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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Mansfield was pissed. “It’s psychobabble,” she says. “The are trying to split hairs and labels on something that is not very easily quantifiable.”

Mansfield’s lawyer, Assistant District Attorney Namratha Ravikant, formally requested that the court reconsider the verdict. A new hearing was granted and scheduled for Oct. 1, 2010. In the interim, Cook’s sentence was vacated pending the result of the new SVP hearing.

Zakireh arrived in the courtroom that October morning, files in hand, seemingly ready to testify once again that Cook should be classified as an SVP. But the video equipment wasn’t working properly and the hearing was postponed, then postponed twice more due to Zakireh calling out with conflicting appointments and/or medical problems. The last hearing was rescheduled for May 13.

But about a week before the hearing, out of the blue, Zakireh called Ravikant and told her that he could no longer support his diagnosis. Ravikant was shocked.

“The expert had not informed the Commonwealth prior to … the hearing that he could no longer support the diagnosis and appeared ready to testify,” she says.

Zakireh’s withdrawal of support means the case is over. In the eyes of the law, Cook will not be classified as a sexually violent predator and as a result Northern Liberties—or whatever neighborhood he decides to move to upon his release—will not be notified if Cook moves in, even though the prosecution argued that Cook displayed “at least 14 applicable risk factors for sexual reoffending.”

“It’s so galling,” says Mansfield, who called Zakireh and asked for an explanation. “He said to me that my own testimony worked against me.” She says he told her that he didn’t think Cook met the criteria of having a sexual disorder.

Aside from the fact that Cook is obviously sexually violent and obviously a predator, the diagnostic criteria plays out as a high-stakes forensic chess game. And something else doesn’t add up: If the reason Zakireh withdrew his support for his own diagnosis was, as Mansfield says he told her, rooted in a detail of her original testimony, then how could he have shown up ready to testify for Cook’s classification as an SVP at the reconsideration hearing in October? Did he get new information that changed his mind (that the prosecution isn’t aware of) some time after October? Would Cook be classified a SVP if the October hearing was not postponed? No one seems to know.

“I don’t think he realizes the impact that his words had,” says Mansfield. “We were really worked over. Violence is there, and [Cook] wanted sex, so what’s the disconnect?”

Zakireh did not return requests for comment.

With the SVP status dead in the water, the final leg of Mansfield’s legal journey is the re-sentencing of Cook.

In the courtroom, a flat-screen television blinks to life and Cook’s face appears, piped in via video feed from a cell in SCI-Pine Grove. His back is slumped against a cinderblock wall, and he dons sunglasses.

Sitting alone, Mansfield stares at Cook through the double vision she will suffer the rest of her life as a result of his attack.

“Due to the injuries Cook inflicted on me, I am in constant pain ... The insecurity of living as a disabled person receiving a tiny monthly check is scary,” says Mansfield, who worked as a graphic designer before the attack.

Lerner announces that the new sentence remains the same as the old sentence: 20 to 45 years.

The only time Cook speaks is a few “yups” and “yes sirs” in response to Lerner. The hearing is over within minutes.

“Now that the doctor has ended our chance at winning this small victory,” says Mansfield, “I just feel more loss and anxiety.”

With good reason: Because of the failure of the law, a future neighbor of Cook’s will, just like Mansfield that morning in 2008, have no reason to not open the door if he knocks.

Mansfield will never completely recover from the assault. But now, after two and a half years of court dates, the legal battle is finally over. “Gross,” says Mansfield, after the video feed shows Cook shuffling off back to his cell. She stands to go home. “No apology, no nothing.”

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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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