Politics & Government

He spent 9 years on McNeil Island without his day in court

Jesse McReynolds was released from the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island last week after nearly nine years there. He never received a trial for his civil commitment during that time.
Jesse McReynolds was released from the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island last week after nearly nine years there. He never received a trial for his civil commitment during that time. Courtesy

Jesse McReynolds had spent more than a year in the Yakima County Jail when he filed an Alford plea — not admitting the crime but conceding he likely would be convicted — on a second-degree attempted kidnapping charge.

“I was told that I was going to be released the day I was processed,” he said.

Instead, he spent the next nine years at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island, without ever having a civil commitment trial or being convicted of a violent sexual offense.

McReynolds, now 34, was unconditionally released late last month from the state’s home for sexually violent predators after the state Attorney General’s Office lost before a judge and dropped its petition to have him civilly committed to the SCC two weeks before his trial.

The state spent more than $1.3 million to keep him there, all without a solid case, said his attorney, Rachel Forde.

Forde, a public defender in Snohomish County, took over McReynolds’ case last year, reviewed the evidence from his initial kidnapping plea deal, then pushed to have the civil commitment trial as quickly as possible.

“The moment I got the case a year ago, I was like, ‘Let’s get this thing on the road,’ ” she said. “When I read the state’s evidence from the kidnapping case, I thought, ‘I can’t believe this guy ever pleaded guilty to this in the first place.’ 

State Attorney General spokeswoman Brionna Aho said McReynolds’ nine years on McNeil Island came from his own appellate decisions.

“Mr. McReynolds requested his trial be delayed multiple times over the course of several years, resulting in a long pretrial confinement,” Aho said.

Yakima police arrested McReynolds on March 23, 2007, on probable cause of attempted kidnapping, luring and indecent exposure by a sex offender.

Officers said that in October 2006, a man tried to grab an 11-year-old girl walking to school and pull her into his car. She told police she saw the man’s genitals as he reached for her hand.

The girl said the man was driving a blue, four-door car and gave a partial number for a license plate from Oregon. She later gave officers a different partial plate number.

The case had been cold for six months when someone in the police department suggested McReynolds as a possible suspect.

He had convictions for communicating with a minor for immoral purposes and luring, court records show. He also matched the girl’s description of the man who tried to abduct her.

Though McReynolds drove a two-door Subaru BRAT, its Washington license plates matched the numbers of the girl’s second suggested license plate. She identified his photo from a montage as the would-be kidnapper.

A Yakima County Superior Court judge set McReynolds’ bail at $200,000, which he could not meet. So he remained in jail, awaiting trial.

“It’s nowhere you want to stay for any period of time,” McReynolds said in a recent interview. “It’s rundown, it’s nasty. A year will break anybody down.”

On the eve of his trial, prosecutors offered McReynolds a deal: He takes an Alford plea to second-degree attempted kidnapping and there will be no finding of sexual motivation. He would have only a short stint of prison time.

Because he’d been in custody for almost a year, McReynolds took the deal March 11 and was sent to the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton for processing.

That’s where he showed up on the Attorney General Office’s radar screen as a possible sexually violent predator, Forde said.

By August 2008, the Attorney General’s Office had filed to have McReynolds civilly committed as a sexually violent predator.

It said he was a pedophile who had “serious difficulty controlling his dangerous behavior” and was “likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence unless confined to a secure facility.”

Said McReynolds: “I’d never even heard of civil commitment.”

But off to McNeil Island he went.

At the center of the island is the Special Commitment Center, where the state sends people who are committed as sexually violent predators. More than 200 men currently are committed to the facility.

After McReynolds arrived, he tried to fight off his attempted kidnapping conviction — which, he stresses, he never admitted to — before having his civil commitment trial.

Though not convicted of a sex crime involving violence, or any felony sex crime, McReynolds remained an SCC patient.

The law that allows Washington to detain sexually violent predators gives the Attorney General’s Office the opportunity to prove the sexual motivation of a crime at the civil commitment trial, even if the criminal court finds no sexual motivation.

While at the SCC, McReynolds kept himself busy, trying to keep to a routine so he would be better able to adjust to society were he ever released.

For more than eight years, he worked at the facility’s kitchen. He neared a bachelor’s degree from Ohio University. He participated in the weekly Native American gathering to stay in touch with his Colville tribal roots.

And he maintained that he shouldn’t have been on McNeil Island.

“I thought I was going to be there for the rest of my life,” he said.

McReynolds had exhausted his appeals of his attempted kidnapping conviction by the time his case ended up in the hands of Forde and fellow Snohomish County public defender Kelly Canary in June 2016.

They started to investigate.

When the attempted kidnapping occurred, McReynolds was in the hospital, and she has the records to prove it, Forde said.

The attorneys also noticed discrepancies in the girl’s story, and her description of the car didn’t match the vehicle McReynolds drove.

And when the Attorney General’s Office twice tried to meet with her earlier this year to get depositions, they were unable to, according to a spokeswoman.

Forde says the girl intentionally misled prosecutors and gave them a false address, calling her credibility into question.

On June 17, Superior Court Judge Blaine Gibson ruled on the state’s petition to civilly commit McReynolds to the SCC indefinitely.

The state has to meet three criteria before someone can be committed a sexually violent predator:

▪ The person must have committed a crime of sexual violence.

▪ The person must suffer from a personality disorder that makes it difficult to control sexually violent behavior.

▪ The personality disorder must make the person likely to perform further acts of sexual violence if not held in a secure facility.

Gibson found the state could not prove that McReynolds committed a sexually violent act, or that he likely would to do so if not held in a secure facility. The judge ordered him released immediately.

McReynolds got off the ferry from McNeil Island to Steilacoom on June 27 as a Level 1 sex offender — those least likely to reoffend.

Forde, who ended up as McReynolds’ attorney because of her experience with cases involving sexually violent predators, says she’s never seen another person leave McNeil Island to register as only a Level 1 sex offender.

Now he’s moved into his parents’ South King County home and is trying to put his life back together. He’s spending time with family, applying for jobs and his driver’s license. He’s continuing his course work at Ohio University.

“My goal,” he said, “is to assimilate back into society, continue to work on my support network, finish my education and find a career to try to build a successful life, a good life.”

Kenny Ocker: 253-597-8627