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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Rapist to Stand 3rd Trial for Hospital Release

November 18, 2000|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A convicted rapist is heading back to a state mental hospital to await trial on whether authorities can continue to hold him years after he was to be released from prison.

Retired Ventura County Superior Court Judge Allan Steele ruled Friday that Ronald Steven Herrera, 55, is likely to rape again and should remain in psychiatric lockup until a jury takes up the case.

Steele presided over a two-day hearing in which two mental health experts testified that Herrera meets the definition of a violent sexual predator.

Herrera became one of the state's first parolees to be held under a 1996 law that allows sex predators to be held in mental institutions long after they have served their prison sentences.

Under the law, those offenders are entitled to hearings every two years, at which time prosecutors must prove that the offenders meet certain state criteria and continue to pose a danger to the community.

In 1971, Herrera raped a woman and sexually assaulted her teenage daughter during a home-invasion robbery at a Ventura beach home. Herrera and a friend held three vacationing families hostage at gunpoint for more than a day.

A week after his conviction, Herrera escaped from jail and fled to Virginia. He served a 13-year prison sentence there for attempted murder and was arrested again in California in 1987.

After eight years in prison on the rape convictions, Herrera was to be paroled in 1996. But prosecutors had him held under the then-3-month-old law that allows sex predators to be held for treatment at mental hospitals.

Herrera fought unsuccessfully for his release in 1996 and 1998, arguing before separate juries that he is no longer a threat to women. He is to appear before a new jury for a third civil commitment trial early next year.

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