SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KRON) – A Concord man who has been behind bars for 40 years is still a sexually violent predator who is likely to strike again, prosecutors said in court on Tuesday.
Despite fierce objections from the sheriff and the district attorney, state prison officials are still planning to release Michael Cheek back into society in the Santa Cruz district.
Nearly 100 residents flocked out of a courtroom Tuesday to leave an impression on Santa Cruz Supreme Court Justice Syda Cogliati who ultimately drove the state prison officials’ plan for Cheek to live at 310 Wild Iris Lane in Bonny Doon, will approve or reject.
Teen girls protest Michael Cheek (Photo Courtesy Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Judge Cogliati said she had received 900 letters from parishioners expressing outrage over Cheek’s placement in the mountains of Santa Cruz. The judge told the courtroom gallery, “It is extremely important that a judge not be influenced by public opinion.”
Representatives from Liberty Healthcare, the state agency responsible for monitoring sexually violent predators after their release, attempted to reassure the judge that Cheek would not strike again. Cheek will be supervised and treated on an outpatient basis, it said.
Cameron Zeidler, a psychologist at Liberty, said Cheek did not want to be sent back to a state mental hospital and was able to follow his parole rules.
Cheek was “very well treated and compliant,” said Zeidler.
310 Wild Iris Lane in Bonny Doon
Zeidler admitted that Wild Iris Lane is “not ideal,” but that is the “reality” when a sexually violent predator is reintegrated into society, he said.
District Attorney Jeff Rosell said it was impossible to supervise anyone in the house Liberty chose.
The home is in a remote mountain community where cellular service is spotty. Prosecutors said it takes the sheriff’s deputies at least 24 minutes to respond to emergency calls, and cellular service is so poor that victims sometimes can’t even call 911.
District Attorney Jeff Rosell (Courtesy Photo by Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Residents told KRON4 that many teenage children and girls live on Wild Iris Lane.
Joe Brennan, father of six, said having a rapist as a neighbor would turn this heaven into a “nightmare.” Brennan’s daughter was sitting in the courthouse holding up protest signs. One read: “Rule as if your children live here.”
Assistant District Attorney Alex Byers told the judge, “He will be surrounded by people who look like his victims.”
Michael Cheek was convicted of raping a young woman and a teenage girl in the 1980s.
Byers said, “Mr. Cheek is a career sex criminal. He kidnaps children. He gives them drugs. He suffers from a mental illness that predisposes him to commit sexual violence. We don’t trust him to do things to protect us because he never did. “
Cheek was convicted of multiple rapes in the 1980s, including escaping from custody and raping a 15-year-old girl at gunpoint.
His defense attorney told the judge that none of Cheek’s victims were children.
When KRON4 asked Bonny Doon’s school board president Michael Geluardi what he thought of the defense attorney’s testimony, tears welled up in his eyes. Geluardi said sexual assault on a 15-year-old girl is still a criminal offense under the law.
Prosecutors said placing Cheek in a forest would take him to a place where he could find a new victim.
“If you live in a city, children go to the playground. If you live in Bonny Doon, you are playing in the woods. He’s an unacceptable risk, ”said Byers.
Community members who wrote hundreds of letters to the court would have examined the location Liberty selected better than Liberty, Byers told the judge.
Judge Cogliati said Liberty had to provide her with more information before making her decision. A hearing at which she is expected to make a decision is scheduled for October 14th.