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In re Commitment of Williams

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

November 30, 2017

IN RE COMMITMENT OF CHRISTOPHER WILLIAMS, Appellant

         On Appeal from the 178th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 974879Z

          Panel consists of Chief Justice Radack and Justices Keyes and Caughey.

          OPINION

          EVELYN V. KEYES, JUSTICE

         In this civil commitment proceeding, the State petitioned to have appellant, Christopher Williams, declared a sexually violent predator under the Sexually Violent Predators Act ("SVP Act" or "the Act"). See Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. §§ 841.001-.151 (West 2017). After a jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that Williams was a sexually violent predator, the trial court signed a final judgment and entered an order of civil commitment.

         In six issues, Williams contends that (1) the State and trial court did not follow Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 204, which sets out procedures relating to the physical and mental examination of parties; (2) the trial court erroneously sustained the State's objections to Williams' requests for admissions that it could not admit whether Williams had been granted parole because it was easier for Williams to obtain his parole records; (3) the State failed to present sufficient evidence that ordinary psychological or psychiatric treatment modalities are not available for Williams; (4) the jury charge failed to instruct the jury that, to be a sexually violent predator, Williams needed to have serious difficulty controlling his behavior; (5) the jury charge failed to inform the jury that civil commitment under the SVP Act "must be restricted to persons whose difficulty controlling their behavior is distinguishable from the dangerous, but typical, recidivist convicted in an ordinary criminal case"; and (6) the State failed to present sufficient evidence that Williams was likely to re-offend.

         We affirm.

         Background

         In May 2005, Williams pleaded guilty to two federal offenses-receipt of child pornography and possession of child pornography-and the District Court for the Southern District of Texas assessed his punishment at confinement in a federal penitentiary in North Carolina for 151 months and 120 months, respectively. The federal court ordered that, upon release from imprisonment, Williams be on supervised release for life. In January 2006, Williams pleaded guilty in the 178th District Court of Harris County to two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child under age fourteen, two counts of sexual performance by a child, two counts of indecency with a child by contact, and one count of indecency with a child by exposure. The state court assessed Williams' punishment at ten years' confinement for the indecency with a child by exposure offense and one of the offenses of sexual performance by a child, and twelve-and-a-half years' confinement for the other five offenses, to run concurrently. Each of the state judgments of conviction included a special instruction that the sentences "are to be served in a Federal Institution to run concurrent [with] the previous 151 month sentence in [the] federal case."

         In September 2015, after Williams had been granted parole in his federal cases and as he was nearing the end of the sentences in his state cases, the State petitioned to have Williams declared a sexually violent predator under the SVP Act. The State alleged that Williams was a repeat sexually violent offender and that he suffered from a behavioral abnormality that made him likely to engage in a predatory act of sexual violence. Shortly after filing its petition, the State moved to have Williams examined by an expert, as provided by Health and Safety Code section 841.061(c). The trial court granted the motion, ruling that the examination should occur "immediately if possible, " but prior to the end of the discovery period. Williams was subsequently examined by Dr. Timothy Proctor, who later testified at the commitment proceeding on behalf of the State.

         Throughout the discovery period, both the State and Williams served numerous requests for admission and other written discovery. Relevant here are several requests for admissions in which Williams requested that the State admit that Williams had been granted parole on each of his offenses. The State made the following identical objection to each of Williams' requests:

Petitioner [the State] objects to this request as it is vague. Petitioner objects that the information sought is obtainable from some other source that is more convenient or less burdensome, namely: Respondent [Williams]. Petitioner further objects that this request asks for the admission of a matter that is hearsay. Under Section 841.004 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, the Special Prosecution Unit-Civil Division is "responsible for initiating and pursuing a civil commitment proceeding." The subject of this request is not within the personal knowledge of the Special Prosecution Unit. Subject to the foregoing objections and without waiving same, Petitioner cannot admit or deny this request at this time as Respondent had not yet been released from TDCJ. It is unclear as to whether or not his parole plans have been fully approved in the state he plans on paroling to.

         Williams challenged the sufficiency of the State's objections to these requests, but the trial court ruled in favor of the State and sustained the State's objections.

