amounts to a correctional setting out of fear that they might cause harm if given their freedom, Schmidt's continuing detention by the State of California is particularly appalling because, at the age of 37, he is being held in juvenile custody.

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Schmidt is detained at the Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility in Chino. Convicted in juvenile court of a sexual assault and murder, Schmidt should have been released when he turned 25, the maximum age of detention for juvenile offenders under California law. Using a juvenile version of a civil commitment/sexual predator law, however, the State has successfully argued that Schmidt is too dangerous to release.

And so this dangerous adult is kept in the company of children. How smart is that? Good work, California.

The reality of Schmidt's situation is clear. State authorities are displeased that Schmidt wasn't tried as an adult and given a life sentence, so they hope to circumvent the maximum detention period that applies to juvenile offenses by arguing that Schmidt is just too dangerous to release. Again, putting aside the wisdom of commitment laws that effectively continue the punishment of incarceration long after the original sentence has been served, it is insane for California to keep a middle-aged adult locked up in a juvenile facility. Fortunately for the kids with whom he is detained, Schmidt seems to be a reasonably good role model. If he really is the remorseless, uncontrolled psychopath authorities claim him to be, however, why are they fighting to keep him detained in a juvenile facility? Is that really where he belongs?

California has a dismal history of administering juvenile corrections. Schmidt's case is the latest example of a system that is beyond broken. Is it asking too much for a bit of common sense to govern California's approach to juvenile justice?

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    Stark facility is no picnic (none / 0) (#1)
    by oculus on Sun Apr 26, 2009 at 12:53:40 PM EST
    but certainly preferable from standpoint of this "ward" to serving his life sentence in state prison.  

    except (none / 0) (#5)
    by TChris on Sun Apr 26, 2009 at 04:48:04 PM EST
    he has no life sentence

    His best bet is for his lawyer, (none / 0) (#6)
    by oculus on Sun Apr 26, 2009 at 04:56:41 PM EST
    with input from Stark staff members and expert witnesses, to persuade the civil jury not to extend his civil commitment.  

    Probably his only bet (none / 0) (#7)
    by TChris on Sun Apr 26, 2009 at 05:32:50 PM EST
    and we know how difficult it is for juries to get past the fact that he sodomized a child and left her to drown in a bathtub, no matter how long ago that happened or how young he was at the time.

    Does length of time really matter? (none / 0) (#8)
    by nyjets on Sun Apr 26, 2009 at 05:52:49 PM EST
    Does it matter that the murder took place a 'long' time ago. The fact is the kid is still a murder. That fact does not change. No amount of restitution will bring the kid he murdered back.
    And I do find it somewhat disconcerting that the murder will go free while his victim is currently in the grave.

    First... (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by Romberry on Sun Apr 26, 2009 at 06:02:02 PM EST
    ...is the fact that the kid was a juvenile himself when this happened not relevant? Second, are you of the extreme opinion that juveniles who commit these sorts of crimes should be locked away forever? And third, you must surely be aware that even adults convicted of murder are not automatically given life sentences, yes?

    You can't bring back the victim through the utter wasting of another life. Vengeance should not be the goal of justice.


    Answers to your questions (none / 0) (#14)
    by nyjets on Sun Apr 26, 2009 at 08:21:12 PM EST
    1. THe fact that he is a juvenile is not an automatic mitgating factor in my mind . Espically when you consider he was 16 when he commited murder.
    2. Generally yes, if a juvenile commits these kind of murders it should be life. Or close to it.
    3. Yes, but if an adult had commited this murder that the kid commited, he should be locked up for the rest of his life.

    Some crimes are unforgivable. No amount of 'repentence' should allow the murder to get out of prison.

    We fundamentally disagree (none / 0) (#15)
    by Romberry on Sun Apr 26, 2009 at 09:05:40 PM EST
    I understand your position but find it to be one with which I simply do not and can not agree.

    Rather surprising his treatment team (none / 0) (#9)
    by oculus on Sun Apr 26, 2009 at 06:00:11 PM EST
    at Stark purportedly supports not extending the civil committment.  An almost twenty-five year old who was at Stark on a murder conviction and who was due to be transferred to state prison murdered a correctional counselor there.  He was  a hard worker, got along well with the counselors, etc.  

    That would be a separate case, yes? (none / 0) (#11)
    by Romberry on Sun Apr 26, 2009 at 06:04:01 PM EST
    Why would professionals make a judgment about one person based on the actions of another completely different person in an unrelated case? Doing something like that would not be, uh, professional.

