Megan's Flaw: When a Sexual Predator Isn't One in the Eyes of the Law

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 3 | Posted May. 25, 2011

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Two and a half years after Derrick Cook almost killed Katrina Mansfield, she sits quietly in a courtroom, alone, awaiting what the justice system considers fair trade for what she calls her life sentence.

Mansfield, 47, knew the then-15-year-old Cook from the neighborhood and had hired him to do odd jobs. So when Cook knocked on her door on Nov. 23, 2008, and told her that he was locked out, Mansfield let “the kid” she knew into her house. He told her he had a headache. She turned to get him a glass of water and Tylenol when she felt the first blow.

He grabbed a knife and stabbed her over and over, leaving a four-inch exit wound in the back of her neck. He hit her face so hard that shards of her skull pierced her eyes. He broke her neck and sexually assaulted her.

Here’s what Mansfield had no way of knowing: Earlier that same year, Cook was arrested for possession of a firearm. Then, on Aug. 11, 2008, Cook grabbed a 23-year-old woman walking near the 800 block of Orkney Street, dragged her into a nearby lot, raped her multiple times at gunpoint and slammed her skull and face against jagged rocks. On Sept. 18, he attacked another woman walking on Girard Avenue—she escaped—and Cook was arrested as a juvenile for indecent exposure, open lewdness and harassment and given an electronic monitoring bracelet. A month later, he strategically cut it off before showing up at Mansfield’s house to attack her.

Derrick Cook’s rampage was stopped only because Mansfield (barely) survived. DNA linked him to the first victim. He pleaded guilty to both attacks.

Though technically tried as an adult, Cook’s sentence—20 to 45 years—reflects the court’s view of him as a minor. At sentencing, Judge Benjamin Lerner even addressed his lack of parental guidance.

After being told Cook’s guilty plea “spared her the pain” of a trial, Mansfield isn’t so sure the reduced charges and sentence was worth it.

“I was dismayed when Judge Lerner sentenced Derrick Cook, who brutally ... attacked me in my home and left me for dead,” Mansfield says. “It includes jail time for his crimes against me and [the first] victim. Rather than punish Cook for each attack, most of his sentences will be served concurrently. Kind of like a two-for-one deal.”

Though sex offenders usually serve more than their minimum sentence, Mansfield has doubts.

“He will always be seen as a 15-year-old offender,” she says. “In sentencing he was seen as such and God knows what’s going to happen in 20 years when we still have [prison] overcrowding and someone will say, ‘Oh, he was 15.’”

In all, counting time served, Cook could be released 17 and a half years from now, a free man at 35 years old—making classification as a “sexually violent predator” (SVP) under Megan’s Law the last resort at shielding society from further damage.

Offenders classified as SVPs must register their address with state police every three months; communities are notified when a sexually violent predator moves in next door. SVP status also mandates psychological counseling for the offender.

While every other level in Megan’s Law tiered classification system is automatic and based on conviction, SVP status can only be applied to a convict after a special hearing.

By any reasonable definition, Cook is a violent sexual predator—except, after a drawn-out and botched hearing to determine the status, in the eyes of the law.

According to the Pennsylvania code, “A sexually violent predator is a person who is convicted of a sexually violent offense and is determined to be a sexually violent predator due to a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes the person likely to engage in predatory sexually violent offenses.”

Dr. Barry Zakireh is a member of the Sexual Offenders Assessment Board and director of the adult offender and forensic program at the Joseph J. Peters Institute in Center City. Under the Megan’s Law statute, he was assigned to evaluate Cook.

According to court documents, “Dr. Zakerih found the defendant’s behavior to fit diagnostic criteria for the mental abnormality Paraphilia NOS [Not Otherwise Specified] with the particular stimuli being nonconsenting persons.”

The phrase mental abnormality is key—evidently, actually committing predatory sexually violent acts is not enough for classification. Instead of relying on facts and behavior, the burden is on the prosecution to diagnostically “prove” a mental abnormality or personality disorder. Zakireh argued Cook was a SVP; the defense’s hired-gun expert argued he couldn’t be sure.

“The Court found that the Commonwealth failed to show by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant had a mental abnormality.”

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COMMENTS

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1. inqwriter said... on May 25, 2011 at 09:03AM

“Nice work, Tara #unfundedmandates #whosenforcing?

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2. Donna said... on May 31, 2011 at 01:58PM

“Anyone with common sense knows that the unconstitutional Megan's Law does NOT work! It lets off the guilty and hangs the truly innocent.

This article also proved that the US judicial system doesn't work, either. I know people who are now serving time in state prison for stuff they never did, and this turd Cook has a history of violence towards women and he gets off - again.

Get rid of Megan's Law NOW and reform this judicial system pronto!”

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3. Donna said... on May 31, 2011 at 02:00PM

“Anyone with common sense knows that the unconstitutional Megan's Law does NOT work! It lets off the guilty and hangs the truly innocent. This article also proved that the US judicial system doesn't work, either. I know people who are now serving time in state prison for stuff they never did, and this turd Cook has a history of violence towards women and he gets off - again. Get rid of Megan's Law and reform this broken judicial system pronto! Get judges, lawyers, and doctors who actually have to live in the real world to get involved with the courts.”

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