         At trial and in the presence of the jury, the State read into the record all of Williams' admissions in response to the State's requests, which included admissions that Williams had previously been convicted of nine sex-related offenses in state and federal court. Williams, who had been a P.E. teacher and athletic director at Holy Spirit Episcopal School in Houston, admitted that he had "joked around with [his] students about the size of their penises, " that he had watched pornographic movies with students, that he had performed oral sex on a child, that he had fondled a child, and that "[e]ven though [he] knew it was wrong to sexually offend against [his] victims, [he] did it anyway."

         Dr. Proctor, a forensic psychologist, testified that the State hired him to determine whether Williams had a behavioral abnormality that made him likely to engage in a predatory act of sexual violence, and he conducted an interview with Williams.[1] In his testimony, Dr. Proctor discussed Williams' history of sexual offenses, which began when Williams was about twenty and watched his younger cousin masturbate. Williams attended college at the University of Houston, and while he was there, he had a student job in the athletic department. Williams was ultimately fired from that position for using a university printer to print a pornographic picture, and Dr. Proctor reviewed information indicating that the particular picture was of a child.

         After graduating from the University of Houston, Williams accepted a job in the athletic department of Holy Spirit Episcopal School. Dr. Proctor testified to the details of numerous instances in which Williams befriended his male students and their families, and, over the course of years, engaged in a pattern of conduct that began with inappropriate sexual jokes and escalated to having discussions about the students' penis size and pubic hair, to exchanging sexually explicit instant messages with his students, to receiving nude photographs of his students, to watching students masturbate and masturbating in their presence, to touching them sexually, and, ultimately, to performing oral sex on one of the students. At least one of the students was as young as eleven years old when Williams began inappropriately touching him. Williams moved to Las Vegas in 2003, where he was later arrested on the federal child pornography offenses.

         Dr. Proctor opined that Williams does have a behavioral abnormality that makes him likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence. One of the tests that Dr. Proctor used in developing his opinion was the Static-99R, an actuarial measure that assesses ten risk factors for an individual's likelihood of committing a future act of sexual violence. Dr. Proctor emphasized that an individual's score on the Static-99R is just one piece of information that he considers when performing an evaluation and that, because it only takes into account certain risk factors, it is often necessary for him to consider additional information not covered by the measure and then adjust his opinion about the individual's risk for reoffending up or down.

         Dr. Proctor testified that the Static-99R measures "static" risk factors, or risk factors that generally do not change over time. This measure considers factors such as the individual's age, whether the individual has had a long-term, live-in romantic relationship, prior sexual offense criminal history, violent offense history, a large number of sentencing dates for criminal offenses, unrelated victims, and male victims. Dr. Proctor testified that when he considered the Static-99R's risk factors, Williams fell within the "low-moderate" range for reoffending. He stated that when formulating his ultimate opinion about Williams' risk for reoffending, he considered other "dynamic" risk factors and that, when considering these factors, he believed the "low-moderate" range on the Static-99R underestimated Williams' risk of reoffending.

         According to Dr. Proctor, it was more accurate to place Williams in the "moderate" range for reoffending. He stated that Williams has an "ingrained history of sexual interest in children, including prepubescent children, " and that the Static-99R did not account for his long history of offending before his nine convictions of sexual-related offenses. Dr. Proctor considered the existence of unreported victims, including Williams' cousin, a situation in which Williams invited children to view pornography with him while he lived with his sister, the fact that he was fired from his student job at the University of Houston for printing a pornographic picture which may have been of a child, and his strong interest in viewing child pornography. Dr. Proctor stated that, considering the "whole picture, " he "fe[lt] like there's a level of risk here that isn't fully captured by the Static."

         Dr. Proctor opined that Williams suffers from pedophilia, or the sexual attraction to children who are prepubescent, or generally under the age of thirteen. He characterized this as a "lifelong condition, " and he stated that Williams suffered from pedophilia at the time of his offenses and continued to do so at the time of trial. He also considered as a risk factor for reoffending the fact that Williams had multiple "contact" sexual offenses, which indicated that he persistently engaged in offending behavior and that this behavior was not isolated. Dr. Proctor also testified that Williams had not been enrolled in a formal sex offender treatment program, although Williams began, but had not completed, a correspondence treatment program around the time he was being considered for parole in his state cases. Dr. Proctor found it concerning that Williams told him that he would be willing to do sex offender treatment but that he "didn't really think that he needed it to prevent himself from offending again in the future, " and Dr. Proctor stated that this revealed a lack of self-awareness.

