A court order that has kept a former Costa Mesa man and registered sex offender inside a mental health hospital expired Saturday, signaling alarm from Orange County officials who have fought for decades to keep him detained.
It was not clear whether the man, identified by officials as Cary Smith, was released from Coalinga State Hospital on Saturday.
Department of State Hospitals officials were not immediately available for comment.
Orange County officials said they were unaware of Smith’s whereabouts on Saturday.
Smith had initially been placed in the state’s custody in 1999 after his then-wife turned over a letter to authorities that he wrote expressing his urge to kidnap and molest a 7-year-old boy in his Costa Mesa neighborhood.
Every six months, Smith is allowed to argue for his freedom in court during a civil trial.
And during each trial, hospital and medical officials, along with Orange County counsel, have continued to seek the renewal of the hold, a pattern that has kept Smith locked up in mental institutions since the 1999 incident. But Deputy County Counsel Robert Ervais said this time, the state hospital did not send a petition to renew the “5300 hold” against Smith, allowing the hold to expire Saturday.
Ervais said Saturday said that over the past 20 years, Smith continued to meet the criteria of the 5300 statute, which states a person must be held if they have “demonstrated danger of inflicting substantial physical harm upon others,” due to a mental disorder.
“Mr. Smith, in the past, had stated, that if released from the hospital, he would re-offend,” Ervais said.
Ervais, who has been contesting Smith’s freedom for years, pointed to previous court hearings where psychologists have testified that Smith poses an imminent danger to society because he fantasizes about raping, killing and torturing children.
He declined to comment on the circumstances of Smith’s possible release, which Ervais said would be a violation of HIPPA.
Lynn Rinner, the mother of the 7-year-old boy who had been the subject of Smith’s 1999 letter, said she was surprised by news of Smith’s possible release. Though her son is now 28, Rinner said she is worried for other children who may come in contact with Smith.
In Smith’s defense, during a 2013 hearing, a court-appointed attorney argued that the former Costa Mesa man has reasons to keep from molesting young boys and should be released. The reasons included fear of being ostracized, regaining his family and being able to have some semblance of a normal life.
In another 2013 hearing, Smith said he believes that he is ready to be let out because he has learned to suppress his fantasies and plans to avoid children at all costs when free.
Court records show Smith registered as sex offender after he was convicted in 1983 of a child annoyance misdemeanor for trying to pay a young boy to run through a sprinkler naked.
The records show prosecutors leveled 20 counts of felony child sex crimes against Smith in October 2002, but they were dismissed by the court in July 2003. An additional 12 counts of child sex crimes were brought against Smith in September 2003, but were also dismissed that same month.
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