August 1, 2013

It's about a man who was raped and abused as a boy and went to prison for the same type of crime against little boys.

There are details.

It's about the state prosecutors who say the man is a sexually violent predator who will prey on children again if freed from state custody.

It's about a defense attorney and his expert witnesses who say the man was wrongly convicted and is the victim of a series of misunderstandings.

It's about the array of evaluations that psychiatrists use to predict whether a sex offender will commit future crimes and a state law that keeps some of those people locked away after their prison terms end.

And it's about a judge - one man - who must decide another man's fate.

Dustin Hillyer, 28, kneeled on a courtroom bench this week in his orange striped jail suit with orange socks and sandals as a jailor unlocked his shackles.

He walked to the witness stand and took a seat.

His eyes lay beneath a heavy brow and black-framed glasses with thick, reflective lenses. His teeth are stained and crooked.

He quietly admits to one sex offense, when he was 13 years old and playing with a cousin, a boy who was 3.

"I put my penis up against his butt."

He did it two or three times, and the cousin told his mom.

Hillyer was arrested and held at a juvenile detention center in Newton and later put on probation for four years and Iowa's sex offender registry for 10.

When Hillyer committed the crime, he likely mimicked his own childhood abuse, an expert on sex offenders testified on Wednesday.

"Children who are sexually abused, it's very common for them to sexually abuse another child," Dr. Richard Wollert, a psychologist from Vancouver, Wash., said in a Carroll courtroom.

He said Hillyer was abused as a boy by his older stepbrother, who allegedly forced Hillyer to have sex with him and also with the family's dog.

Defense witnesses laid out further details of an unstable childhood that was marked by abuse and neglect:

Hillyer was born to a 13-year-old mother who suffered from schizophrenia, a mental illness of hallucinations, delusions and incoherent thought and talk. The boy spent much of his childhood with his grandmother.

His mother allegedly used drugs and had many live-in boyfriends, some of whom abused Hillyer. One sexually abused him twice when Hillyer was about 5 years old and threatened to kill him.

The stepbrother who allegedly raped Hillyer also struck him in the head with a large piece of wood and might have caused brain damage.

Other students taunted him. They called him a retard and said he was worthless.

Hillyer suffered from depression and tried to hang himself as a boy. He also attempted suicide by driving a car into a tree.

He dropped out of high school in his senior year, after his dad died.

And then the mimicking of past abuse continued, prosecutors allege.

Hillyer dated at least four women who were single mothers of young children. His mother alleged to prison officials that his girlfriends kicked him out of their homes because they were worried about potential sexual abuse.

The last was in 2005, when Hillyer, then 20, allegedly had oral sex with the 4-year-old son of his Carroll girlfriend.

It happened about 20 times over the course of a month, according to court records.

Hillyer pleaded guilty for the crimes as part of a deal that helped him avoid a possible 75-year prison sentence.

"I tried to be a dad and kiss it to make it feel better. All I was trying to do was to be a father figure to you," Hillyer wrote in an apology letter to the boy that was a key piece of evidence in the case. "When I blew on your penis it was for 30 to 45 seconds. You were trying to get away. I didn't mean any harm to you."

But now he and his attorney claim that a harsh and potentially illegal interrogation by state investigators led to the admission, and that it was another man who committed the crimes. They further assert that Hillyer's former defense attorney was inadequate and sought the plea deal without Hillyer's consent.

Hillyer spent about five years in prison. He cut his prison sentence in half by participating in a sex-offender-treatment program, from which he was removed twice for alleged dishonesty and possession of pornography.

Prison officials found Playboy magazines in his cell, a picture of people having anal sex and photos of children that Hillyer allegedly took from magazines.

His mother made four telephone calls to law officers after he was incarcerated to report that Hillyer had abused other children, and that he eerily remarked during one of her visits that children in the visiting room were "cute."

Hillyer allegedly admitted as part of the treatment program that he might have abused up to 20 children before his 2006 arrest, but he now says that most of those incidents involved harmless touching of children's genitalia - when he was changing diapers or roughhousing.

He and his attorney said in court this week that he blew on diaper-rash creme to help it soothe and that he blew on kids' stomachs near their genitalia to make them laugh.

He said he innocently fell on the young son of a girlfriend when the two were playing on a trampoline.

State prosecutors alleged this week that Hillyer started to deny and minimize the sex-abuse allegations while in prison when he learned that Iowa has a law in which sex offenders can be locked up for life at a treatment center in Cherokee after prison if they meet certain requirements.

State law defines a so-called "sexually violent predator" as someone who has been convicted of sexually abusing a minor - among other sex crimes - and "suffers from a mental abnormality which makes the person likely to engage in predatory acts ... if not confined in a secure facility."

Iowa lawmakers adopted the law in 1998, and about one sex offender each month is committed to the program, according to the Iowa Department of Human Services. Offenders are treated for an indefinite amount of time.

Iowa is among 20 states with such a law, according to the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the laws three times.

The Iowa Attorney General's expert witness in Hillyer's case this week testified that several standard psychiatric tests reveal that Hillyer is likely to commit at least one more sex crime in the next 10 years if released.

One of the tests administered by the prosecution's expert witness, Dr. Harry Hoberman, a Minnesota psychologist, alleges that there is an 89-percent chance of Hillyer committing another crime.

"Mr. Hillyer does suffer from two mental abnormalities - pedophilia and anti-social personality disorder," Hoberman testified. "He is likely to commit future predatory sex offenses."

But Hillyer's expert witnesses - one of whom was originally hired by prosecutors, who ditched him when his analysis didn't fit their narrative - say that Hillyer suffers from no abnormality that might cause him to prey on children. Hillyer has had sexual fantasies about children but not for the extended periods of time that are required for a pedophilia diagnosis, they said.

"He's had romantic activities with girls his own age, through adolescence and up to incarceration," explained defense expert Dr. Michael Taylor, a Des Moines psychologist.

District Judge Thomas Bice - who presided over Hillyer's two-day trial this week - will decide whether the man should be committed to the Cherokee facility. He said he would make a decision as soon as possible, but it's unclear how long that might take.

Hillyer has already spent an extra two years in prison waiting for a decision in the case.

Assistant Attorney General John McCormally asked Hillyer on Tuesday what he would do if released from state custody.

Hillyer would live with his grandmother, he said. He would go to counseling and sex-offender and alcohol treatment. He would see a psychiatrist to help with the medicines he takes for depression.

He would learn to be a mechanic at a community college.

"Sex isn't important to me," he said in court. "Not at all."