Willcox Man Whose Child Porn Conviction Was Overturned Is Declared Sexually Violent Predator By Missouri Jury

MENTAL ABNORMALITY AND PRIOR ACTS OF SEXUAL ABUSE CITED

Thomas Lloyd Dean [Photo courtesy Arizona Department of Corrections]

A Willcox man released from an Arizona prison after serving only two years of a 21-year sentence because evidence used to convict him of a child pornography charge was obtained under a faulty search warrant has been committed to a Missouri mental health facility as a sexually violent predator.

Thomas Lloyd Dean is currently locked away from the public after a jury in Missouri found he had “a mental abnormality” which would likely cause him to commit new sexual offenses unless he is kept in a secure facility under that state’s Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) law. He has filed an appeal of the jury’s verdict and is representing himself, according to Missouri court records.

Dean, 52, was previously convicted in Missouri in 1998 of multiple counts of statutory rape and sodomy against children. He was sentenced to prison, and in 2009 state officials tried to have him committed under the SVP law prior to his release. However, a judge ruled at the time that the burden of proof had not been met.

A short time later, Dean moved to Cochise County to live with family in Willcox while on probation for his Missouri conviction. Then in 2012, he came under investigation by the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office for allegedly molesting a young boy.

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Dean was never charged in Cochise County in connection to the molestation allegation, but he was found guilty in 2015 of one felony count of sexual exploitation of a child after a sexually explicit image of a minor were found on a computer seized from Dean’s residence during the 2012 molestation investigation.

Then in 2017, Dean’s conviction and 21-year prison sentence were overturned after the Arizona Court of Appeals found serious deficiencies with the search warrant that was used in 2012 to enter Dean’s home. He was ordered released from the Arizona Department of Corrections, but never left custody.

Instead, Dean was transported to Missouri where that state’s Department of Mental Health had filed a second SVP petition to have him involuntarily committed. Missouri’s SVP process is a civil, not criminal, proceeding, and requires jurors to find “clear and convincing” evidence that Dean committed sexually violent acts in the past and possesses a propensity to reoffend if not involuntarily detained.

In February, a jury in Ray County, Missouri heard testimony of Dean’s criminal history as well as the results of various mental health examinations. They jurors unanimously voted that Dean was a sexually violent predator and needed to be committed to the custody of mental health officials “for control, care and treatment” until such time his “mental abnormality has so changed” that he is safe to be at large.

Lori Zucco of the Cochise County Attorney’s Office prosecuted Dean in 2015 on the child pornography charges. Even after Dean’s conviction was overturned and he was returned to Missouri, Zucco remained interested in the SVP petition.

“I’m very pleased with the decision in Missouri designating Mr. Dean a Sexually Violent Predator,” Zucco told Arizona Daily Independent. “From my knowledge of his criminal history and aberrant sexual propensity the designation is warranted.  Mr. Dean is clearly a danger to the community and should remain in a secure facility indefinitely.”

Under Missouri law, Dean must be examined every year with a report provided to the court. If he loses his appeal, Dean may petition the court for a trial to demonstrate he no longer suffers from a condition that make him likely to engage in acts of sexual violence if released.

Court records show Dean came under investigation in June 2012 when a woman reported her son had been sexually assaulted nearly 18 months earlier on the same property where Dean lived. The boy would have been 6- or 7-years-old at the time.

As part of the investigation, a justice of the peace signed a search warrant allowing detectives to look in Dean’s residence for evidence of the alleged molestation. The warrant also allowed for the seizure of computers and other electronic devices which would later lead to the discovery of 10 images of child pornography unrelated to the molestation investigation.

When Missouri officials learned that Dean -who was still on probation- was suspected of sexual assault of a child they initiated a second SVP petition. That process was put on hold while the Cochise County case was adjudicated.

Prior to Dean’s 2015 trial, a superior court judge denied Dean’s motion to suppress the computer and the images even though the judge acknowledged deficiencies with the search warrant. The same judge later found Dean guilty of sexual exploitation of a minor for possession and sentenced him to 21 years in prison without early release.

Then in January 2017, the Arizona Court of Appeals overruled the trial judge and said the computer and images could not be used as evidence because the search warrant violated Dean’s constitutional protections.

The main problem, the appellate ruling noted, was that detectives were supposed to be searching for evidence of child molestation, yet the boy never mentioned computers or electronic devices being present during the alleged offense. Detectives therefore had no grounds for seizing those items in 2012, according to the court of appeals.

The Arizona Supreme Court declined to review the appellate ruling, leading to Dean’s eventual return to Missouri.