The Unforgiven

Bryant Troville served out his sentence for his sexually violent acts. His prospects for freedom? Not good.

On April 11 of last year, at around two in the afternoon, a prison guard arrived unexpectedly at Bryant Troville's cell, at the Cross City Correctional Institution, about 50 miles west of Gainesville. Without a word of explanation, the guard shackled Troville and led him from his cell.

The prisoner, then 30 years old, figured the excursion was connected to his impending release. Less than two months remained before Troville was slated to walk out of prison for the first time in 11 years.

At age 19 Troville was charged with sexually assaulting an entire Tamarac family. He received a 20-year sentence for the grisly crime, coupled with 7 years of probation. Through good behavior and legislative tinkering, he had whittled away at the sentence.

The gatekeeper: Norman O'Rourke is the last man standing between a Broward County sex offender and a second trip through the court system
The gatekeeper: Norman O'Rourke is the last man standing between a Broward County sex offender and a second trip through the court system
The gatekeeper: Norman O'Rourke is the last man standing between a Broward County sex offender and a second trip through the court system
Joshua Prezant
The gatekeeper: Norman O'Rourke is the last man standing between a Broward County sex offender and a second trip through the court system

On that April afternoon, Troville's thoughts were firmly fixed on his life as a free man. He'd sent a buddy in Pensacola $100 that he'd earned working in jail as a down payment on rent. Troville planned to move in with his friend, find a job, enroll in a vocational college to refresh the electronics skills he'd picked up in prison, and go from there. Maybe someday he'd learn to fly an airplane or would even start a family.

The guard led Troville to a conference room. There to meet him was his classifications officer, the man who would calculate precisely when he could be released. That made sense. But there was a second man in the room as well, one Troville didn't recognize.

The stranger was Ted Shaw, a Gainesville psychologist and president of the Florida Association For the Treatment of Sex Abusers. Shaw explained to Troville that he was there to perform a psychological evaluation. The goal of the evaluation was to determine if Troville should be classified as a sexually violent predator under a new law known as the Jimmy Ryce Act. If he were so deemed, Shaw continued, Troville would be required to take part in a civil trial. And if a jury agreed with the state's conclusion that Troville was a sexually violent predator, he would be detained for treatment until he could be rehabilitated -- potentially for the rest of his life.

Until that moment Troville had never even heard of the Jimmy Ryce Act. Scared and confused, he asked Shaw for a few days to research the law and determine if it would be in his best interest to cooperate. "I knew it couldn't be good," Troville says. "I was expecting to get out and get on with my life, and now they wanted to throw a monkey wrench in my plans."

A month later, after three hourlong interviews with Shaw and a second mental-health expert, Troville was informed that he was being detained under the Jimmy Ryce Act. Nearly a year later, no date has so far been set for the trial. But one thing is clear: The stakes will be tremendous. "If a jury rules him a sexually violent predator, to put him in treatment, my belief is that he's going to be in there forever," says Evan Baron, Troville's attorney. "Realistically, I don't necessarily see him getting out."


The Jimmy Ryce Act -- officially known as the Jimmy Ryce Involuntary Civil Commitment For Sexually Violent Predators' Treatment and Care Act -- was the direct result of a horrific crime. In 1995, nine-year-old Jimmy Ryce was kidnapped in Miami on his way home from school. He was sodomized, then dismembered. Police eventually discovered his body parts buried inside three concrete-filled planters.

Donald and Claudine Ryce responded to their son's death with both grief and activism. They successfully lobbied President Clinton to allow missing children posters to be placed in federal buildings. The Jimmy Ryce Safety Act was passed in Florida, requiring schools to release information to police about missing children.

But the Ryces, both lawyers, went a step further. Three years ago they penned a piece of legislation that would allow the state to indefinitely detain sex offenders determined to have a "mental abnormality" for "control, care, and treatment." They then traveled to Tallahassee to offer wrenching testimonials on its behalf. The Ryces' campaign coincided with the trial of their son's killer, which generated dozens of articles trumpeting the details of his murder. "The cost to the public if this bill doesn't pass will not be measured in counting money," Donald Ryce warned legislators at the time. "It will be measured in counting bodies." The Jimmy Ryce Act passed both houses unanimously.

Claudine Ryce, who now runs the Jimmy Ryce Center For Victims of Predatory Abduction, says their intention was quite simple. "[Certain criminals] are not able to live in society because it's just too dangerous," she notes. "How do you get a psychopath not to be a psychopath? How do you get a sociopath not to be a sociopath? How do you get a pedophile not to be a pedophile? We don't yet know."

Florida is not the only state that retains the right to detain certain sex offenders indefinitely for treatment. "Sexual psychopath" statutes were common in the middle of the century, but most were later repealed as ineffective. These laws differed from the Jimmy Ryce Act, however, in that they generally offered hospitalization in lieu of incarceration.

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