By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Merle Wakefield, via San Diego Felony Enforcement (SAFE) Task Force
May 10, 2021 (Mt. Helix) -- A San Diego Superior Court judge ruled today that a home in unincorporated El Cajon near Mt. Helix house is not an appropriate location to place a sexually violent predator (SVP).
Superior Court Judge Albert T. Harutunian III said that the house at 10957 Horizon Hills Drive is not appropriate to place sexually violent predator Merle Wade Wakefield. The judge indicated he will deny the placement because the neighborhood is too dense, and the house is too close to other homes with children, according to a press release issued by the Grossmont-Mount Helix Improvement Association (GMIA).
“It is not a safe placement for the community,” Harutunian said.
Harutunian made his ruling without hearing comments from community members opposing the placement, saying it was unnecessary because he had already decided the placement goes against the state Legislature’s intent in determining the conditional release of sexually violent predators.
The state has proposed placing Wakefield, 64, at the house along with another sexually violent predator, Douglas Badger, 78. Badger’s placement is to be decided by Superior Court Judge Theodore Weathers, who has not yet issued a ruling.
The only support for Wakefield’s placement came from Liberty Healthcare, the company contracted to supervise SVPs at the home.
The Grossmont-Mt. Helix Improvement Association has worked closely with neighbors in the community in fighting the two placements. Thousands have signed petitions and hundreds turned out at rallies to show community opposition, as ECM reported.
“We are so happy that Judge Harutunian realizes that this is an inappropriate placement in a family-friendly community,” said GMIA President Kathleen Hedberg (photo, left, via Hedberg’s Facebook page.) “We hope that Judge Weathers will agree soon and we can end this nightmare.”
Judge Weathers on April 20 held a hearing on placement of Badgers, a proceeding that went on for several hours with extensive testimony from members of the public, all opposed to his placement at the same address. Judge Weathers has not yet issued his decision on Badger.
Coates-Hedberg told ECM, “We’re hoping for a positive response, meaning denial of the location for Badgers as well as Wakefield."
Coates Hedberg argued at the earlier hearing on Badger that county and state laws were not followed, since there are 89 children living near the home, the youthful age of past victims was not taken into account, and a study indicates such predators are likely to commit new crimes.
“In 2003, the Washington State Institute for Public Policy followed 89 conditionally released Sexually Violent Predators. They found more than half were convicted of new felony offenses within 6 years, and nearly one third reoffended with a felony sex offense. It would be irresponsible to place Mr. Wakefield in our neighborhood knowing that there is a 30% chance that he WILL victimize someone,” Hedberg wrote in a statement prepared for Wakefield’s hearing, which was not read since the judge made his decision to deny the placement without public testimony.
Badger, whose fate remains pending, has been classified as a sexual sadist as well as an SVP, He has been convicted of crimes against nine young people including males and females. His crimes range from rape to sexual molestation to sexually assaulting hitchhikers at gunpoint.
Wakefield, whose placement on Horizon Hills is denied, has been convicted of lewd acts with a child under age 14, as well as a later felony rape conviction. Both men spent time in prisons and state hospitals before petitioning for supervised release and winning approval from the Dept of State Hospitals.
County Supervisors this week approved a measure introduced by Supervisor Joel Anderson to improve community notification regarding proposed placements of sexually violent predators. Coates-Hedberg wants to see any future placement hearings on SVPs postponed until the County has its new program in place.
In East County communities where SVPs have been placed or proposed for placement, neighbors have been unanimous in their opposition.