         Dr. Proctor opined that Williams has a behavioral abnormality that has affected his emotional or volitional capacity. He stated that "there is a long-standing, persistent, well-ingrained sexual attraction to children that has appeared at an early point in his adulthood" and that "this persistent sexual attraction to children . . . is at a level that I believe is indicative of being likely of him engaging in predatory acts of sexual violence."

         Williams testified and admitted that he has sexually assaulted children and that he has a problem with seeking out child pornography. He testified that he has never intentionally looked for pornography involving prepubescent children. He stated that he is not still sexually attracted to children and that he has not been since around the time of his arrest. Williams also testified, without objection, that he has been granted parole in his state cases, but he has not been released from confinement. He testified that he is "not at risk of offending, " that he "will not reoffend, " and that he "will never have another victim." He stated that, upon release, he plans to move to Arizona, where his mother lives, register as a sex offender, and try to get into a sex offender treatment program. He testified that he does not think that he would reoffend if he did not enter a sex offender treatment program, but he acknowledged that "it's a benefit for [him] and for the public" for him to enter such a program.

         Williams called two experts to testify on his behalf. Dr. Marisa Mauro, a forensic psychologist, conducted an evaluation of Williams to determine if he had a behavioral abnormality. Dr. Mauro opined that Williams did not have a behavioral abnormality that made him likely to engage in a predatory act of sexual violence. Dr. Mauro gave Williams the same score on the Static-99R as Dr. Proctor did. However, she considered Williams to be at low risk for reoffending, in part because, although he was convicted of nine offenses, he only had one "sentencing occasion"-for example, he did not decide to commit another offense after being released from confinement for a previous offense. She also stated that Williams was at low risk for recidivism because of his education level, his prior work experience, his family support system, the correspondence sex offender treatment program that he was working on completing at the time of trial, his behavior while incarcerated- during which he did not receive any disciplinary actions-and his remorse. Dr. Mauro testified that Williams has the ability to form sexual relationships with appropriately-aged individuals and that he does not have a preference for persons outside his age group. Dr. Mauro did not agree with Dr. Proctor's diagnosis of pedophilia because she did not agree that Williams had a sexual attraction to prepubescent children-instead, his victims were slightly older. She testified that, while sex offender treatment might be helpful to Williams, she did not believe it was necessary for him to avoid reoffending.

         Dr. Karen Lawson, a clinical and forensic psychologist, first met Williams in December 2003 when he was referred to her following his arrest, and she evaluated him over approximately five months at that time. In the criminal proceedings against Williams, she diagnosed him with pedophilia, exclusive type, meaning that he was only sexually attracted to prepubescent children and not to adults. She continued to have contact with Williams after his sentencing at the behest of his mother to "try to help him understand what he was facing and what he had done." She did not consider these meetings to be counseling or therapy.

         Dr. Lawson next had contact with Williams in preparation for the commitment proceeding because his counsel hired her to perform a behavioral-abnormality evaluation. Dr. Lawson opined that her earlier pedophilia diagnosis no longer applied to Williams at the time of the commitment proceeding and that he had not met the criteria for that diagnosis for over ten years. She stated that she saw no evidence that Williams continued to be sexually interested in minors. Dr. Lawson further opined that Williams did not have a behavioral abnormality and that he had "no diagnosable psychiatric condition." She also opined that Williams did not have difficulty controlling his behavior and that "he's at extremely low risk of ever reoffending." Dr. Lawson agreed with Dr. Mauro that Williams did not need sex offender treatment to avoid reoffending.

         Williams requested that the trial court include multiple instructions in the jury charge. Relevant to this appeal, he requested that the court instruct the jury that a behavioral abnormality is "a condition that causes serious difficulty controlling behavior" and that commitment under the SVP Act "must be restricted to persons whose difficulty controlling their behavior is distinguishable from the dangerous, but typical, recidivist convicted in an ordinary criminal case." The trial court refused to submit these instructions in the charge.

         The jury charge included definitions for "sexually violent predator, " "behavioral abnormality, " and "predatory act, " and these definitions tracked the statutory language defining these terms. The sole jury question was: "Do you find beyond a reasonable doubt that Christopher James Williams is a sexually violent predator?" The jury answered "yes" to this question.

         The trial court signed a final judgment and an order civilly committing Williams upon his release from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice ("TDCJ"). Williams filed a motion for new trial that was overruled by operation of law. This appeal followed.

         Sufficiency ...


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