Woman confined as predator seeks McNeil release

Staff writerJuly 12, 2013 

The first woman ever committed to Washington’s Special Commitment Center for sexually violent predators wants out.

Laura McCollum, 55, is not asking for an unconditional release, but she no longer wants to be confined to the McNeil Island facility, court records show.

McCollum’s lawyers were to ask a Pierce County judge Friday morning to order a trial that would determine whether she’s eligible to be transferred to what’s termed a “less restrictive alternative.”

That likely would be a halfway house somewhere in Seattle so McCollum could be close to a doctor amenable to providing sexual deviancy treatment to her, McCollum’s attorney, Tomackie Kim, wrote in a court pleading last month. The house would be staffed with people trained to monitor McCollum.

An exact location has yet to be identified.

“She feels that she just wants a real chance at life,” Kim wrote.

Assistant state attorney general Kristie Barham opposes the move. She wrote in her own pleading that state mental-health experts still consider McCollum a danger to reoffend.

“The annual review concluded the respondent continues to meet the definition of a sexually violent predator and that conditional release to a less restrictive alternative would not be in the best interest of the respondent, nor could conditions be imposed that would adequately protect the community,” Barham said in her pleading.

Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff is expected to decide Friday whether to convene a trial to determine whether McCollum is ready for a less restrictive alternative. If he decides no, McCollum would continue to be confined to the SCC indefinitely.

Since 2001, 65 sex offenders have been released from the SCC to less restrictive alternative housing, both off and on McNeil Island, said Thomas Shapley, a spokesman for the state Department of Social and Health Services, which runs the facility. Another 82 have been released unconditionally, Shapley said.

McCollum voluntarily accepted commitment in 1995 after serving a 51/2-year sentence for first-degree child rape. She was convicted in Pierce County of repeatedly molesting a girl between the ages of 2 and 3, court records show. She later admitted to sexual assaults on other children, both boys and girls, and told therapists she harbored violent sexual fantasies involving children, records state.

McCollum has been diagnosed with pedophilia, sexual sadism and other mental disorders. She is one of only two women ever confined at the SCC.

A mental-health expert who examined McCollum on behalf of the state 18 years ago was quoted in court documents as saying, “She is an extremely dangerous woman and in my opinion, it is not a matter of ‘if’ she reoffends, but when.”

Kim wrote recently that things have changed for her client.

McCollum has undergone nearly 20 years of treatment while in prison and confined to the SCC, the lawyer wrote.

A defense expert who examined McCollum this year wrote in a report that “concern about her sexual behavior has diminished, as there is no evidence she is engaging in sexualized coping or preoccupation.”

“In my opinion, based on her 16 years of treatment, honesty with regards to sexual history, an understanding of her offense behavior and how to intervene before offending, as well as an appropriate release plan, Ms. McCollum is not the same as the individual who was committed,” psychologist Luis Rosell wrote.

A state-appointed expert who examined her last year had a different opinion, pointing out that McCollum is impulsive, emotionally unstable and prone to inappropriate anger.

“While these traits don’t increase the risk of sexual reoffense in general, they are risk factors for Ms. McCollum,” clinical psychologist Wendi Waschsmuth said. “These traits cause Ms. McCollum to act out toward staff and other residents and create barriers to her success in treatment.”

Waschsmuth went on.

“Ms. McCollum has not yet demonstrated the necessary knowledge and skills to keep the community safe from her sexual offending behavior,” the doctor wrote.

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644 adam.lynn@ thenewstribune.com

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