    Of course. (none / 0) (#12)
    by oculus on Sun Apr 26, 2009 at 06:10:58 PM EST
    What's that legal adage? (none / 0) (#2)
    by Romberry on Sun Apr 26, 2009 at 01:02:51 PM EST
    Doesn't it go something like "Hard (or sensational) cases make bad law"?

    My first response here is that a person at age 37 is likely a very different person -- absent some mental development limiting condition -- than they are at 16. What this person did, based on his age at the time of the crime, is literally a lifetime ago for him. That's not to minimize what happened, but I can't condone what appears to be an effort to essentially keep him locked up and throw away the key.

    Second, I can't see keeping someone locked away based on someone's best (educated) guess about what he might do. We have all kinds of people walking around who might do something awful at any second, but we don't have departments of pre-crime to suss out the probabilities and lock them away because of what they might do in the future.

    Finally, I see where the DA is coming from here. It's a "tough on crime, I'm here to keep us safe" thing. If the DA doesn't take this stance and this person is released and commits a heinous act after release, it turns into political fodder.

    Helluva system.

    Schmidt's treatment team seems to believe in him. Even the psychologist says that the risk of future violence, while high, shouldn't be enough to keep Schmidt locked away. I'd have to go with those opinions, see if maybe there is some sort of group home/halfway house that could be of help in getting Mr. Schmidt adjusted to life as an adult in the real world and hope for the best...while having nightmares about the possibility of the worst.

    The adage, (none / 0) (#13)
    by TChris on Sun Apr 26, 2009 at 06:49:35 PM EST
    as modified by me, is:  Bad judges make bad law.

    what about the other juviniles (none / 0) (#3)
    by Jen M on Sun Apr 26, 2009 at 04:10:31 PM EST
    they have kids locked up with this guy?

    I suspect he has a single cell. (none / 0) (#4)
    by oculus on Sun Apr 26, 2009 at 04:13:12 PM EST
    no good deed goes unpunished (none / 0) (#16)
    by diogenes on Sun Apr 26, 2009 at 09:15:33 PM EST
    In Texas, this guy would have gotten life in prison as an adult for rape of a child/murder (which someone above said the crime was) if not death, so you wouldn't be berating California.
    They say that you can't cure a pedophile.  How many other victims did he have, if any, that came forward after his arrest?  Does he pass pleythrismographic testa?
    If he's such a great guy, he might do better being civilly committed and being a grief counselor than being outside as a level three sex offender with no job and neighbors everywhere who don't want him living anywhere near them.  

    They say? (none / 0) (#17)
    by womanwarrior on Mon Apr 27, 2009 at 01:37:10 AM EST
    Who is this "they say"?  Is there research based on 16 year olds and what they are like at 37, after treatment?  Betcha there isn't any.

    Texas criminal "justice" should not be an example for anyone.

    pleythrismographs are junk science dreamed up by a sadistic pervert.  

    But would "the public" be able to understand any of this against faux news?

    According to a 2005 NPR story (none / 0) (#18)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Apr 27, 2009 at 12:45:48 PM EST
    here, despite the public defender's opinion in yesterday's NYT article that he has "excelled" in his treatment, the state emphatically does not agree.

    They claim, in 2005 anyway, that he still, 17 years after he raped/murdered the 3 y/o girl, refused to admit that he had any attraction to young girls and therefore he could not even begin to be treated for that attraction.

    Also that he has very limited exposure to the younger wards of the state.

    More background on the story is that the barely-out-of-diapers girl he raped and drowned was the daughter of the family that took him in, as a runaway, and gave him a home.

    Also, he's back in court - today, it seems:

    Posted: 04/18/2009 01:30:56 AM PDT

    SANTA CRUZ -- A judge on Friday ruled a trial should be held before a man who sodomized and drowned a toddler in a bathtub 21 years ago should be released from the state Division of Juvenile Justice.

    Now jurors will decide whether the oldest inmate in the juvenile justice system remains a danger to society.


    Judge Robert Atack set trial for April 27 [2009]. If deemed still a danger, he would be held for two more years.

    Court being an right he's apparently waived before:
    Santa Cruz County
    Thursday, June 21 [2007]
    District Attorney's Office
    Convicted Murderer to Remain Incarcerated

    The Santa Cruz County District Attorney's office announced that convicted murderer Donald Gerald Schmidt, age 35, waived his right to a jury trial and has been sent back to the California Youth Authority for further treatment. [...]