SHELTON, Wash. - On Thursday night in a small back room of the local Burgermaster restaurant, a group of neighbors welcomed the man who plans to be the town's newest transplant from California: convicted sex offender Brian DeVries.
The neighbors of this rural town of 8,500 welcomed him with questions, condemnations and a promise of intense scrutiny. At the end of the meeting, the neighbors said they were willing to give him a chance. Legally, they had no choice.
DeVries, 45, the first man to graduate from California's violent sex-offender treatment program, moved to Washington state last Monday, just hours after being granted unconditional release by a Santa Clara County judge.
He served sentences for molesting nine boys - he admitted molesting at least 50. He then underwent seven years of treatment in a program for violent sex offenders at Atascadero State Hospital. He had himself surgically castrated in 2001.
Some residents of Shelton echoed Washington Gov. Gary Locke's denunciation of DeVries' release. Locke, in a statement, called the decision "outrageous." California, he said, has abandoned its responsibility to watch over one of its most dangerous sex predators.
DeVries' only requirement now is to register with local police, which he did just days after arriving at his father's house near Olympia, about 18 miles southeast of here.
His plan, according to police, is to fix up an old trailer on some family property in the Shelton area and move in as soon as possible. DeVries, with the help of his father, Barry DeVries, initiated contact with local residents, saying he wanted to meet with them before he moved into the area.
Resident Sherry Smith, founder of Parents Against Sex Offenders, led a successful campaign last year to thwart DeVries' plan to move to Shelton. Some of DeVries five siblings live in the region, as do his parents, who are divorced.
She organized the Thursday meeting, which was attended by about 15 neighbors and a detective from the Mason County Sheriff's Office. DeVries, 6 feet, 4 inches tall, 245 pounds, sat in a small chair and meekly answered questions.
"How will you keep yourself safe?" one woman asked him.
He replied that he is newly committed to his Christian faith, intends to keep his impulses in check and plans to have somebody accompany him to public places, such as supermarkets. Then DeVries added: "I don't know. Will people ever feel at ease around me?"
One man answered: "No. I never will. I don't feel at ease looking at your face."
Thurston County Detective Daryl Leischner said he would check on DeVries once a week as long as he is living with his father in Olympia. Mason County Detective Bill Adam said he would check on DeVries once a month after he moves to the Shelton area. Mason County, with a rural population of about 54,000 people, has about 200 registered sex offenders. Of that number, 18 are considered Level 3 offenders, potentially the most dangerous.
DeVries is a Level 3 offender. But Leischner and Adam said DeVries appeared to be sincere in trying to live an upright life.
"I hate to say it," Leischner said, "but this is a case where only time will tell."
Under a 1996 California law, sexual offenders considered too dangerous to be released could be held in state mental hospitals after serving prison sentences. They could be recommitted every two years or win release after successfully completing the treatment program. Washington state has a similar law.
For the past year, DeVries lived under supervision in a trailer on the edge of the Soledad correctional facility in Monterey County. He ended up there after more than 100 landlords in the Santa Clara area refused to take him in for the outpatient part of his treatment.
As part of his supervised treatment, DeVries was required to participate in group and individual therapy, register with police every 90 days, submit to random searches and drug-testing, and wear a global positioning satellite device so authorities could keep track of him.
His public defender, Brian Matthews, said that if DeVries had not gone through treatment, he could have spent the rest of his life at Atascadero.
Just before the court unconditionally released him, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Robert A. Baines told him: "Good luck, Mr. DeVries, and for God's sake, don't prove me wrong."
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.