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Jessica's Law keeps dying man in limbo

Kenneth Hailey, a sex offender now free, wants to spend his last days with his sister. But she lives near a school.

December 22, 2007|Paloma Esquivel | Times Staff Writer

Terminally ill with a brain tumor, convicted sex offender Kenneth Hailey, 51, wants to spend the last months of his life living with his sister.

On Friday however, Hailey found himself stranded in the emergency room of a Veterans Administration hospital in Los Angeles as the medical staff argued with corrections officers over his fate.

In a case that underscores the difficulties inherent to a new state law that requires the tracking and segregation of released sexual offenders, Hailey could spend his final days in a medical and legal limbo. Unable to move in with his sister, who lives within 2,000 feet of a school, Hailey is too ill to live on his own.

His sister, Walnetta Hailey, 55, of La Mesa, east of San Diego, said she knows its difficult for people to sympathize with her brother, but that the law has, in his case, inflicted severe and unforeseen consequences.

"All I know is he's a human being," she said of her brother. "He has three to six months to live. A month of it he's spent being yanked around," she said.

When Hailey, a former Navy officer, was first released from prison, he was homeless until his then-estranged sister decided to take him in. But when parole officers learned that the proximity of her home to a school put Hailey in violation of Jessica's Law, officials said he had to return to Los Angeles County.

Because Hailey didn't have a place to stay in Los Angeles County, corrections officials put him in an Inglewood motel.

After a day and a half at the motel, Hailey disappeared and showed up two days later, disoriented and sick at the Los Angeles VA hospital, said Ken Rosenfeld, director of the palliative care services at the facility.

Rosenfeld described Hailey's condition: He's "not super steady. He has lots of problems with memory. He can't speak very easily. He has a difficult time concentrating on things. This is going to get worse over time."

Hailey was convicted of rape in Baltimore in 1982, his sister said. California sex offender data say he was convicted of lewd or lascivious acts on a child under the age of 14. His sister said the conviction did not involve a minor.

Even so, Walnetta Hailey said her brother has paid his dues and now needs to be cared for.

"He has already served his time for the crime. He has not committed the same crime. Yet he cannot just die with a little dignity and peace?

"I voted for these laws," she said. "I didn't realize just how it was going to affect me."

On Friday, as Rosenfeld handled Hailey's case, he seemed directly affected by the difficulties posed by the law's residential limitations on sex offenders.

"It's an amazing example of some of the challenges people are facing because of Jessica's Law," he said.

At one point Friday, authorities told Rosenfeld that Hailey would be arrested if they tried to send him back across county lines. After that, Rosenfeld picked up the phone and called corrections officers directly.

By afternoon a compromise had been struck: Hailey will be allowed to stay at a San Diego VA hospital.

The law makes things difficult for corrections officials trying to find a place for ailing sex offenders, said A.E. Smith, administrator with the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, who supervised those who handled the case.

"Jessica's law makes things extremely difficult," he said. "It makes my job extremely difficult."

On Friday afternoon, Hailey sat in the VA's emergency room waiting for corrections officers who were supposed to escort him to San Diego. He didn't remember how he got to the hospital or how long he'd been there. He pointed to the scar on the right side of his head, where doctors had operated to remove several tumors.

"It's messed up my mind," he said. "I find myself places I don't realize." He put his hands to his mouth as he tried to explain that he can't say what he thinks.

He said he was happy to be going to San Diego, even if it was to a hospital and not to his sister's home.

"My sister's down there. I feel safe down there."

At the end of the night, as Hailey made his way back to San Diego accompanied by corrections officers, his sister was told he might not be able to stay.

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paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

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